Germans celebrate Christmas much like Americans

  • Published
  • By Iris Reiff
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
During the holiday season, Germans celebrate Christmas much the same way Americans do. 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, some Americans go to Christmas Eve parties, and their trees are set up much earlier in the month or even as early as November.

Disregarding regional peculiarities, preparations for the celebration are completed and the Christmas tree is decorated in the morning and early afternoon of Dec. 24.

Some Germans start cooking their Christmas meal in the afternoon. Most people then go to church in the early evening or attend a midnight service. Before or after church, the festive evening meal is served and presents are exchanged.

Germans consider Christmas Eve a family day. Family members 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, when Germans often visit friends or family, go to a concert or just relax at home.

Saint Stephanus Day, Dec. 26, 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 younger than two 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, there were Christmas pyramids made of wood, which can be set into whirling motion by the rising air of the candles that are regaining popularity.

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

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 argued but never proven. The connection of the evergreen fir tree with candles can be traced back to the 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 pastries also have a long history. "Lebkuchen" and other sweet cookies of all kinds are still common in the family Christmas celebration in Germany. "Christstollen," with raisins, nuts, and candied lemon and orange peels, as well as festive meals, including roast goose or turkey are also common. Christmas markets take place everywhere in the country, starting mid-November and lasting until shortly before the holidays.

The celebration of Christmas in Germany may be quieter and more reserved than elsewhere, but Germans, like other people throughout the world, share the spirit of happiness, joy and love.
Frohe Weihnachten und viel Glueck im Neuen Jahr! - Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.