German Christmas traditions have helped influence holiday traditions around the world, especially in the United States. The Christmas tree is the best known of these traditions, but German culture is full of many other wonderful holiday celebrations.
Four weeks before Christmas, churches and families in Germany set up an Advent wreath, which is laid flat. Four candles are stuck inside the wreath, and the candles are lit on each of the four Sundays before Christmas. On the first Sunday, one candle is lit. On the second Sunday, two candles are lit, and so forth.
The Advent calendar allows families to count down the days until Christmas. This calendar features a shallow box with small perforated windows that pop out based on each day of the month leading up to Christmas. Every day, a person can open a window to find a small treat, such as a chocolate, inside. Once Christmas arrives, all the windows have been opened. If your children get impatient before Christmas Day, the excitement of an Advent calendar might be able to tide them over.
German children get some presents early, on December 6. On that day, Saint Nicholas arrives to fill their stockings or shoes-if they have been good. In some parts of Germany, since Saint Nicholas arrives before December 25, the Christkindl (Christ child) delivers the rest of the presents on Christmas Eve, and children don't even have to wait until Christmas Day to open them.
The Christmas Tree
Although the Christmas tree became popular during the reign of Queen Victoria in England, the practice of putting up a Christmas tree each holiday season began in Germany. The tree is often decorated with food, and some Germans use real candles to light up the tree. However, children don't get to see the tree until Christmas Eve, which makes the appearance of the tree almost like a Christmas present in its own right.
German Christmas Cuisine
A major part of the German Christmas is the preparation and sharing of delicious desserts, which accompany the traditional Christmas Day meal of goose. Stollen, a rich fruitcake with icing, is baked in the shape of a newborn baby wrapped up tight. Another holiday favorite is lebkuchen, or spicy cookies similar to gingerbread.
Christmas is a special time for children, and every parent wants to make it something memorable, something magical. That may seem like a tall order considering the seasonal hoopla and commercial excess that now associates itself with this celebration, but the magic can be kept if a little forethought goes into holiday preparations.
Italian Christmas traditions are a festive blend of Christian influences and pagan celebrations. Whether your family is Italian or you just want to explore global holiday traditions, you can incorporate some old-world charm into your holiday.
Although they are not well-known worldwide, Polish Christmas traditions are full of important symbolism. If you are of Polish ancestry, perhaps incorporating a few Polish Christmas traditions will help you feel more connected to your family's heritage.