It's Germany, but you can call it Christmas land
Updated: Nov 20, 2020
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
I am not quite sure which day it was, but Christmas was coming up soon when I woke up in a snow-covered Hamburg. This happened many years ago, it was the first time I saw real snow - and I was amazed.
From that moment on, my amazement only grew. The Christmas season in Germany is fascinating. I was introduced to a wonderful new world: Advent, advent wreaths, advent calendar, St. Nicholas, Christmas stockings, Christmas markets, gingerbread cookies, real trees...
My first Christmas in Germany was full of wonder. A practicing Catholic at the time, I have to confess I didn't know about Advent, or maybe I never paid attention to the readings at Mass. It was Germany that taught me about the time of preparation for Jesus' birth and about waiting for what was to come.
In the Christian calendar, Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas. It is on this date that German houses begin the transformation. An advent wreath is placed prominently in the room, usually - as Germans like it - homemade. It is a tradition. With four candles, one is lit every new Sunday, until the Sunday before the birth of Christ.
Photo: Micha L. Rieser
The house is almost all especially decorated, and everyone has their own Adventskalender. The Advent calendar is a chocolate calendar with little windows representing the 24 days before Christmas, in which every day/window has a chocolate inside, from December 1st until Christmas. It is heaven for small and big children.
Photo: Andrea Schaufler, Advent calendar andrea, CC BY-SA 3.0
But there is one significant caveat: during all this time of preparing and decorating the house for Christmas, the Christmas tree is nowhere to be seen. The tree is brought to the house only on the 24th! More on this later. We must first address St. Nicholas' Day. Precisely, December 6th. Guess what? More chocolate. This is where the stockings you see in the movies hanging from the chimneys come into play.
On the night of December 5, children leave their socks by the doors and, when they wake up on the 6h, the socks have magically been filled with chocolate. Saint Nikolau is, since the Middle Ages, known as the “patron saint of children''. It was his character who “inspired” the Santa Claus that children have been waiting for every Christmas eve for the past 100 years in other corners of the world.
Now, back to the Christmas tree. In Germany, one usually buys a natural, real pine tree, which gets decorated by the whole family on the morning of Christmas Eve. Balls, stars, handmade ornaments, family photos, cookies and lollipops (in the shape of Santa's cane) complete the magic.
At this point, we get to another very important German tradition: Christmas cookies. Buttery, ginger, cinnamon ... Generally speaking, they are variations of sugar cookies. No matter the flavor, remember: the important thing is to make them with family, friends and, whenever possible, kids.
If there is one thing you must understand about German Christmas traditions, it is this: it is time to share with the ones you love, like family and close friends. No crowds or parties, it is a time to share with your loved ones..
Ahh, and before I forget. This year, Covid-19 is likely to cancel them, but a genuine German Christmas requires that you visit the city's Christmas Market (and every city has one), drink Gluhwein and watch the day go by. Christmas markets house stalls that sell local food, games, handicraft or season decor and, as every major event in Germany, the night ends with fireworks.
Do you feel like freezing temperatures and hot chocolate? Germany's Christmas Spirit may be just the thing for you. : D