By Ms. Bianca Sowders (IMCOM)November 19, 2013
ANSBACH, Germany (Nov. 19, 2013) -- Christmas time in Germany begins with the Advent season. Advent, a word derived from the Latin "adventus" for arrival, is a Christian season of expectation and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas. It begins on the first of four Advent Sundays. Many families display an Advent wreath with four candles to mark the four Sundays, and every Sunday one more candle is lit. The children open an Advent calendar filled with sweets or small gifts every day of December to make the waiting period seem shorter.
The larger Christmas markets are usually open daily during the whole advent season, but some of the small and special ones are only open one or two weekends depending on the size of their town. Historically the Christmas markets go back to the late Middle Ages in the German-speaking part of Europe. One of the oldest markets dating back to 1434 is the "Strietzelmarkt" in Dresden; the best-known market is probably the Nürnberg Christkindlesmarkt.
Popular attractions at the markets usually include a Nativity Scene (a crèche or crib with Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus, ox, donkey and sheep), Zwetschgamännla (figures made of decorated dried plums and nuts), Nussknacker (carved Nutcrackers) and the traditional decorations and tree ornaments handmade from wood or straw. Well liked food specialties include 'Gebrannte Mandeln' (candied and roasted almonds), traditional gingerbread-like cookies such as 'Lebkuchen' and 'Magenbrot,' 'Christstollen,' a sweet bread with candied fruit and raisins, and, of course, the obligatory Bratwurst. Visitors often like to warm up with Glühwein, a hot mulled red or white wine, or Eierpunsch (an eggnog-type warm alcoholic drink).
But there is more to "Weihnachten" in Germany than the famous markets. The arts and entertainment scene also takes a seasonal turn in December. Many cities offer cultural events like theatrical plays, operettas, musicals and classical concerts. People enjoy quiet times with family and friends; mothers bake cookies with their children; coworkers head to a local Christmas market together to enjoy a cup of "Glühwein" or hot chocolate.
St. Nikolaus, a bishop who historically lived in the fourth century, visits the children on the eve of Dec. 6 and puts nuts, tangerines and small presents into the boots they placed outside. Sometimes he is accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht, who threatens to punish and take away naughty children in a potato sack.
The tradition of the Christmas tree dates back to the late Middle Ages, as early as the 15th century. Back then the tree was decorated with apples, nuts and sweets. In the 18th century the candles were added. The first decorative handmade balls were introduced in 1830 and Lametta (tinsel) followed 50 years later. Many German families still decorate their tree in the "altdeutsche Tradition," the old German way, with real candles.
Christmas Eve is the important night for most Germans. It is an evening spent with close family and often includes a visit to a church service. The highlight of the evening, especially for the children, is the opening of the presents. The delivery person for the presents varies by region: In the south of Germany, as well in Austria and Switzerland, it is often done by the Christkind, the "Christ Child," and angels; in the north the job belongs often to the Weihnachtsmann, who looks a lot like the American Santa Claus.
Christmas Day is reserved for a large, festive meal and time with the family. The day after Christmas is also an official holiday, often used for an opportunity to visit with extended family and friends. A traditional Christmas meal would be a roasted goose or duck, but of course every family also creates their own tradition.
The Christmas season is more or less concluded by Jan. 6, another German holiday known as Three Kings Day or Epiphany. Traditionally members of the local church community walk around to collect money for charity projects. The group is called the Sternsinger, or "star singers," and is usually comprised of four children or teenagers dressed up as the three wise men and a star bearer. They sing a traditional song or recite a poem or prayer and write the blessing for the year on the top of the front door with chalk. The blessing will always contain the new year and the letters C+M+B, which stands for "Christus mansionem benedicat,"- "May Christ Bless this House."
Advent and Christmas market highlights for 2013 include:
Ansbach -- Weihnachtsmarkt (Johann-Sebastian-Bach-Platz): Nov. 27 through Dec. 23. To learn more, visit www.ansbach.de.
Aschaffenburg -- Weihnachtsmarkt (Schlossplatz): Dec. 1 through 22. To learn more, visit www.aschaffenburg.de.
Bamberg -- Weihnachtsmarkt (Maxplatz): Nov. 28 through Dec. 23. To learn more, visit www.bamberg.info.
Bad Kissingen -- Lichterglanz (lights aglow): Nov. 29 through Dec. 29. To learn more, visit www.badkissingen.de.
Bernkastel-Kues -- Weihnachstmarkt: Nov. 23 through Dec. 22. To learn more, visit www.weihnachtsmarkt-bernkastel-kues.de.
Coburg -- Weihnachtsmarkt : Nov. 29 through Dec. 23. To learn more, visit www.coburg-tourist.de.
Dinkelsbühl -- Weihnachtsmarkt (Spitalhof): Nov. 28 through Dec. 22. To learn more, visit www.weihnachtsmarkt-dinkelsbuehl.de.
Erlangen -- Medieval Weihnachtsmarkt (Neustädter Kirchenplatz): Nov. 27 -- Dec. 23. To learn more, visit www.erlangen-marketing.de.
Fürth -- Weihnachtsmarkt (Freiheit): Nov. 28 through Dec. 23. To learn more, visit www.fuerth.de.
Forchheim -- Weihnachtsmarkt: Nov. 30 through Dec. 24. To learn more, visit www.forchheim.de.
Garmisch -- Weihnachtsmarkt: Nov. 30 through Dec. 24. To learn more, visit www.garmisch-partenkirchen.de.
Heidelberg -- Weihnachtsmarkt (Karlsplatz): Nov. 25 through Dec. 22. To learn more, visit www.heidelberg-tourismus.de.
München -- Christkindlmarkt (Marienplatz): Nov. 29 through Dec. 24. To learn more, visit www.muenchen-tourist.de.
Nürnberg -- Christkindlesmarkt: Nov. 29 through Dec. 24. To learn more, visit www.christkindlesmarkt.de.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber -- Reiterlesmarkt: Nov. 29 through Dec. 23. To learn more, visit www.tourismus.rothenburg.de.
Schweinfurt -- Weihnachtsmarkt: Nov. 28 through Dec. 23. To learn more, visit www.weihnachtsmarkt-sw.de.
Würzburg -- Weihnachtsmarkt: Nov. 29 through Dec. 23. To learn more, visit www.wuerzburg.de.
Weekend Christmas markets in 2013 include:
Bad Mergentheim -- Weihnachtsmarkt at Wildpark: Nov. 16, 17, 23, 24 and 30 and Dec. 1. To learn more, visit www.bad-mergentheim.de.
Bad Wimpfen -- Altdeutscher Weihnachtsmarkt: Nov. 29 through Dec. 1, Dec. 6 through 8 and 13 through 15. To learn more, visit www.badwimpfen.org.
Bad Windsheim - Weihnachtsmarkt : Nov. 28 through Dec. 1, Dec. 5 through 8, 12 through 15 and 19 through 22. To learn more, visit www.bad-windsheim.de.
Freilandmuseum Bad Windsheim -- Weihnachtsmarkt: Dec. 1, 8 and 15. To learn more, visit www.freilandmuseum.de.
Gunzenhausen -- Weihnachtsmarkt: Dec. 1, 5 through 8 and 12. To learn more, visit www.gunzenhausen.de.
Heilsbronn -- Weihnachtsmarkt: Dec. 6 through 8. To learn more, visit www.stadt-heilsbronn.de.
Herrieden -- Weihnachtsmarkt: Dec. 20 through 21.
Hilpoltstein -- Weihnachtsmarkt: Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. To learn more, visit www.hilpoltstein.de.
Iphofen -- Weihnachtsmarkt: Dec. 7 through 8. To learn more, visit www.iphofen.de.
Marktbreit -- Weihnachtsmarkt: Dec. 1. To learn more, visit www.marktbreit.de.
Marktheidenfeld -- Weihnachstmarkt: Dec. 6 through 8. To learn more, visit www.marktheidenfeld.de.
Neustadt an der Aisch -- Weihnachtsmarkt: Dec 6 through 8. To learn more, visit www.neustadt-aisch.de.
Ornbau -- Adventsmarkt: Nov. 30. To learn more, visit www.ornbau.de.
Schwabach -- Weihnachtsmarkt: Dec 6 through 8 and 12 through 15. To learn more, visit www.schwabach.de.
Stein -- Weihnachtsmarkt (Mecklenburger Platz): Nov. 29 through Dec. 1. To learn more, visit www.stadt-stein.de.
Weikersheim Castle-- Weihnachtsmarkt: Dec 13 through 15. To learn more, visit www.weikersheim.de.
Windsbach -- Weihnachtsmarkt: Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. To learn more, visit www.windsbach.de.
Wolframs-Eschenbach -- Sternlesmarkt: Dec 14 through 15. To learn more, visit www.wolframs-eschenbach.de.