How is Christmas in Germany celebrated?

Christmas in Germany is a magical experience filled with rich traditions, lively Christmas markets, and heartwarming dishes. Let’s explore how Christmas is typically celebrated, the meaning of the Advent season, and the importance of Christmas markets in Germany.

How do Germans celebrate Christmas?

In Germany, the main day of Christmas celebration is Christmas Eve, also known as “Heiligabend”. During the day, stores and most businesses are only open until noon or the early afternoon.

On the evening of December 24th, families come together for a festive dinner with traditional German Christmas dishes and lots of warmth and togetherness.

Some families put up and decorate the Christmas tree together on “Heiligabend”, while other families tend to do this a few days before. The Christmas tree (“Tannenbaum”) is a key part of this evening.

This is because exchanging gifts by the Christmas tree is usually the highlight of Christmas Eve. Traditionally, German families also sing German Christmas carols together at this moment. Some popular Christmas songs include “Kling Glöckchen”, “O Tannenbaum”, and “Stille Nacht”.

What happens on December 25th and 26th?

December 25th and 26th are public holidays and are also known as the First and Second Christmas Day (“erster und zweiter Weihnachtstag”).

The First Christmas Day (25th) is often a continuation of the festive atmosphere from Heiligabend, spending quality family time together. It’s common for families to enjoy a big breakfast together. Additionally, religious family also attend a special Christmas church service on this day.

On the Second Christmas Day (26th), shops remain closed and family time continues. Typically, Germans will visit different parts of the family on both days, if they spent Heiligabend with just direct family members.

What is the meaning of the Advent season in Germany?

The Advent season (“Adventszeit“) marks the beginning of the Christmas countdown. It usually takes place in the four weeks before Christmas.

One of the most iconic symbols of the Advent season is the Advent wreath, also known as the “Adventskranz”. The wreath has four candles and on each Sunday of Advent, a new candle is lit. The first candle is lit on the first Sunday, the second on the second Sunday, and so forth.

An Advent wreath (Adventkranz) during the Christmas period

Advent calendars are also a key part of the Advent season tradition. An Advent calendar (“Adventskalender”) typically has 24 small doors that countdown from December 1st to Heiligabend.

It is then customary to open a door each day until Christmas Eve. Most Advent calendars have a sweet treat, such as chocolate behind each door. Modern calendars also have toys, games, or snacks.

What are German Christmas markets like?

You cannot talk about Christmas in Germany without talking about the enchanting Christmas markets. The Christmas markets are the highlight of the holiday season for many due to the festive atmosphere.

Most, if not all, German cities and towns have a Christmas market (“Weihnachtsmarkt”) from late November until Heiligabend, or even New Year’s Eve.

The cities come alive and look like winter wonderlands with many twinkling lights and colourful decorations. The air is filled with the scent of roasted nuts, mulled wine (“Glühwein”), and traditional holiday treats.

A carousel at a German Christmas market

When visiting a Christmas market in Germany, you may also find stalls selling handmade goods, such as  wooden ornaments, toys, and textiles. This also makes the Christmas market the perfect place to buy a special gifts for friends or family.

In addition, Christmas markets offer a range of entertainment and activities, such as performances by local choirs and musicians or carousel rides. In some cities, you will also find ice rinks or Ferris wheels.

Best Christmas markets in Germany

Each Christmas market in Germany has its own unique character and charm. While the “best” Christmas market depends on personal preferences, there are a couple that have won the hearts of many:

  • Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg
  • Weihnachtsmarkt am Kölner Dom in Cologne
  • Christkindlmarkt in Munich
  • Striezelmarkt in Dresden
  • Frankfurter Weihnachtsmarkt am Römer in Frankfurt
  • Sternschnuppenmarkt in Wiesbaden

How to make the most out of the Christmas season in Germany

Spending the holiday season in a new and colder environment can seem more challenging than exciting, especially if your home country tends to be warmer during this times of the year.

However, as the festivities peak, it’s a unique opportunity to really immerse yourself in German Christmas traditions. Here are some tips to help you adapt and truly enjoy the magical Christmas in Germany:

  • Experience the Christmas markets. This is one of the best ways to try typical German Christmas snacks and drinks. Christmas markets also bring the festive season alive with the fairy lights, decorations, and fragrant aroma.
  • Organise a Secret Santa exchange with friends. This will enhance the festive spirit in your friend group and also bring you closer together during this season.
  • Attend a Christmas celebration. This could be one organised by friends, your university or even your city. Alternatively, you can host a Christmas party with your international friends and share your festive traditions.
  • Get an Advent calendar. It will help you build excitement everyday as you countdown to Christmas. Your Advent calendar doesn’t have to be with chocolate. You can find some with skincare products, alcohol and much more.
  • Try a winter sport. You may not want to spend time outside in the cold, but trying activities such as ice skating is a great way to embrace the seasonal beauty.
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