GRAFENWOEHR, Germany – Christmas is right around the corner. While there are many similarities between Christmas celebrations in the United States and Germany, there are some differences and special events that U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria community members should know while celebrating overseas.
In Germany, people use an Adventskranz, or advent wreath, with four candles on it to celebrate the four advents or the four Sundays before Christmas. On each of the four Sundays preceding Christmas Eve, a candle is lit. After lightning the first candle, the Christmas season officially begins.
The advent calendar is long part of the German tradition to help children countdown the days until Christmas Eve. The calendar has 24 doors with little surprises inside and starts Dec. 1. Each day, children open a calendar door until Christmas Eve arrives. Advent calendars are often theme-based, with candy, toys, make-up, or cooking spices, and the fun is not only restricted to children anymore. Advent calendars are getting more and more popular outside of Germany as well.
- Saint Nikolaus
Dec. 6 is a special day in Germany. Saint Nikolaus day is dedicated to bishop Nikolaus from Myra, who helped women and children in 300 A.D. Traditionally, people put their boots in front of the door on the night of Dec. 5. When they wake up in the morning, Saint Nikolaus has filled the boots with small gifts, like oranges, walnuts, and chocolates. Saint Nikolas visits the children with his companion Knecht Ruprecht (servant Ruprecht) or the Krampus. While Saint Nikolaus praises and gifts the good children with small chocolates, Knecht Ruprecht originally punished the naughty children. Today, Saint Nikolaus is seen more and more alone since he is the main attraction and punishment on children is frowned upon. Saint Nikolaus can be found in Christmas markets or town centers, and each school normally has their own voluntary Saint Nikolaus actor.
- Christmas Markets
As soon as Christmas nears, Christmas markets start as well. Depending on the size of the town, they can occur for a few days or last the entire month of December. They normally consist of food stands and booths that sell holiday related goods. Each Christmas market will have a “Krippe,” which is a display of Jesus’ birth in the stable in Bethlehem. While enjoying the Christmas market, people traditionally drink Glühwein. It is a traditional hot Christmas wine that keeps visitors warm on cold winter days. Most of the time, there is a Pfand, or deposit, on the mugs to ensure mugs are returned to the vendors.
- Christmas Eve
There are two major differences between Christmas celebrations in Germany versus the United States. First, the presents are not delivered by Santa Claus, but by the Christkind (originally the Christ Child Jesus, nowadays an angel like figure). Since Germans celebrate his birthday that day, they receive presents and joy in return. That is why secondly, the opening of presents occurs on the evening of Dec. 24, and not on the morning of Dec. 25.
- New Year’s Eve
In Germany, New Year’s Eve is the only day that people are allowed to light fireworks. On any other day, lighting fireworks is against the law and needs special authorization.
- Heilige drei Könige
Jan. 6 is Heilige drei Könige, or Three Kings Day. On this day, the three holy kings, Casper, Melchior, and Balthazar walk around giving blessings to homes. Normally, children are dressed as the three holy kings and ask for a donation for the church. In return, the home will be blessed with chalk markings on the entrance. This day marks the end of the Christmas time.