German traditions at Christmas time

German traditions at Christmas time

Every Christmas, since medieval times, towns and cities across Germany come alive with the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas. Beginning in late November, in almost any German city of any size, one or more Christmas market will pop up on the local square and often in several other locations like castles or parks. These Christmas fairs – offering warm drinks, roasted chestnuts, and local crafts – usually continue through the four Advent weeks leading up to Christmas Eve and are an integral part of the Christmas season. The market is a meeting spot for friends and family after work – you gather at one of the beautifully decorated stalls and indulge in mulled wine, egg nog, punch and caramelized almonds to enjoy the anticipation and celebrate together with some Christmas cheer.

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History of Christmas markets

The Christmas market originated in what is now Germany. Open-air street markets have a long history: special winter markets, often open only for a day or two, offered townspeople a chance to stock up on food and supplies to be prepared for the cold season. With time, craftspeople began setting up stands to sell baskets, toys and wood carvings. There were also stalls for almonds, nuts, roasted chestnuts, gingerbread and local specialties. These items were often purchased as gifts to be given out for Christmas or on New Year’s Day.

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Christmas market for Foodies

These winter markets were the precursor of contemporary Christmas markets, which you find nowadays all over Germany, every town proudly presenting its food specialties, from Marzipan in the north (Lübeck) to Christollen in the east (Dresden) and Lebkuchen in the south (Nuremberg). In fact, you can travel Germany on your personal Christmas market route – by trying samples at the stalls you get an idea about the diversity of German food. My advice: ignore the universal food booths with the mass produced items, and look for the smaller stalls – you will  find local producers, selling their very own hand crafted product and normally they are happy to tell you about it – can´t be more authentic


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Gingerbread House

Gingerbread makers established their own trade guild in Nuremberg in the 17th century, but Gingerbread houses became part of German Christmas traditions after one was featured in the famous Grimm Brothers’ story of Hansel and Gretel. German families create around the first Advent weekend gingerbread houses, complete with frosting, figures and gumdrops – but the treat has not to be touched till Christmas Eve!

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Advent Calendars

The popular calendars that count down the days until Christmas originated in Germany. The tradition is meant to count down the four weeks leading up to Christmas Eve. The Advent or Christmas calendar began as a plain card with paper backing. On the face were 24 windows that when opened revealed various Christmas symbols and scenes. Today the most popular to-buy version of this calendar is the candy or chocolate filled variety – you even get real Foodie calenders with treats like Lübecker Marzipan or handmade pralines. Many families have a tradition of creating a calendar, it gets filled individually every year.