Germany is responsible for inventing, creating, or carrying on most of the Christmas celebrations, activities, beliefs, decorations, ornaments, and traditions that most people participate in today. These include decorating the Christmas tree with beautiful Christmas ornaments, baking delicious Christmas cookies and cakes, displaying nativity scenes, exchanging gifts, and receiving a visit on Christmas Eve from a bearded man who fills the Christmas stocking ornaments of all the good little boys and girls with presents. While many of these Christmas traditions have their roots in Germany, they are celebrated a little bit differently in Germany with Christmas traditions that are unique to the German people.
The Christmas season in Germany begins just before the first Sunday of Advent, which is four weeks before Christmas Day, with the opening of the Christkindlmarkts, or Christmas Markets, that are located in most major cities, towns, and villages. Each town has their own market and they are the centers of activity around the Christmas season in Germany. The Christmas Markets sell everything from Christmas trees, candies, and baked goods to handmade German Christmas ornaments, wooden nutcrackers, and toys. The townspeople do much of their Christmas shopping in the markets and many festival activities, celebrations, and socializing takes place in and around the Christmas Market. Many of the larger Christmas Markets, like the ones in Dresden, Frankfurt, and Nuremberg, put on elaborate shows or build giant life-sized advent calendars or German pyramids that attract both the locals and the tourists in droves.
Christmas, or Weihnachten, is a wonderful time of year in Germany. Christmas trees are decorated with beautiful Christmas ornaments, candles are placed in the windows, advent wreathes are displayed on tables, and a general feeling of celebration is in the air. Many German children are given gifts on several different days throughout the holiday season. The first occasion comes on December 6th which is called Nikolaustag, or St. Claus Day. The night before children leave their shoes or boots outside the door to their home and if they have been good the year before they will wake up the next morning and find a small present or sweets inside the shoe. However, if the children have been bad they may find a piece of coal or a metal rod inside the shoe. Throughout the Christmas season, children will write letters to Christkind, or the Messenger of Christ, a winged angel dressed in white and gold. They will write in their letters what they want for Christmas, decorate them with glitter or other Christmas ornaments, and place them on their window sill in hopes that they will get what they want for Christmas.
The Christmas tree, or Tannenbaum, has been a popular symbol of the Holy Trinity in Germany for nearly 1400 years. Germans have traditionally decorated their Christmas trees with edible and handmade Christmas ornaments since the 1600s. Most Christmas trees were decorated with ornaments made of flowers, cut paper, apples, gingerbread cookies, nuts, and hard candies up until the 1800s when glass ornaments began to be produced in bulk with the invention of the glass blown ornament mold. Today, German ornament makers are known throughout the world as being the best Christmas ornament artisans around the world. German craftsmen are known for creating traditional nutcrackers, spinning pyramids, whimsical smoking men, beautiful figurines, and delicate Christmas ornaments. These decorations and ornaments are seen throughout Germany in the Christmas Markets and people travel around the world to purchase these handmade masterpieces.
Two of the most popular Christmas decorations that are seen in Germany are Christmas Advent wreaths and calendars. Advent wreaths are usually placed upon the table and four red candles are arranged inside the wreath. A new candle is lit on each new Sunday up until Christmas Eve. Adventskalender, or advent calendars, are popular with the children because they get to open up a new window of the calendar counting down to Christmas Eve. With each new window they might find a Christmas picture, piece of candy, or little present inside.
The main celebration during the holiday season in Germany is Holy Night, held on December 24th. This is the time where families get together to place their last Christmas ornaments on the tree, light the last advent light, and open the final door of the advent calendar. A huge Christmas meal is served and family members and friends get together to share some Christmas punch and to exchange gifts. Most German children open their Christmas gifts on this night. Oftentimes there is a Christmas room that has been locked throughout the holiday season and it is not until Holy Night that the children will be allowed to open the door and find all of their Christmas presents inside. They might also be required to leave the room until the Christmas bell is heard and when they come back out they will find that Weihnachtsmann, or Father Christmas, has arrived and he has brought them lots of Christmas gifts which have magically appeared beneath the lighted Christmas tree with all its beautiful Christmas ornaments. Once all of the gifts have been exchanged and the wrapping torn off, Christmas dinner is then served, and at midnight everyone goes to Christmas Mass together.
December 25th and 26th are also considered part of the Christmas holiday and are national holidays in all of Germany. During this time family and friends gather together again and the Christmas celebrations continue. One of the last traditional German Christmas activities is called Christbaumloben and it is carried out on the evening of December 26th. On this day, many people will go door to door, ring the bell, pop their heads in to look at the Christmas ornaments on the decorated tree and yell, Ein schoener baum, or What a nice tree! In exchange for such an exuberant appreciation of the Christmas tree and its beautiful Christmas ornaments and decorations, the well-wishers will receive a shot of brandy and a few holiday cookies. Some people will invite the strangers or friends inside and the compliments on the Christmas ornaments and tree will continue as long as the brandy and cookies last. It is a humorous and entertaining way for many of the German townsfolk to end the Christmas season as they go door to door praising the Christmas trees and ornaments that everyone in town has put such effort in to creating and displaying.