German Traditions – Christmas in Germany

Christmas in Germany
© Pixabay

There are a few similarities between American traditions, at the least, and German traditions for Christmas. However, even though in both the United States and in Germany Christmas is a commercial season, the season looks a bit different in Germany!
When I grew up (in the US), we had a glass pickle ornament on our Christmas tree, and we were told it was because of an old German tradition. As my family could easily trace their ancestry back only a generation or two from Germany, they took it to be fact.
Unfortunately, while these glass ornaments are often made in Germany (as are many glass ornaments for Christmas), the pickle ornament has never been a tradition in Germany by natives.


The Christmas tree, however, is!

While evergreen plants have been used to represent life eternal in human imagination for centuries, the tradition of the Christmas tree (Tannenbaum) has been carried over from Germany to other parts of Europe and also the Americas. It is said that during the Christianization of the Germanic tribes, St Boniface used the connection between renewal and everlasting life to dedicate the fir tree (Tannenbaum) to the Christ Child, which eventually displaced the oak tree which had been sacred to Odin. However, we can trace the use of the Tannenbaum  – raising it in rooms and decorating it – to around the 1550s due to looking at carols from the time.


Christmas markets

Germany has other major traditions for Christmas too, though, that sometimes we do not see as easily in the United States. The tradition of the Christmas market (Weihnachtmarkt; also known by other names) in Germany stemmed from winter markets to help people get through the cold winter months, and nowadays any town of moderate size in Germany will boast at least one of these markets. In the United States we only see these markets in larger cities, especially the cities that have a large German-American population; I do see them in other cities in Europe however, such as in Guildford, in England. These markets generally start when Advent starts (though some start as early as late November!) and run for about three to four weeks. You can buy food at these markets, too – everything from currywurst to cookies to cider. These markets can be found in other places across Europe, but the market in Dresden has the strongest claim for being the oldest Christmas market (1434) as far as we can tell!


The Christmas season

As stated, this means Christmas has a lot of commercialism to it, but instead of going to big stores, it has a bit more local flavor in Germany. Christmas itself is its own season, with German traditions incorporating Advent (the four weeks before Christmas Day) as well as “the twelve days of Christmas” between December 25th and January 6th – that is, between Christmas Day and Epiphany, the day in which the three wise men are supposed to come from the east to visit the newly born Christ child (as per the gospel of Luke in Christian scripture). While the gift-giving date has changed over the years from the festival of St Nicholas himself (December 6-7) to Epiphany (January 6th) to the more common Christmas Eve (Germans don’t tend to open presents on Christmas Day!), the idea of Christmas as an anticipated, joyous season to combat the dreary, cold days of winter has a long history in Germany.
What’s your favorite part of Christmas – or do you not celebrate Christmas at all? Let us know!

Christmas Markets in Germany – 3

Christmas Markets in Germany - Part I
Germany has a long Tradition of Beautiful Christmas Markets / Image from

Christmas Markets in Germany

Part Three of Three

There are many major Christmas markets in Germany besides those held in Berlin and, while the Christmas markets in Berlin have always been my favorites, the following are three of my Christmas markets beyond Berlin.  They are unquestionably superb and warrant at least a day-long visit if possible.

Nuremberg Christmas Market

(Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt) opened on 27 November 2015 and runs through 24 December 2015 and is open from 1000 until 2100 daily, except on the last day (Christmas Eve), when it closes at 1400.  Merchants go out of their way to turn old town Nuremberg into a very, very colorful, cheerful, and festive Christmassy city.  There are over 180 well decorated and lighted stalls arranged for one to find unique gifts, ornaments, games, drinks, and snacks.  There’s plenty of mulled wine and alcohol punch, bratwurst, lebkuchen, roasted almonds, and gingerbread and the mix of aromas, nostalgia, childlike anticipation, and camaraderie enhance the experience for everyone, regardless of age.



One of the Nuremberg Christmas Market’s main attractions is the distinctive yellow Christmas Stagecoach, drawn by two Rheinland heavy draft horses which are reined by Heinz Lehneis, with Gerhard Pickel at his side, toting a golden horn, rather than a shotgun.  Pickel plays holiday tunes to the delight of onlookers while, inside the stagecoach, lucky passengers take in the entire Christmas Market from their privileged seats.  Passage in the stagecoach lasts about 10 minutes and they are memorable minutes indeed, particularly for children and for adults recalling their childhood.


The source of almost all the craftworks not only for the Dresden Christmas Market, but also for Christmas Markets throughout Europe, is the small Saxon town Seiffen.  With fewer than 2,700 residents, Seiffen is in the middle of the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge), within walking distance of Czechoslovakia.  Seiffen began as a mining town 700 years ago, but, as the silver and tin deposits depleted, the residents turned to lace making, weaving, and wood carving and began to specialize in toy making.

At the end of the 17th century, Nuremberg was a key toy distribution point for much of Europe.  A Seiffen resident, Friedrich Hiemann, took toys to various toy distributors in Nuremberg.  The distributors were impressed by the toys and Seiffen has been a key player ever since.


Stuttgart Christmas Market

It is one of the oldest, most popular, and most infectiously exciting Christmas Markets in Germany.  It’s centered in the city center in view of the so-called old palace and extends past the Altes Schloss, Schillerplatz, Kirchstrasse, and Hirschstrasse.  With almost 300 stalls, there’s virtually nothing left to the imagination.  If you’re at sixes-and-sevens as to what to buy for a reclusive aunt, a prickly boss, or a borderline sweetheart, you will find many possibilities as you wander through the Stuttgart Christmas Market.

Visitors of all ages to the Stuttgart Christmas Market are bathed in the continual music and songs of the many visiting choirs, choral groups, and instrumental groups chosen for their popularity and expertise to nurture and promote the seasonal Christmas spirit.  All the while, the market’s physical layout provides rapid and accurate access to the sort of treats sought by visitors, whether it be candies and various local savories, household wares, honey products, seasonal clothing, decorations, candles, or toys.

The huge expanse of the market includes the ice-skating rink adjacent to the Schlossplatz and the magnificent antique and collectors’ marketplace in the Karlsplatz.  There’s a delightful mini-railway for children, and a live nativity scene that includes two lambs, two sheep, a donkey, and two goats for the duration of the Christmas Market in the Sporerstraße near the market hall.

U-Bahn 5, 6, 7, & 15 bring you to the center of the market at Schlossplatz, and U-Bahn 1, 2, 4, & 11 bring you to within two blocks of the Marktplatz at the Rathaus.  If you prefer the bus, use lines 42, 43, 44, & 92 to deliver you safe and sound to the market.  In other words, lack of transportation is no excuse for missing out.

Christmas Markets in Germany – 2

Christmas Markets in Germany - Part II
Germany has a long Tradition of Beautiful Christmas Markets / Image from

Christmas Markets in Germany – Part 1

Part two of three

Because there so are many Christmas Markets in Germany, it’s impossible to visit them all unless you want your memory of them to be nothing more than a blur. If you have 10 days to two weeks to devote to the pre-Christmas season, then select three or four Christmas Markets that are not too far from one another, and set out by car or train. You’ll never regret your tour.

Berlin has more than five dozen Christmas Markets of various sizes, so you can pick and choose at will and get a flavor for what’s important to the residents of Berlin’s many unique neighborhoods.

One of the most popular in Berlin is the market at the three-centuries-old Schloß Charlottenburg on Spandauer Damm, the largest palace in Berlin ( The market runs from 23 November through 26 December. Its hours are from 1400-2200 (Monday-Thursday) and 1200-2200 (Friday-Sunday) and is reachable via bus lines 145, 109, & 309, S-Bahnhof “Westend,” and U-Bahn (7) at Richard-Wagner Platz. Paid parking is available, but why drive? Who needs the hassle? Also, Schloß Charlottenburg officials install a special lighting arrangement for the Christmas Market, bathing the palace and grounds in spectacular holiday colors that will take your breath away. Multiple stalls and marquees offer local beverages and traditional seasonal snacks to delight one and all, and crafts of all sorts will tickle your fancy. Near the palace’s greenhouse, the so-called winter-forest section offers a carousel. There are also special tours of the palace scheduled during this Advent season.

Another quite popular Christmas Market is “Christmas Magic” at the Gendarmenmarkt (, a square in Berlin and the location of Berlin’s renowned Konzerthaus, Leipziger Straße 65, is flanked by the Französische Friedrichstadtkirche on the north and the Deutsche Dom on the south. In effect, you can spend a few full days exploring not only the Christmas Market itself, but two superb churches and Berlin’s center of orchestral concerts and chamber music. It’s reachable via U-Bahn (2) at Hausvogteiplatz. It’s open daily between 23 November through 31 December, inclusive, from 1100-2200 (until 1800 on 24 December). More than 600,000 people visit this Christmas Market every year, so be prepared for some stiff competition for the many handmade products, art of all sorts, delicacies, and cheeses,
that are the specialty of this market, with ample opportunity to sample before you buy. “Christmas Magic” also boasts a huge, magnificently decorated Christmas tree and live plays every day to bring the meaning of Christmas home for children and adults alike. There is a modest (€1.00) entrance fee after 1400 daily. If you take the S-Bahn to the Friedrichstrasse station, you can enjoy the lighted shops along Friedrichstrasse as you walk to the Gendarmenmarkt.

Berlin’s 150-year-old Red City Hall (“Rotes Rathaus”) on Alexanderplatz hosts a superb Christmas Market, Berliner Weihnachtszeit, ( in Central Berlin, adjacent to the 368-meter Television Tower (“Fernsehturm”), completed in 1969, and the 50- meter Ferris Wheel, 23 November through 29 December, from 1200-2100 weekdays and 1100-2200 weekends. This market caters particularly well to children and includes an area with several domesticated farm animals with which children can interact, schedules several daily visits by Father Christmas (“der Weihnachtsmann”), and offers ice skating in a large, 600-square-meter outdoor rink. The entire market, insofar as possible, is reminiscent of the early 1900s and presents a nostalgic, even romantic, picture of Berlin life. There’s no shortage of music, food, beverages, and a breathtakingly broad selection of gifts for both children and adults. On average, more than 800,000 pedestrians and S-Bahn and U-Bahn travelers pass through Alexanderplatz every day.

On the other side of Alexanderplatz is the much more modern, even glitzy, Wintertraum am Alexa (, which includes several rides traditionally associated with fairs. There’s a Ferris Wheel, a roller coaster (“die Achterbahn”) nicknamed “the wild mouse,” and other spinning and bumping rides favored by children and the young-at-heart. Especially popular is the so-called voodoo jumper which is not nearly as daunting as its name implies, but which teens love. In fact, most teens favor the Wintertraum am Alexa more than any other Christmas Market in Berlin. This market offers opportunities for parents and children to share experiences or for them to take part in separate activities if they prefer. All the traditional Christmas market stalls, foods, drinks, etc., are available in addition to the special activities laid on for the younger generation. Take the S-Bahn or the U-Bahn to Jannowitzbrucke/Alexanderplatz.

Two more Berlin Christmas markets should be mentioned. The first is the Weihnachtsmarkt am Gedachtniskirche, Kantstraße, running 23 November through 03 January, from 1100-2100 (Sunday through Thursday) and 1100-2200 (Friday & Saturday). This market is located quite close to the Kurfurstendamm, the most elegant shopping boulevard in Berlin, and offers the opportunity for extensive shopping and a chance to see the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Seeing the memorial church is a very moving experience and, if you’re lucky enough to visit when the bells are rung, your experience might well approach the ethereal. Take the S-Bahn or the U-Bahn to the Zoologischer Garten. The second additional Berlin Christmas market is the
Winterwelt am Potsdamer Platz (used to be but the link is dead). Because it opens on or about 01 November and runs through 03 January, this market sets the pace for all the Berlin Christmas markets. The hours are 1000-2200 daily (1000-1400 on 24 December). Take the S-Bahn or the U-Bahn to Potsdamer Platz. This market is much more than a Christmas Market. It offers visitors the chance to slide down a snow-packed hill on a tire (think toboggan/luge), go ice skating, and—get ready!—Eisstockschießen, a cross between curling and bowling. Of course, there are also plenty of stalls, beverages, foods, and gifts to delight both casual and jaded shoppers. More than 2,500,000 visitors pass through this market every year.

Christmas Markets in Germany – 1

Christmas Markets in Germany
Zimt = Cinnamon / Image from

Christmas Markets in Germany – Part 2

Part One of Three

Advent (“der Advent”) is the Christian religious period beginning four Sundays immediately
preceding Christmas and, to the Christian residents in many European countries, the approach of Advent means the so-called Christmas Markets are in the offing.

Christmas Markets comprise all sorts of retail stalls offering traditional Christmas-related items as well as food and drink, e.g., Christmas pyramids, carved nutcrackers that are both useful and superb examples of naïve art, i.e., art that celebrates a simplicity of subject matter and technique, incense burners, music boxes, candles, baubles, glühwein (SEE my recipe for Mulled Cider below), bratwurst, Stollen, a dried bread containing dried fruit and often covered with sugar icing or a dusting of powdered sugar, and Lebkuchen, also known as Pfefferkuchen, which is a cookie with a close resemblance to gingerbread. Seasonal candy, usually incorporating almonds and almond paste in varying degrees, is a popular item for locals and visitors alike.

All the markets feature a nativity scene that recounts the story of the birth of Jesus when Mary and Joseph return to their home village for the census.

Of course, there is also a great deal of singing and dancing, sometimes spontaneous, but usually organized by various of the sponsoring towns’/cities’ religious and civic groups.

Christmas Markets’ popularity started in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland in the early 15th century and slowly spread and peaked over much of Christian Europe during the subsequent 150 years. Of course, there’s still controversy as to which was the first Christmas Market in Germany. Imagine a lively debate nowadays about that unimportant point after six centuries! Dresden routinely claims the honor, arguing that its Christmas Market opened in 1434, but Bautzen, in eastern Saxony, rejects Dresden’s claim in light of having its own Christmas Markets fifty years earlier. Munich points to its Christmas Markets having begun in 1310 and Frankfurt enters the argument by claiming a Christmas Market in 1393. The debate has all the passion and importance of a schoolyard controversy and is always a great deal of fun for the newspapers.

All the various cities pooh-pooh each others’ historical claims, but it’s mostly well-meant community spirit and loyal fans merely cheering for the home team. The important point is that each of the more than three dozen chief Christmas Market cities sincerely believes that its Christmas market is the best and the only way to judge is to visit them all. Oh, that that were possible!

Arguably, the Christmas Markets of Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Dresden, Nuremberg, Erfurt, and Augsburg are the best known and most popular, but, since Germany has more than three dozen Christmas markets—indeed, Berlin has four quite large Christmas Markets of its own—one needn’t be too concerned if schedules and weather preclude your visiting them all. It’s safe to assume that, whichever Christmas Markets you visit, your experiences and memories will delight and buoy your spirits. For a list of the 39 main Christmas Markets in Germany, see Wikipedia.

Be prepared for crowds when you visit a German Christmas Market. Each Christmas Market features a huge decorated Christmas tree and hundreds of stalls selling everything you can imagine for the Christmas holidays to the millions of visitors. The most famous are also the most crowded. More than two million visitors pass through both the Nuremberg and Dresden Christmas Markets every year, but the Christmas Markets at Frankfurt and Stuttgart host more than three million tourists and shoppers every year. The largest of the German Christmas Markets are in Dortmund, with more than three and a half million visitors, and Cologne, with more than four million tourists and shoppers. The Christmas Markets are very, very popular.

Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt’s Mulled Cider

150 g brown sugar (real brown sugar!)

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 teaspoon allspice

3 Cinnamon sticks

Dash of nutmeg

1.9 liter sweet, clear cider (“der Apfelmost” [alkoholfrei])

Combine cider and brown sugar in a double boiler (“der Wasserbadtopf”). Heat until the sugar is fully dissolved. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer (double-boiler water should boil robustly) for at least 10 minutes. It should become quite aromatic.

Strain and return to the double boiler. Turn off the heat, but cover to keep warm. Serve “as is” (“Istzustand”) to children; add a jigger of peppermint schnapps to adult cups. Make sure you have enough of everything. It’s ideal for blustery winter days and nights.

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