It's the most wonderful time of the year! Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. And Germany oozes festivity throughout December with Christmas markets, fairy lights, and the scent of roasted almonds floating down the streets. So grab your glass of Glühwein, pull out the silver bells and read on as I walk you through the Christmas celebrations in Germany.
Christmas in India
When I started my studies in Germany a couple of years back, the similarities and the differences between the celebrations in India and in Europe, especially Germany were striking. In India, where I am from, Christmas is one of the largest festivals of the year. When it comes to celebrations, India never disappoints and Christmas is no exception! Schools and colleges close a week before Christmas and remain closed for the rest of the year. I studied in a school run by the nuns from the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary so the Christmas celebration was a huge part of my childhood. Every December would start with the smell of rich plum cake fresh from the oven and the sound of jingle bells.
In school, the merry-making began by having a huge celebration on the school premises, where every year, the students put together a Christmas themed play. The school choir gave a great rendition of many of our favourite Christmas carols. And a Christmas tree festooned with glittering decorations was in place along with a charming nativity scene. One of the students, dressed up as Santa Claus, suddenly sprung onto the stage and shook his belly ‘like a bowl full of jelly’ and distributed chocolates to all of us. Although the jingle bells chime throughout the month of December in India, Christmas day itself is still the main event.
Christmas in Germany
Interestingly in Germany, the days leading up to Christmas are typically celebrated with just as much fervour as the Christmas day itself. The celebration begins on the first Sunday of Advent. Making Advent calendars for partners or children during this season is a popular custom. The calendar contains 24 ‘doors’, one for each day of December leading up to Christmas. Advent week is also when the Christmas Markets begin to pop up. The festive season is embraced fully in Germany and it can be safely assumed that Europe’s best Christmas markets are in Germany. These Christmas markets are filled with numerous stalls that sell a variety of foods and drinks. Some of my favourite things to eat/drink in the German Christmas Markets are the gebrannte Mandeln roasted almonds - the smell of which scents the whole Christmas Market, heart-shaped Lebkuchen Gingerbread and the quintessential drink of any Christmas Market- the Glühwein mulled wine.
Traditionally, the children in Germany write letters decorated with sugared glue to der Weihnachtmann, the Christmas man or das Christkind (a blond angel figure) asking for presents. But Christmas arrives a little early for the German children who also receive little treats or small presents for their good behaviour from St. Nikolaus of Myra on the 6th of December (der Nikolaustag). On the evening of 5th December, the children wash their shoes/boots and leave them at the doorstep before going to bed - anticipating treats left in them from St. Nikolaus.
One of the things that I like to do during the Christmas season, both in India and in Germany, is to play Wichteln - a game very similar to Secret Santa. Each person picks someone’s name out of a hat and buys them a gift anonymously. The idea is to find out the Secret Santa who bought you a present. It's a merry way to share the celebration with your friends and loved ones!
But one of the most striking differences I found between the celebration in my home country and Germany is that Christmas is really celebrated on the 24th of December which is called der Heiligabend or the holy evening. Families huddle around der Tannenbaum or the Christmas tree decorating it and exchanging presents. Church services are also arranged with a lot of devotion. On Christmas Day, the 25th of December, families visit their relatives and have a Christmas feast.
After a grand New Year’ Day, on Heilige Drei Könige or the Epiphany (6th January), kids parade the town dressed as the three wise kings, going from house to house singing carols and collecting sweets and donations. After their visit, they leave a chalk mark on the doors of the houses they visited. This year, it would look something like this: 20*C+M+B*21. The C, M and B stand either for “Christus mansionem benedicat“ which means "Christ bless this house" or for Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, otherwise known as ‘The Three Wisemen’ and the numbers at the beginning and end stand for the year. This is also when most families take down their Christmas decorations, officially marking the end of the Christmas season.
Whether you are someone who celebrates this holiday or not, you will definitely agree that it gives a great excuse to travel. Whether you wish to travel within Germany or venture abroad, there are tons of great options to explore. Alongside experiencing the festivities in Germany, I also make the most out of my Christmas break by exploring some of the nearby countries. The picturesque cities of Innsbruck and Salzburg in Austria offer the perfect backdrop for a spectacular Christmas. The charming UNESCO-listed Old Town called Strasbourg in France is home to the oldest Christmas Market in France. Strasbourg’s proximity to Stuttgart makes it a favorite winter destination for the locals. The Christmas Markets in Prague, the Czech Republic capital, are also among the most famous ones in Europe. Christmas finds Prague brimming with festive spirit. Perhaps some of these bustling markets are absent or largely muted this year due to Covid restrictions, so check in advance before you make any travel plans.
If a travelling Christmas isn’t an option for you, you can bring the spirit of Christmas and the holiday season to where you are. Baking Plätzchen with your friends or roommates; exchanging gifts through a game of Wichteln; huddling around the fireplace and watching a Christmas classic such as Home Alone, Love Actually or Die Hard with a warm mug of Glühwein would do just that.
There’s a lot to do in the season, there are options aplenty. Here’s hoping that this festive season is a joyful one for you and your loved ones. So a Frohe Weihnachten and a Guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr to everyone reading this!
December 20, 2021 6:07:00 PM
- Shebatini Seljin
December 21, 2021 6:46:40 AM
Thank you for giving us a taste of how Christmas is celebrated on the other side of the world!
- Hari Priya
December 21, 2021 9:14:28 AM
Nice to get to know about the tradition in Germany. Very soothing to read, takes me to the roads of imagination. As talented as always Gayu,keep up the good work!!!
- Sharon Jacob
December 21, 2021 1:18:55 PM
Beautifully written! Brought out the Christmas Spirit! May the love of Jesus shine bright in your lives this Christmas season. Hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
December 21, 2021 3:35:20 PM
Wow, can’t wait to experience it! Beautifully written
- Prathiba Jayakumar
December 22, 2021 5:12:00 AM
Such a wonderful read, beautifully written Ghayathri!
December 22, 2021 8:59:14 AM
Can’t wait to celebrate christmas with you in germany with a glass of gluhwein🍷
January 15, 2022 4:10:41 PM
Quintessential for Ghayathri' talent, beautifully scripted. Love you dear.
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