A typical German Christmas differs from the American one in quite a few ways. There’s no stockings. No chimney. No Santa Claus.
The German word for Christmas is Weihnachten.
From Weihen and Nacht.
Basically it translates to Sanctified night. Since Christ is actually an old word meaning anointed or sanctified…go figure.
In case you wondered, –mas is actually coming from mass as in church, not as in “tons of presents”.
The German Christmette is the church service held at night on Christmas Eve or, as we call it Heilig Abend (Holy Evening)
Back to celebrations. Germany usually celebrates on Christmas Eve, despite it actually being a regular working day. Most companies just close anyway, though. And/or give everyone half the day off and deduct a half day from their vacation allowance.
A standard German family (assuming there’s small kids) Christmas means everyone arrives “back home” on Christmas Eve. They oooh and aaah at the family Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas tree) in the living room, hide the presents they brought somewhere and spend the day together, preparing dinner or trying to keep the kids from complaining too much about having to wait. Classic cartoons and Christmas movies and fairy tales showing on TV or DVDs usually help with that.
In the evening, everyone gets herded off to church so someone can stay back, prepare dinner and put the presents under the tree. We all loved that. Nowadays every two years we still go to church. Well, my dad and I, since the orchestra accompagnies the service every other year.
We leave around 5PM play some music at church and get back home.
Woo, dinner’s ready! Almost. Let’s have a drink first!
There are various Christmas Eve dinner traditions around Germany. Some involve a carp or trout. Others revolve around potato salad and sausages or a Weihnachtsgans. The Christmas goose is Germany’s Thanksgiving turkey.
In my family we usually just have a fancy dinner with mom, dad, us kids, sometimes my sister’s boyfriend joins us, my aunt and up until last year my grandmother.
Because if Christmas isn’t an occasion for a fancy family dinner, what is? We don’t get all dolled up, though. It’s not shorts n t-shirts, but neither is it tux and dress shoes.
Then, after dinner, we usually talk about random stuff, past years, or about how it was when I was born, etc…at some point it became a game to drag this part out as long as possible, to see how bad my sister would complain about when we were finally getting to open the presents. But we’re both responsible adults now.
After that’s done – or sometimes even before – we usually call some relatives in another part of Germany, maybe get a call from my mom’s family in France, but not much happens.
Then it’s time for the Bescherung, the gift giving. We all gather in the living room, usually my sister and I give the presents to our parents etc, then we start opening ours. We usually open a bottle of sparkling wine and lounge around until everyone gets tired and we go to bed.
Traditional besides regular presents is usually a plate of chocolate, homemade christmas cookies, maybe oranges and clementines.
A few years ago, we’d have that twice, once upstairs with my parents, once downstairs at my grandma, but when her health got worse, we just held it all upstairs.
Even earlier we’d usually have a second Christmas dinner at my aunt’s place, so we’d go pick up presents there on 25th. Actual Christmas day.
This is called (in our local dialect) Geschenke aufheben which is not at all proper German. In high German that would translate to picking up presents from the floor, in the local dialect it’s going somewhere to get presents that are waiting for you.
The ones not Santa Claus or Father Christmas brought you, but the Christkind. Or Christkindl in some dialects. Nowadays often envisioned as a very young, sort of angelic person of indeterminable Gender, Christkind is short for Christus-Kind. Christ-Child? The annointed child? Yes, right. Baby Jesus brings the presents in Germany.
This year will be the first year with only one fancy-ish Christmas family meal since my aunt has other plans for the day and, well, my grandma isn’t with us anymore.
In larger families or circles of friends there’s also the tradition of Bäumchen gucken (tree-watching).
You visit friends or relations in the days after Christmas Eve, admire their Christmas tree and have a glass of wine, a cup of coffee or a few shots of schnaps.
Hope you all had a good time with the blog, with your friends and relations around the holidays and if you don’t celebrate anything these days at least enjoyed yourself and everyone being a little more amiable than usually. Hopefully. ;-)