Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas in Germany

We love Christmas. It's such a wonderful holiday celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I love how many families are able to get together during this time. One of the hardest things about living overseas is that nobody else in our family lives overseas with us. Thankfully we have made some wonderful friends over here, attend a great church, and are enjoying our experiences. However, we still miss our friends and family back home, especially during the holidays.

We got our first snow last Sunday, December 13th. It didn't stick but Wednesday night's snow did. It was beautiful.

I thought I would mention a few German Christmas traditions in this post as well as a few differences.

Christmas Tree - Traditionally many Germans wait until Christmas Eve to put up their Christmas tree. Most Americans put it up the day after Thanksgiving. Several of our neighbors have their trees outside on their decks waiting for that special day. Also Germans traditionally avoid sweets until December 24th.
Christmas Tree History - The first known Christmas tree was set up in 1419 in Freiburg, Germany, by the town bakers, who decorated the tree with fruits, nuts, and baked goods, which the children were allowed to remove and eat on New Year's Day.

The Advent calendar (Der Adventskalender) - The calendars are usually made of cardboard and have 24 small windows or flaps. One is opened every day leading up to Christmas. Behind each window is a Christmas scene or motif. Many calendars contain chocolate or candy behind each window, some even have small toys. I have seen most of them with chocolate. You can usually find these in the States and celebrate this German Christmas tradition from afar.

Nicholastag (St. Nicholas Day) - Germans celebrate Nicholastag on December 6th in Germany as well as in other European countries. On the evening before the 6th, children place their newly cleaned shoes (or an old boot) on their front porch in the hope that Nicholas might fill them with nuts, fruits, chocolate, and sweets. If the children have behaved well, their wishes will be fulfilled. Children who have caused mischief will receive only a switch, which symbolizes punishment for their bad deeds. 
Santa Claus - Germans do not really have Santa Claus but rather the Weihnachtsmann (literally, "the Christmas man"), who is a direct descendent of Saint Nicholas. Or depending on the region in Germany, the Christkind (Christ child) comes and leaves gits for the children to open on December 24th in Germany. The Weihnachtsmann, much like Santa Claus, is depicted as a jolly old man with a long white beard in a red fur suit, with a sack of presents. The difference in Germany is that he does not arrive through the chimney, but rather slips in and out just long enough to leave the gifts, usually before children can catch a glimpse of him. 

Christmas Lights - Germans tend to be more conservative with energy and therefore not many people put up Christmas lights. If they do it might be one string of lights in a window or a small reindeer light statute in their yard or on top of their house. Occasionally you'll see a few lights on someones bushes or in a tree, but from our experiences this is rare. 

Commercialism and Christmas - Christmas in Germany is not as commercialized as it is in the States. Gift giving is much smaller and there are not nearly the advertisements for toys and gifts as one sees in the States. 

Two Christmas Days - Both December 25 and 26 are legal holidays in Germany and are known as the First and Second Christmas Day respectively. What originally started out as a church celebration of Christ's birth has gradually become a family celebration. Businesses are closed, and time is spent visiting with extended family. Goose is the traditional fare on the First Christmas Day, or perhaps rabbit or a roast. These are accompanied by traditional German fare such as apple and sausage stuffing, red cabbage, and potato dumplings. The second Christmas day is usually a quieter time, a day for peaceful contemplation.

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