5 things you need for a traditional German Christmas
So if this is your first Christmas in Germany and you’re feeling a bit anxious about how to celebrate - or if you have been invited to spend Christmas with some Germans this year, then don’t worry - we got you covered.
How to celebrate Christmas like a true German
Grab a hot mug of Glühwein or Feuerzangenbowle, a pen and a piece of paper, and take note of the five things you will need for a traditional German Christmas. After all, there's a reason why they call it the most wonderful time of the year!
1. A fully decorated and decked-out house
As you already know, decorating your house with Advent wreaths, tinsel and Christmas baubles are all German Christmas traditions, but there is so much more to a German Christmas than that! Most families in Germany start decorating their homes in early December, usually around Nikolaus on December 6, with evergreen branches, paper stars in the windows and strings of fairy lights.
While some families have begun to follow the Western custom of putting up their Christmas tree early on, traditionally the Tannenbaum is not put up until Christmas Eve. Rather, Germans decorate their living room with wooden decorations like the Weihnachtspyramide (a wooden pyramid / windmill powered by the heat of candles), or dried fruit people (Zwetschgenmännla), dressed in scraps of fabric.
The nativity scene (Weihnachtskrippe) is also popular among more religious families. Finally, on December 24, the family comes together to select a Christmas tree and decorate it with ornaments, tinsel and lights before opening their gifts together.
2. A modest meal on December 24
A quick warning - if a German family invites you to spend Christmas with them, be sure to show up on December 24, as if you come over on 25 then you are already a day late. But don’t expect a huge feast either - typically, Germans eat a very simple meal on Christmas Eve.
Why, one may ask? Well, according to the old Christian tradition, Advent was a time of fasting. Hence the rise of the humble Stollen and the tradition of serving a very simple dish on Christmas Eve. In the past, carp was eaten because fish is a symbolic fasting meal, but nowadays the most popular dish to eat come Heiligabend is Kartoffelsalat (potato salad) with sausages, as many families are busy with all the preparations in the run-up to Christmas. The two following days is when people tend to splash out on a lavish feast.
3. ...and a fat goose for December 25
Forget about having a turkey roast. In Germany, it’s all about that goose! The traditional German Christmas feast on December 25 is roast goose with potato dumplings and red cabbage (there is no escaping potatoes in Germany).
Approximately five million geese are eaten every year in Germany during the period between St Martin’s Day on November 11 up to New Year’s Eve, according to the Tagesspiegel. As geese aren’t as excessively farmed as their poultry counterparts, a lot of geese are flown in from neighbouring countries like Poland for the holidays as well.
Flavourful, fatty and rich all around, if you plan on roasting a goose for Christmas then be sure you order your bird on time! Alternatively, if you are not a fan of the Weihnachtsgans then you can always go for a Christmas duck or even a Weihnachtskarpfen (Christmas carp), but this means you may end up eating fish two days in a row.
4. Plenty of sleep and RnR
The holiday festivities in Germany don’t come to an end after December 24 or 25. While Christmas Eve is reserved for decorating and gift opening, and Christmas Day for delicious feasting, December 26 (also known as Boxing Day) is traditionally a day for relaxing, eating leftovers and spending more time with your loved ones.
Boxing days sales are really not a thing in Germany, so don’t expect any shops or malls to be open on December 26 - you’ll just have to keep your gift cards and unwanted presents for another few days. Instead, take time to get more sleep, hang out in your PJs, watch some German movies and indulge in more tasty treats while you mentally prepare for Silvester - New Year's Eve!
5. Chalk over your door
The Christmas season in Germany officially begins with Advent in late November, with the actual holiday itself lasting three days. Therefore it seems only logical that Christmas slowly comes to an end in Germany as well. Officially in the German states of Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Saxony-Anhalt, Christmas is not over until Epiphany, also known as Three Kings’ Day, on January 6.
While some people in Germany will attend a special church service on this day, usually groups of children will dress like the Three Wise Men who attended Jesus' birth and go door to door. They sing traditional songs and hymns in exchange for charity donations or sweets. They also use chalk to mark the door of each house with the year and CMB, short for Christus Mansionem Benedicat, meaning Christ Bless this house
Celebrate Christmas the German way this year
Whether you are celebrating in Germany or abroad this year, we hope you will incorporate some of these traditions into your festivities. But at the end of the day, we all know it doesn’t really matter how you celebrate Christmas, as long as you spend it together with the people you love.