German Christmas traditions have birthed many of the Christmas traditions around the world.They have gifted us with their rich heritage and their abundant joy in the holiday season. Without the Germans, we would be missing the Christmas tree, homemade ornaments, stockings hung by the fireplace and even some of our favorite carols: Stille Nacht ( Silent Night), Away in a Manger, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and O Tannenbaum.

The German name for Christmas is Weinachten.

The city of Nuremberg is home to the most prominent Christkindlesmart (Christmas market) It is centuries old. It is an outdoor market similar to our county fairs in the US. The booths are opened in late November and only toys, handmade Christmas ornaments and treats are sold there. The market is in the center of town and it surrounds a nearly life-sized Crèche that was made nearly 400 years ago.

The smells of wonderful food fill the air. Spiced sausages, grilled herring, apple and pear butter as well as stollen are all there. Spiced peppernuts, Lebkuchen (gingerbread) and (an almond paste candy) tempt the children and adults to sample Just one more treat. What would a Christkindlesmart be without the German Christmas cookies for which they are famous. A favorite way for visitors to enjoy the market is to shop while sipping upon a cup of mulled wine called Gluhwein (glow wine). It is served piping hot. There is an authentic German recipe at the bottom of the page for you to try.

The seasonal celebration begins with the lighting of the first of four Advent candles. One for each week of Weinachten. On December 6th they celebrate Nikolaustag (St. Claus day). The night before the children leave a boot or shoe outside. Some children leave hay or carrots for his horse. All good children receive a gift. Some children write letters to St. Nicholas while others write to the Christ Child.

In earlier years, some areas of the country believed an angelic messenger was sent on Christmas eve. The Christkind angel, wearing a white robes, crown, and veil would bring them gifts. The Christkind angel’s name later evolved into Kringle.

One of the German Christmas traditions that I find most interesting is that the night before, the farmers would leave hay out for the donkey of the Christ Child. Folklore has it that they believed this act would cause a blessing to be bestowed upon their livestock.

The family tree is generally trimmed by the mother with marzipan (almond candies), cookies, baumgeback (handmade ornaments), and strings of lights. In parts of the country it is a German Christmas tradition that no one else is allowed to see the tree till Christmas eve. The Germans enjoy giving homemade Christmas gifts to one another. Nearly every home has a small Crèche. The Manger Scene is placed beneath the family tree.

Mulled Wine

makes 10-12 glasses


1 bottle of red wine

1/3 cup sugar

1 small sliced lemon

1 3/4 cups water

8 or 9 cloves

4 cinnamon sticks

Simmer the water, lemon , and spices on a low heat for 45 minutes. Strain the mixture and add piping hot wine (not boiling). Serve with a twist orange slice as garnish.

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