GRAFENWOEHR, Germany – The holiday season is around the corner, and soon Christmas will follow. While there are many similarities between Christmas celebrations in the United States and Germany, there are some differences and special events that U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria community members should know while celebrating overseas.
In Germany, people use an Adventskranz, or advent wreath, with four candles on it to celebrate the four advents, or the four Sundays before Christmas. On each of the four Sundays preceding Christmas Eve, a candle is lit. After lighting the first candle, the Christmas season officially begins.
The advent calendar is long part of the German tradition to help children countdown the days until Christmas Eve. The calendar has 24 doors with little surprises inside and starts on Dec. 1. Each day, children open a calendar door until Christmas Eve arrives. Advent calendars are often themed-based, and nowadays the fun is not only restricted to children. Advents calendars are getting increasingly popular outside of Germany as well.
Dec 6. is a special day in Germany. Saint Nikolaus Day is dedicated to bishop Nikolaus from Myra, who helped women and children in need 300 A.D. On the night of Dec. 5, German children traditionally place their boots in front of the door. Then Saint Nikolaus visits the children with his companion Knecht Ruprecht, or servant Ruprecht – this character may also be represented by the Krampus. While Saint Nikolaus praises and gifts the good children with small gifts like oranges, walnuts and chocolates, Knecht Ruprecht originally punished the naughty children. Now, Saint Nikolaus is more often seen alone, since he is the main attraction and punishing children is frowned upon. Saint Nikolaus can be found in Christmas markets or town centers, and each school normally has its own voluntary Saint Nikolaus actor.
As soon as Christmas time officially starts, Christmas markets start as well. Depending on the size of the town, they can occur for a few days or last the entire month of December. They normally consist of food stands and booths that sell Christmas related goods. Each Christmas market has a “Krippe” which is a display of Jesus’ birth in the stable in Bethlehem. While enjoying the Christmas market, people traditionally drink “Glühwein.” It is a traditional hot mulled Christmas wine that keeps visitors warm on the cold winter days. Most of the time, there is a “Pfand,” or deposit, on the mugs to ensure they are returned to the vendors.
There are two major differences between Christmas celebrations in Germany versus America. First, the presents are not delivered by Santa Claus, but by the “Christkind” – the Christ Child Jesus. Since Germans celebrate his birthday that day, he brings presents and joy in return. And second, the opening of the presents and family festivities occurs on the evening of Dec. 24, and not on the morning of Dec. 25.
New Year’s Eve
In Germany, New Year’s Eve is the only day people are allowed to light fireworks. On any other day, lighting fireworks is against the law and needs special authorization. During this special time of year, fireworks can often be purchased within supermarkets.
Editor’s Note: Due to a new federal ordinance on infection protection measures from Dec. 2, 2021, a ban on New Year’s Eve fireworks in public places will be defined by the municipalities. Additionally, the sale of pyrotechnics, before New Year’s Eve, will generally be prohibited in 2021. These decisions were made by the Minister Presidents of the 16 federal states and Executive Chancellor Angela Merkel, to combat the Corona pandemic. Read more, HERE.
Heilige drei Könige
Jan. 6 is “Heilige drei Könige,” or Three Kings Day. On this day, the three holy kings – Casper, Melchior and Balthazar – walk around giving blessings to homes. Normally children are dressed as the three holy kings and go dorr-to-door asking for a donation for the church. In return, the home will be blessed with chalk markings on the entrance. This day marks the end of Christmas time.
Read More: Three Kings’ Day marks the end of Christmas
With these cultural tips, USAG Bavaria wishes you a happy holiday season as you experience this winter in Germany!