Germans follow own traditions
Some Christmas customs are like those in the U.S., but others are different
By Rebecca Weiss
"Sweeter the bells don't sound than in the time of Christmas."
This first line of a cherished German Christmas song ("Süßer die
Glocken nie klingen") may still ring true, but the bells are
certainly of a different kind today.
In Germany, Christmas is increasingly subject to the influence of
commerce, though families and churches work at keeping their
culture from neglecting the true significance of the "Holy
Nights," as the German Weihnachten translates.
Industry does its best to divert attention to the secular joys of
Christmas. Despite controversy, shops in Germany have introduced
December opening hours that a few years ago were unheard of: as
late as 8 p.m. on week days and 6 p.m. on Saturdays. Some
businesses are even open certain Sundays.
Right after Christmas, shops have one of their semi-annual sales:
literally the "winter-end-sale." (Didn't winter just start?)
Then there are the more traditional German customs that have a
bit more charm. Toward the end of November, the annual
Weihnachtsmarkt comes to life. The little huts of the Christmas
market - more numerous every year - occupy the old centers of
German towns, mostly pedestrian zones nowadays. Here, for a
month, the streets are incessantly filled with natives and
tourists, who come to shop and take in the atmosphere.
The smell of the traditional seasonal foods sold in the wooden
booths makes one's mouth water in memory of Christmases past:
pungent mushrooms in creamy sauce, baked potatoes with dill
dressing, roasted almonds and chestnuts, herb candies, Poffertjes
(little pockets of fried dough caked with sugar) and Reibekuchen
(fried mashed potatoes) in apple sauce. Most eagerly awaited each
year is the famous Glühwein: steaming red wine enriched with
seasonal spices and sugar.
Seasonal decorations are used moderately. The tree is usually not
put up earlier than Christmas Eve or the day before. People make
Adventskränze: pine wreaths adorned by four candles, lit
separately on consecutive Sundays of Advent. Also, there are the
Adventskalender, calendars with 24 little doors hiding treats for
kids every day from Dec. 1 until Christmas Eve.
Other typical decorative items are the Lebkuchenhäuser, little
houses made entirely out of a special kind of honey-dough,
covered with frosting and candy.
Germans don't use stockings for the presents. But children do
leave their shoes out the night of Dec 5. The next day, wake to
find the shoes filled with nuts and candy in celebration of St.
Nicholas (in medieval times, gifts were opened Dec. 6).
Now, on Christmas Eve, after the customary goose dinner, the
presents are opened. Children believe the gifts are brought by
the Christ Child. There is a "Christmas Man," but he is rather
modern. He is supposed to be accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht, who
is understood to beat naughty children with a staff, instead of
giving them gifts.
Reindeer Rudolf is somewhat familiar to Germans, but you can as
yet impress people with the ability to recite the lyrics to his
song. There are many traditional German songs that have also been
popular in the U.S., for example "Stille Nacht" ("Silent Night")
and "Oh Tannenbaum" ("Oh Christmas Tree").
Though some of these customs are uniquely German, the actual
Christmas party ends up the way it probably does wherever
Christmas is celebrated: having to deal with hoards of relatives,
eating way too much and drowning in wrapping paper. However, the
Germans are fortunate to have an extra day to recover: Dec. 26 is
an official holiday.
(Frau Weiss, an American, lives in Dusseldorf where she is a
graduate university student. She was a Compass intern during