For the next part of our Christmas Around the World series, Language Insight is heading to Germany.

The build-up

In our previous post in this series, we explained how Poland celebrates St Nicholas Day on December 6th in honour of the saint who visited villages to give gifts to all the well-behaved children. Germany also marks this occasion.

On the night of December 5th, German children leave their shoes outside the front door of their home for Saint Nicholas to fill with presents. If they have been good, they will arise the next morning to find sweets and small toys in their footwear, but if they have been bad they will only get twigs.

This is just one of the festive events that takes place during the build-up to Christmas in Germany – or Weihnachten as it is known there. In church, Advent is marked by lighting a candle on each of the four Sundays before the big day and many families will be busy in the kitchen preparing sweet treats like gingerbread houses.

Putting up the Christmas tree is also a big deal. These trees are a common feature of the festive season all over the world and they originate from Germany. However, while in the UK some people rush to put their decorations up on the first day of December, in Germany the practice is to decorate the tree on December 24th.

Christmas markets

Across the UK, Christmas markets are becoming a popular sight, and of course – like the Christmas tree – they originate from Germany. People from all over the world head to the country’s biggest cities in the lead-up to the festive season so they can attend these extravaganzas, taste some of the regional produce and stock up on gifts.

Once traders would display their goods on the street but today pretty wooden cabins and shacks are put up to sell items from. If you’re looking for a Christmas markets in your area, you’ll find there are plenty to choose from.

You can try all manner of delicious festive foods when you go to a Christmas market, but a particular speciality is stolen, which is a bread crammed full of fruit and marzipan. You can also warm up with a mug of mulled Glühwein.

Along with Christmas markets, the Advent calendar is a German tradition. While lighting candles on each Sunday of Advent was the Christian custom, from the turn of the 20th century children were kept entertained with a printed calendar with doors they could open to reveal a picture, bible passage or even a chocolate.

Three-day Christmas

Germans don’t generally differentiate between Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day and instead all the days are counted as part of the same Weihnachten holiday. On the first day of Christmas (December 24th), close family members will gather together for an evening meal that is traditionally meatless. This reflects the fast that was once done during Advent to prepare for the Christ Mass.

Just like in Poland, carp is a popular dish to have at this occasion, along with potato salad. It is certainly a healthy choice and will ensure people have room left for the feast they get to enjoy the next day.

December 25th is a time for extended family to come together and celebrate. A German Christmas dinner typically consists of goose, suckling pig or even a cheese fondue, with white sausage, pasta salad and bread also served. For pudding, Germans tuck into traditional Christmas cookies and fruit cakes with marzipan. They could also help themselves to some of the Kringel decorations on the tree, which are made of candy and chocolate.

Once Weihnachten is over it’s time to look forward to New Year’s Eve, and interestingly this is an occasion where a German tradition originates from the UK. Dinner for One (also known as The 90th Birthday) is a British comedy sketch written in the 1920s by author Lauri Wylie and filmed in English for German TV in 1963. It has been shown every New Year’s Eve since then, making it one of the most often repeated TV shows in history.

If you’re German, why not share some of your own Christmas customs below?

If you’d like to know about Christmas in other countries, follow this link: