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Sarah, 24, comes from Lippstadt, between Cologne and Hanover, in Germany. We met last year in Paris. Now she studies in Preston in England. Despite all those trips, she never forgets the German traditions for Christmas and she explained them to me.

  • How do you prepare Christmas in Germany?

Every Sunday before Christmas (4 Sundays), we light a candle of the Advent wreath. The Advent wreath is a tradition in Germany. The Advent wreaths are often home-made.

We also have the Advent calendar. It starts on 1st December. Each day, a new window is opened and you can find something inside to wait until Christmas. There thousands of different calendars, and there are often home-made too. Some are filled with little gifts, other with more expensive gifts. But the traditional one used to be filled with chocolates. You can find Advent calendar from September in the shops.

  • Is there typically German tradition for Christmas?

We buy the Christmas tree only few days before Christmas. In general, all the family decorates it but you can pick one person in charge of the decoration.

On 24th December, the day starts with a breakfast with all the family, and then everybody helps for the cooking of the Christmas dinner and for the afternoon tea.

Before dinner, you can sing, go to the Midnight Mass or go for a walk.

Children have to leave the room before having their gifts. When everything is ready, someone rings a bell and the children can come in. Candles and Christmas songs create a Christmas atmosphere.

  • What are the typical German decorations for Christmas?

You can have fairy lights, Christmas baubles, the Advent wreath, a Christmas tree and other Christmas ornaments.

  • What do you eat for Christmas?

It depends on where you come from Germany. For example, you can have turkey with red cabbage, potatoes knödel or pear, or typical German sausages with potatoes or carp fish.

We also eat Christmas cookies, gingerbread (Lebkuchen) or macaroons.

  • Do you also celebrate Santa Claus in Germany? What is it? What do you do? Is more important than Christmas?

On 5th December, we put a boot in front of our door. During the night, Santa Claus comes and lets sweets and little gifts in the boot. But it is not more important than Christmas.

  • What would you like to add something about Christmas?

Today, traditions are not so strict. For example, the Christmas meal does not have to be very elaborated, you can cook something different if your want.

I would like to thank Sarah for this interview.

In many countries, you just cannot miss the signs of upcoming Yuletide season: strings of the most fairy lights start crowning the streets, shop windows get covered with snowflakes, stuffed with gift-wraps and special offers (“50% off on your second item!”). In Germany, at the offset of the Advent period, you also notice the sudden appearance of tiny floodlit villages: Christmas markets, Weihnachtsmärkte in German, have finally arrived.

A 800-year-old tradition

Christmas markets have first been heard of in so far as the 13th century. Originally German, they were initially set up in order to offer village inhabitants the goods they might need during the cold winter season. One of the oldest Christmas markets, and one of the world’s most famous ones today, is the Nuremberg Christmas market: in the Middle Ages, it was located in front of churches in order to attract worshippers after the mass. For craftsmen, it was a great opportunity to secure the loyalty of new buyers. It is not till the 19th century that Christmas markets really became part of cities’ life and turned into what we know today, with an offer much clearlier related to Yuletide celebrations.

That being said, the features of Christmas markets have not changed too much along the centuries. They still are a place where craftsmen offer local products, from scented candles to wooden figurines and knit beanies, and let’s not forget an extended choice of toys and Christmas decoration.

Lebkuchen (Photo 5CIT ISIT)

 

Paris: a Christmas market or just a plain market?

Christmas markets are not uncommon in France, though; I recently got the opportunity to wander through the Christmas market at La Défense, located in Paris’ business district and the biggest in the Parisian region. The West Indian stand was rubbing elbows with the one selling sausages from Toulouse; a few steps away, some stands were offering make-up products stunningly well represented by their saleswomen; another stand was displaying Oriental products, from home design items to hookahs; farther away, a saleswoman was ranting passers-by in a loud voice, praising the qualities of a revolutionary gril pan (“nothing sticks in!”). The atmosphere was significantly more cosmopolitan and between the smells of faux-leather bags, beauty products and exotic dishes, I started feeling something of a headache. So basically, you do not feel as much in a fairyland in Paris as on the Universitätsplatz, in Heidelberg. Abroad, Christmas markets spread later on (around the 18th century), but on a much more commercial basis. The Christmas market in Strasbourg, though, remains a reference, even for Germans, and is the most well-known in France.

On the very famous Marienplatz, in Munich, the smells of grilled sausages, of chocolate pancakes and of irresistible Kartoffelpuffer (see below) mix up in the air. Among the stands, a cup of mulled wine in the hand, you realize that the whole thing is not so much about attracting tourists and visitors by any mean in freezing temperatures: Weihnachtsmärkte are much more a chance to share everyday a warmth and a conviviality that only belong to the most beautiful Yuletide celebrations. 

As a bonus, here is a brief lexicon regarding the “must-dos” on Christmas markets:

  • Glühwein: mulled wine prepared from red wine, lemon, cinnamon and cloves. Kids are not to be forgotten since mulled wine stands always offer Kinderglühwein, an alcohol-free version of mulled wine which is more like a fruity tea. Weißer Glühwein is made with white wine.  You also have to know that every cup of mulled wine goes with a unique customized cup, (see picture) designed for the town you are in and for the current year.
  • Kartoffelpuffer: a potato pancake fried in a pan and to be enjoyed with some applesauce. You will be surprised by how tasty this unexpected mix is.  In Bayern, these pancakes are also called Raibadatschi!
  • Bratwürstchen: the Christmas-market-special hot dog: it is a grilled sausage little sandwich, which you can fill according to your preferences with a Currywurst (curry sausage), a Bratwurst (pork or veal), a Bockwurst/Weisswurst (seasoned pork and veal), a Knackwurst (pork and beef)…
  • Lebkuchen: gingerbread decorated with sweet sentences that will undoubtedly make someone happy.
  • Flammkueche: delicious Alsatian dish made with crème fraiche, thinly sliced bacon and onions.
  • Feuerzangenbowle: “fire punch” prepared with fruit juice and rhum.

 

Christmas - Photo 5CIT ISIT

 

Links:

An overview of Christmas markets in Germany (in English)

A little dictionay of German Christmas terms (in German)

Christmas markets in the UK

How to make mulled wine, by Jamie Oliver

 


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