Sankt Nikolaus or Santa Claus? Boots or stockings? The Christmas season in Germany is full of cheer and few traditions that vary from that of the United States.
Weihnachten in Deutschland
In Germany the Christmas season opens the weekend of the first Sunday in Advent with Christmas Markets in every reasonably large city. In the biting cold, people fill the marketplace for this fair like event, sharing Christmas cheer with hot Glüwein, hot spiced wine while they browse the many items for sale. While the thermometer here has been between 5°C and -6°C (40°F to 21°F) which doesn’t sound too cold, is a wet, biting cold.
Starting December 1, Advent calendars are given to loved ones. They are a way of giving a small gift for each day until
December such as a piece of chocolate, an orange or an ink pen. Unlike American Christmas wreaths that hang on a door, most German families have an Advent wreath that hangs horizontally (see photo). Traditional wooden Christmas decorations can be found among the many candles lit in the season. Plätzchen, or Christmas cookies are baked by the dozens.
December 6th is Nikolaustag or St. Nicholas Day in Germany. The night of December 5th, children put their boots outside the door for Nikolaus to fill. After checking the children’s behavior, he fills the boots with sweets if the children are good and a switch if they are bad. ‘Saint Nicholas is the canonical and most popular name for Nikolaus of Myra, a saint and Greek Bishop of Myra. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting
coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose English name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas’ (Wikipedia). See more history about St. Nicholas and the traditions in various regions at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikolaus_von_Myra
The afternoon or evening of December 24th, a German family has a meal together and often attends a church service. In this time the parents decorate the Christmas tree so it is a surprise. For children in northern Germany, usually Protestant, the Weihnachtsmann, or Christmas Man comes bearing gifts for children, usually while the family is at church. The
Weihnachtsmann in Germany resembles the American Santa Claus, thanks to Coca-Cola marketing. In southern Germany where Catholicism is prevalent, the Christkind, or Christ Child comes instead of the Weihnachtsmann. The immediate family gathers around the Christmas tree as gifts are discovered and exchanged. December 25, Christmas Day, is usually spent with the extended family over a large meal.
Christmas in Colorado
At home, the first snow usually comes in October. To give you an idea of temperature , on Friday, November 26, the temperature was -22°C (-7°F). While this sounds harsh, in Colorado we have an average of 300 days in the year with sunshine so it really is a ‘Winter Wonderland.’
In my family, after Thanksgiving which is the last Thursday in November, we normally go into the national forest near our home and cut a Christmas tree. Around the first week of December we bring the tree into the house and decorate it. We ‘deck the halls’, put colored lights on the outside of our house, make candies and bake cookies during this time, all the while listening to and singing Christmas Carols. Children write a letter to Santa Claus explaining what they would like for Christmas. On Christmas Eve, December 24 we go to church, eat a nice dinner then drive around town looking at the Christmas lights on the houses. One gift may be opened Christmas Eve. Then our ‘stockings are hung by the chimney with care, with hopes that St. Nicholas soon will be there.’ A plate of the best Christmas cookies and a glass of milk are placed by the fireplace for Santa (also known as St. Nicholas) and often a carrot or two for his reindeer.
While the children are fast asleep, Santa parks his sleigh on the roof and comes magically down the chimney with his big red sack full of toys. After eating the cookies, he checks his list of children to see who has been naughty or nice – the nice receive a gift, the naughty a lump of coal or a switch. Gifts are left under the tree and the stockings are filled with peanuts, candies and other small gifts. My sisters and I were not allowed to come downstairs to see what was under the tree until 6:00am Christmas day. After the gifts under the tree are opened, we gather with our extended family of grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Each brings a dish so the host does not have to cook the whole feast. We eat around 1:00 then open presents. Gifts are purchased for all in the immediate family. However, for the extended family, each person draws the name of another family member from a hat after Thanksgiving dinner and then must buy a gift for that person. Often card games are played and football is watched until evening when those with hunger can take more food before it is split up for each family to take some of the leftovers home to enjoy.
I’ll be Home for Christmas!
After six months in Germany, living with six different families in six different states, I’ll be flying back to the States next week. I am very excited to be going home. Not only do I look forward to seeing my family and friends again, but sharing some of the wonderful experiences I have had in Germany with the people at home. From January to April, I will travel around the state of Colorado presenting what I have learned about German culture with schools, 4-H clubs and other community organizations for the IFYE program. For me, being able to share with others what I have learned is just as exciting as being able to come to Germany in the first place. The IFYE program allowed me to learn and experience life as a true German - something I will always be thankful for.
Link to an article in the regional newspaper about our Thanksgiving celebration here in Ollenermoor.