Customs and Traditions
In Germany, children begin looking forward to Christmas near the end of November. They use Advent calendars to count down the days until December 25. Advent is celebrated during the four weeks leading up to Christmas and is a time to prepare for the birth of Jesus. On an advent calendar, children sometimes open windows on a chart, which display either a small photo or maybe a bible verse. Families also use Advent wreaths to document the passing of time during Advent. The kind of wreath holds four candles that are lit each of the four Sundays before Christmas.
The Feast of Saint Nicholas is on December 6. On the night of December 5, children anxiously await a visit from Saint Nicholas, a tall bearded man who once served as a Bishop in the Catholic Church. As a Bishop, Nicholas would go to the homes of poor families and fill their shoes with coins as they slept. St. Nicholas makes his rounds riding a white horse and carries a bag filled with treats. Children put out their shoes and a bowl of water for St. Nick’s horse before going to bed on December 5, and when they wake up their shoes are filled with small toys and treats.
Between December 6 and Christmas, German children visit fairs where booths are filled with toys, candies, gingerbread treats, Christmas trees, and beautiful ornaments. When they get hungry, they stop and eat hot sausage and warm salty pretzels.
On Christmas Eve, the children wait outside the Christmas room while their parents make their final preparations. Then, they go into the room to see the decorated Christmas tree for the first time. Around the tree they find small tables that are covered with beautifully wrapped presents that were left by the Christ Child. Before opening their presents, children join hands with their parents and sing “O Tannenbaum" (“O Christmas Tree").
Many of the Christmas customs we have here in the United States have come from Germany, including the tradition of the Christmas tree. It is said that Martin Luther so loved the sight of a tall evergreen outside his home, covered in snow, that he cut it down and brought it into this home. He decorated it with lighted candles to represent the stars that had been shining down upon it. Thus came our custom in the United States of cutting down live trees and bringing them into our homes to decorate for Christmas.