Ingrid, a German-native, settled abroad 15 years ago. She lives in Italy and describes us German traditions surrounding Christmas time in Germany, more particularly traditions that take place in Main-Spessart county where she was born. Athough marketing and business increasingly deteriorates Christmas celebrations, Christmas time is still the most vivid celebration in Germany.
‘Unlike Christmas celebrations in various countries, festivities in Germany will start as of the very beginning of December. Numerous families have an Advent evergreen wreath supporting four candles: each sunday during the Advent time a candle is ligthed, which means that on Nativity’s Day, all four candles will have been lightened up. Another everlasting tradition is the Advent Calendar that helps counting down the days before Christmas Day. Sometimes calendars may be made of chocolate, but home-made calendars with daily small gifts are also popular.
During the whole month, more or less big Christmas Markets are organized in all the towns, selling Christmas decorations and ornaments, as well as gifts and typical Christmas cakes, such as Plätzchen and Lebkuchen.
Though they could get many things, families still prefer to create their own ornaments. In my own family, there are always home-made Chrismas cakes with Christmas figures’ shapes, such as the stars, the moon, Santa Claus, the bells, the angels, etc.
I come from Main-Spessart county, a valley close to Frankfurt. We have a special tradition over there: On Nikolaus’ Eve, i.e., during the night of 5 December, Nikolaus walks around the town with his big bag, bringing along small gifts to the children. His gifts may be either nuts, chocolate, oranges, tangerines, or the first Christmas cakes.
However, Nikolaus is not alone… Coming along with him, a frightening man named Knecht Ruprechts wearing a coat and black boots carries a stick and chains that clang when he moves.
During this very evening, children will evaluate how well or bad they behaved. They will make out a list of their good and bad deeds and read it aloud. Taking a gift from his bag, Nikolaus will reward those who well behaved, while Knecht Ruprechts will punish those who badly behaved, giving them a slight beating on their buttocks.
Bigger Christmas gifts are brought along by the Holy infant Jesus who takes the appearance of a fairy. Jingling bells announce the fairy’s arrival. Candles of the Chrismas tree are then lightened up and gifts are unwrapped under the tree. In the past, the room where was standing up the Christmas tree would stay closed until the fairy’s arrival. I well remember… I was so excited and wild with joy when the bells would jingle, meaning that children were finally allowed to come in!
Nowadays, the Christmas tree and the crib are prepared only a few days before Christmas. Regarding the waiting and the celebration, it is definitely somewhat less appealing; however our kids may now be involved in the decoration of the Christmas tree. Before unwrapping the gifts, we either sing some Christmas carols, or read a poem.
As I am coming from a small village where the midnight mass can no more be said because priests are not enough numerous, we attend the mass at the end of the afternoon. We then have dinner. In the past few years, we often cooked a cheese fondue (melted cheese [translator’s note]) or a raclette (a dish of potatoes, smoked ham and melted cheese [translator’s note]). At the end of the dinner, gifts are unwrapped.
When I was a little girl, on Christmas Eve (24 December) we used to go to my grand-mother’s house where we received our first gifts. There, we would meet our aunts, uncles, and cousins. We would spend the whole afternoon together. Everyone would then go back home for a second series of gifts in a more limited family circle.
On Christmas Day (25 December), we have a typical German meal including goose accompanied with mashed potatoes and beet-roots. My mother stuffs the goose with whole-grain bread and dried fuits. That’s great!
Christmas decorations and the Christmas tree will be kept till 6 January. They will then be removed and the ornaments will be packed.’