How Germans celebrate Christmas

  • Published
  • By Iris Reiff
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
During the holiday season, Germans celebrate Christmas much the same way as Americans. They decorate Christmas trees and put up decorative lights, but in other ways, the countries observe the holiday differently.

While Germans like to spend a quiet evening with their families and sometimes wait until that day to put up and trim their trees, Americans often go to Christmas Eve parties, and their trees are set up much earlier in the month.

Regardless of regional peculiarities, the usual Christmas schedule for most Germans is that last preparations for the celebration are completed and the Christmas tree is decorated in the morning and early afternoon of Dec. 24.

Germans start cooking their Christmas meal in the afternoon or early evening. Most people then go to church (if they don't prefer to go to one of the midnight masses, which are becoming popular again). Before or after the festive evening meal, the presents under the Christmas tree are distributed and opened. For many, especially the small ones, this is the highlight of the celebration.

Like many Americans, Germans consider Christmas Eve a family day. Members of the family sit together, sing Christmas songs in front of the decorated tree, light candles, enjoy home baked cookies and listen to music.

The spirit of family sharing continues on the first Christmas Day, Dec. 25, and the second Christmas Day, Dec. 26, both legal holidays. Those days Germans often visit friends or family, go to a concert or just relax at home.

Dec. 26 is Saint Stephanus Day, which honors the saint who was stoned to death for standing up for his religious beliefs. Germans also celebrate Dec. 26 in remembrance of the children who were killed in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. According to the Bible, King Herod ordered the slaying of all male Israelite infants less than 2 years old, hoping to kill Jesus Christ.

Christmas customs

Many of the older Christmas customs practiced in particular regions of Germany have nearly disappeared. In many regions it was customary for people to hold costume parades, or go out caroling and gathering presents. Instead of Christmas trees, or in addition to them, there were Christmas pyramids made of wood, like the pyramids, which can be set into whirling motion by the rising air of the candles.

Christmas manger scenes with artistically carved wooden figures were and still are set up in people's homes and in churches. During the Christmas services, "Krippenspiele," or Christmas plays, were put on. This custom arose in the Middle Ages, and in some places, it continues.

The connection between the Christmas tree and the pre-Christian use of green branches and lights for the religious cult of winter has often been maintained, but never proven. The connection of the evergreen fir tree with candles can be traced back to early 17th century. Public Christmas trees were first set up in New York in 1912. Since 1919 this tradition has been spreading in Germany.

German Christmas pastry also has a long history. "Lebkuchen" and other sweet cookies of all kinds are still standard features of the family Christmas celebration in Germany. And so are "Christstollen" with raisins, nuts and candied lemon and orange peels, as well as festive meals, often including roast goose or turkey.

The celebration of Christmas in Germany may be quieter and more reserved than elsewhere, but Germans, like other people throughout the world, share the same spirit of happiness, joy and love.

Frohe Weihnachten und viel Glueck im Neuen Jahr! - Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.