End of November rolls in, the days get colder, significantly colder and darker – sunset is around 4pm so the nights feel very long. But we love this time of year, no matter how dark, because it is time for German Christmas traditions!
It all starts with the First Advent which is the countdown for Christmas, 4 weekends before December 25th. This countdown is accompanied by an Adventskalender (Advents calendar). Everyday for four weeks preceding Christmas, a window in the advent calendar is opened to reveal a poem, parts of a story, candy or a small gift.
The countdown continues and on December 6th is St Nicholas Day, the favorite holiday for German children. On the night of December 5, children clean and polish their boots and leave them outside the door before going to sleep. On the next morning, if they behaved throughout the year, they found their shoes filled with nuts, candy, and small gifts from St Nicholas.
But together with St. Nicholas we don’t have the funny Black Pete like in the Netherlands, we have the scary Krampus! He looks like a devil and the story says he accompanies St Nicholas to teach naughty children a hard lesson. In Southern Bavaria, men in hideous Krampus costumes patrol the streets on St Nicholas Night.
But there is one thing that is everyone’s favorite: Christmas markets. I know I know, some people think they’re kitsch and over rated, but I have to confess, I love them. Throughout Germany there are thousands of them and they’re all different. Some are geared to kids, some have enclosures where you can sip expensive wines and eat a fabulous meal. Some happen every day for a month, and some are only one weekend in the whole of the Advent period. And my favorite part of the Christmas markets are THE TASTES AND SMELLS OF CHRISTMAS
There’s nothing quite like strolling through a market, stopping for a glühwein here and there, nibbling some roasted nuts and maybe picking up Dresdner Stollen to share with friends and family. The MUST TRY are:
Glühwein (Mulled wine): Christmas season is not complete without mugs of steaming hot Glühwein, vital in beating the winter cold. This Christmas beverage is sold in ceramic mugs in all Christmas markets in Germany.
Christmas stollen: Stollen is traditional German Christmas sweet bread and it is so delicious! It is originally from the city of Dresden, capital of Saxony. It is made of flour, with fruits (chopped, candied, or dried), nuts, marzipan and spices added to it. Stollen is sprinkled with powdered sugar and sometimes zest is added to it.
Lebkuchen: is another special German Christmas treat, originally from Nürnberg in Bavaria. Similar to gingerbread, these baked delights contain honey, a number of spices, and nuts, and can be soft or hard, sweet, or spicy, and with or without icing. At the Christmas markets you can find them with various messages written on them.
Finally December 25th arrives, families gather to exchange presents, eat turkey with potatoes and keep on drinking Glühwein with Stollen. This is done until your stomach hurts.