When did the tradition of celebrating Christmas appear? What attributes of Christmas must be present in every home on the eve of the holiday? How do the Germans actually celebrate it? Today we’ll talk about how Catholic Europe is preparing for Christmas, as well as about gifts, expectation of a miracle and magic!

A decorated Christmas tree, gifts and the whole family at the festive table – this is how most Germans imagine ordinary Christmas. How was Christmas celebrated before? Interestingly, many of the customs that are inseparable from Christmas today have not been heard before.


In ancient times, pagan tribes celebrated the winter solstice, which fell on December 21st . Before the advent of Christianity, many Germanic peoples worshiped a pantheon of gods, that is, they were pagans. The pagan holiday was called Julfest. People were glad that the daylight hours were now getting longer and longer. Today the word “Jul” means “Christmas” in some Scandinavian languages.


In 45 BC, a new Julian calendar was introduced. According to this calendar, the day of the winter solstice was postponed to 25 December. In the 3rd century A.D. a Christian church was founded, which banned the pagan holiday, but this custom was already deeply rooted in society.

The church decided to celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th.

Already in those days, people decorated their houses on the eve of the holiday with fir branches. Evergreen branches symbolized fertility and vitality.

Traditions today

Celebration traditions have changed over time. Since the middle of the 18th century, a decorated Christmas tree is being placed in the living rooms. Christmas becomes a family holiday, during which it is customary to stay at home and spend time with loved ones.

It is important to note that no matter how changing customs, Christmas is always the main holiday for Germans.

Did you know that…

  • From the 3rd century A.D., December 25 is officially considered a church holiday.
  • In Germany and Austria, December 25 and 26 are legally recognized as days off.
  • In German-speaking countries, Christmas starts on December 24th, Christmas Eve. At the same time, December 24 is not officially a non-working day.
  • Immediately after December 25, two more holidays often follow, among them St. Stephen’s Day (Stefanitag).

Christmas markets

Christmas markets play a big role in the pre-Christmas period in Germany. In every city you will find at least one such fair, if not more. 

Traditionally, fairs start working with the first Advent , but today this rule is practically not followed and fairs have been opened almost since November.

And no wonder, because the demand for Christmas gifts and attractions is huge. Every year, crowds of tourists from all over the world flock to German markets to:

  • drink warming mulled wine,
  • taste gingerbread,
  • buy cute souvenirs for family and friends,
  • meet old friends and
  • just enjoy this magical holiday atmosphere.

At the Christmas market, they buy candles, Christmas decorations, and taste German Christmas food. The tradition of Christmas markets dates back to the 14th century. One of the most famous Christmas markets in Germany is in Nuremberg (Christkindlesmarkt). But in other cities, for example, in Dresden and Aachen, you can enjoy fabulous festive markets.

Christmas Eve

Interestingly, Christmas in Germany is not limited to Christmas Eve and a couple of weekends. The magic begins a few weeks, or rather, four Sundays before the main holiday (Advent) . It’s time for the Christmas markets – it’s time to decorate your home for Christmas.

One of the symbols of this period is the Christmas wreath (Adventskranz) with four candles. On the first Advent, the first candle is lit, every next Sunday another candle is lit. So on Christmas Eve, all four candles burn on the wreath. During this December time, Germans tend to spend more time with family and friends over punch and bake traditional biscuits (Plätzchen) and learn Christmas songs .

Advent calendar

An integral part of Advent for children, as well as for many adults in Germany, is the Advent calendar (Adventskalender). We are talking about a calendar with 24 boxes with gifts. Every day – from December 1 to December 24 – you can open only one window and get your surprise. Gifts can be sweets, stationery, Christmas decorations. Such a calendar helps to brighten and sweeten the period of agonizing anticipation of Christmas. We talked in detail about the options for advent calendars and their content in our earlier article.


An important and exciting holiday for German children – December 6, the day of Nikolaus  (Nikolaustag) . On this day, children’s boots and socks (pre-cleaned!) Are filled with sweets as if by magic. What miracles!

According to legend, it was Nicholas the Wonderworker (Saint Nikolaus) who was so generous that he gave everything he had to the needy and children. But the gifts receive only those children who have behaved well all year receive gifts. Those who were hooligans will receive a scolding from Nikolaus’ assistant, Ruprecht’s servant (Knecht Ruprecht).

Christmas Eve

When the four candles on the wreath are lit, all the sweets from the Advent calendar have been eaten, luminous garlands have been hung around the house for a long time, the Christmas tree is decorated and gifts are wrapped – it’s Christmas Eve time .

What happens on this day? Since this is officially a working day, the whole family gathers at home in the late afternoon. While some family members are busy in the kitchen preparing a festive dinner, others are putting on a nativity scene (a sculptural depiction of the scene of the Nativity of Christ in the Catholic tradition).

There is no definite answer about what is being prepared for the Christmas table. But it is true that almost every family has a recipe for a Christmas dish, passed down from generation to generation, which, like a little secret, brings all family members closer together. After the festive feast, some families read or sing Christmas stories. Then comes the time of gifts, beloved by all children.

Expectation and reality

There are many kind, family or romantic Christmas movies that many of us watch from year to year. We will not list everything, sites about cinema make fresh selections for the holidays every year.

And I would like to mention the German TV series Loriot, or rather the 14th episode of the series dedicated to Christmas. The series shows the life of an ordinary German family – grandfather Loriot, dad, mom and son. The Germans are quite ironic people, and do not mind laughing at themselves. And especially over all those rules and customs that they themselves invented. The series “Weihnachten bei Hoppenstedts” shows a typical Christmas in the average German family.

Despite the presence of all the Christmas trappings – choral music, a Christmas tree, wrapped gifts and a dressed-up family – there is no feeling of celebration from what you see. Everything looks like the pictures from the expectation vs reality category. The episode successfully portrays the German love of order and planning. Parents cannot agree on what should first go according to the holiday program – a verse from their son or unpacking gifts. Unbelievable, but even such an thing as to relax (gemütlich machen) is included in the evening plan!

The magic is around us!

However, as difficult as last year was, Christmas is a time for magic and happiness. 
This is the time that is customary to spend with loved ones, the time when it is pleasant to give and receive even the smallest gifts, which means that this is the time of magic!

We wish all of you, our dear friends, that your holidays (Catholic or Orthodox Christmas and New Year) will be filled with warmth and magic, so that wishes come true, mulled wine is delicious, and meetings are warm!

Expanding Your Christmas Vocabulary

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