GERMANY

In Germany Christmas traditions vary by region. Until the reformation Saint Nicholas’ Day, December 6, Saint Nicholas was the main provider of Christmas presents. Nikolaus still puts goodies in children’s shoes on that day. Sometimes St. Nicholas visits children in kindergarten, schools or at public events. They have to recite a short poem or sing a song in order to get sweets or a small gift. “Knecht Ruprecht” (the servant Ruprecht) – dressed in dark clothes with devil-like traits (usually noted as a long, bright red tongue and with a stick or a small whip in the hand) – sometimes accompanies St. Nicholas. His duty is to punish those children who haven’t behaved during the year. Usually he doesn’t have much to do. He merely stands near St. Nicholas as a warning to be good and polite. Nikolaus as well for some Glühwein for adults, there are some traditions connected with local firefighters, riders associations and church congregations.
The Sorbs, a minority in Saxony and parts of Brandenbuerg with a language similar to Polish, have some specific traditions. E.g. in Jänschwalde, the Bescherkind Janšojski bog (“presents kid”) is visiting the neighbors, a girl dressed in local costume and veil and goes around with two companions at the Wednesday before Christmas. It provides smaller presents like sweets, similar to the Nikolaus and provides blessings, stays however silent. Another tradition in Saxony is related to the wooden toy making in the Ore Mountains, especially Seiffen provides Christmas related decorations like Christmas pyramid and toys around the year. Christmas letters may be addressed e.g. to Engelskirchen (Angel’s church) or Himmelpforten (Heaven’s gate) or some other in municipalities with matching names. After privatization, Deutsche Post kept the tradition of dedicated Christmas offices, one in each state, answering letters and requests from children.

Currently the actual Christmas gift-giving (German: “Bescherung”) usually takes place on Christmas Eve. This tradition was introduced by Reformator, Martin Luther, as he as of the opinion that one should put the emphasis on Christ’s birth and not on a saint’s day and do away with the connotation that gifts have to be earned by good behavior. The gifts should be seen as a symbol for the gift of God’s grace in Christ. This tradition quickly became common in predominantly Catholic regions as well.

Gifts may be brought by the Weihnachtsmann (translation, “Christmas man”), who resembles either St. Nicholas or the American Santa Claus, or by Christkindl, a sprite-like child who may or may not represent the baby Jesus. After the gifts are opened the children often stay up as late as they like, often till the early hours of the morning.

The Christmas tree is first put up and decorated on the morning of the 24th. The gifts are then placed under the tree. Christmas services in the church serve as well to exchange greetings with neighbors and friends. After an evening meal one of the parents usually goes into the room where the tree is standing, lights the candles and rings a little bell. Then the children are allowed to go into the candlelit room. In many families it is still a custom to sing Christmas songs around the tree before opening up the presents. Some families attend a midnight church service “Christmette” after the evening meal and gift-giving.

The culinary feast either takes place at supper on Christmas Eve or on the first day of Christmas. Traditions vary from region to region; carp is eaten in many parts of the country. Potato salad with frankfurter or wiener-sausages is popular in some families. Another simple meal which some families favor, especially in regions where Christmas Eve still has the character of a fast day, is vegetable or pea soup. In some regions, especially in Schleswig-Holstein where Danish influence is noticeable, a roasted duck or goose filled with plums, apples and raisins is family tradition. In other regions, especially in Mecklenburg and Pomerania, many families prefer kale with boiled potatoes, special sausages and ham. Many families have developed new traditions for themselves and eat such meals as meat fondue or raclette. In almost all families in all parts of Germany you find a wide variety of Christmas cookies baked according to recipes typical for the family and the region.

“Lüttenweihnachten” describes the hunting and forestry custom of providing a Christmas tree with food decorated for animals.

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