German Christmas traditions and useful words for Weihnachten
Is it Weihnachten or Weihnachts? What does Glühwein mean? And why is Christmas not on Christmas Day?
I love Weihnachten so I thought I’d make this little video because I want to tell you about all the lovely Christmas traditions that we have and teach you a couple of words in the process.
So is it Weihnachten or Weihnachts?
Christmas is Weihnachten but in composite words like Christmas present, Christmas tree, Christmas market, Weihnachten is shortened to Weihnachts.
Present is Geschenk, so how would you say, Christmas present?
And Christmas tree? Tree is Baum.
And what about Father Christmas, what would that be in German?
That was a trick question. We actually call him the "Christmas man”! Der Weihnachtsmann.
Der Weihnachtsmann is not the one who brings die Weihnachtsgeschenke
Many children believe in the Christkind who brings the presents rather than Father Christmas. The Christkind is not defined in terms of looks. Unlike the Weihnachtsmann it is completely invisible and the presents just appear under the Weihnachtsbaum :)
The Christkind as the bringer of presents was invert by Matin Luther and is still very popular. In many areas of Germany the Weihnachtsmarkt is actually called Christkindlmarkt.
Germany is Europes biggest exporter of goods and Christmas markets I feel have become the latest thing that Germany is exporting now. Here in the UK, Christmas markets poppig up everywhere and many of them are staffed by Germans selling German specialities like Stollen, the traditional German Christmas cake, Lebkuchen (a bit like a gingerbread - only better), and of course Glühwein which is a German word, meaning "glowing wine": wine which had been heated.
Many people also bake their own Christmas biscuits called Plätzchen in lots of shapes and colours. We don’t really have mince pies but we have these Plätzchen insted. The most artistic and ambitious amongst us even make their own gingerbread house which we call Lebkuchenhaus
Who invented the advent wreath, Adventskranz?
The time leading up to Weihnachten is called the Adventszeit. Many people have an Adventskranz, a decorative wreath that you put on the table with four candles which we light one by one the four Sundays before Christmas.
It was invented by the philanthropist, teacher, reformer, theologist called Johann Hinrich Wichern who grew up in abject poverty as a child. His life turned around when as an adult he was given a large house where he could take in destitute kids who were orphans or desperately poor.
As they didn't have much these kid were so impatient for Christmas to get a little something that they were alway asking, ist es endlich Weihnachten?
So Wichern put candles on a wooden wagon wheel, four big white ones for every Sunday before Christmas and small red ones for every day in-between. He’d light one a day as a countdown so that by the 24th the room was brightly lit and it was Christmas! And we still have this tradition of the Adventskranz today.
Christmas is not on Christmas Day
Why up to the 24th?
The big day in Germany is actually not on Christmas Day but on December 24! And not the whole day but from the afternoon onwards into the night. That is why the 24th is called Heiliger Abend or Heilige Nacht (holy night).
In the afternoon the whole family gathers around the Weihnachtsbaum, sings “Oh Tannenbaum oh Tannenbaum" or other Weihnachtslieder and then you unpack all the presents. In the afternoon, on the 24th!
So German children are a little bit luckier because they have to wait that little bit less.
Many people then finish off the evening by going to church to the special midnight mass, die Mitternachtsmesse for Christmas.