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How Christmas is celebrated in Germany

Spending Christmas with the Germans: Which rituals are important and why potato salad is part of a traditional celebration.

How the Germans celebrate Christmas: Everything you need to know about German Christmas traditions.
How the Germans celebrate Christmas: Everything you need to know about German Christmas traditions. © Adobe Stock

The first foretaste of Christmas already comes in early September when gingerbread and Spekulatius biscuits suddenly appear on supermarket shelves out of the blue. From the first Sunday of Advent, Christmas markets, Christmas hits on the radio and fairy lights bring festive cheer to the entire country. But German Christmas has many facets and distinctive features - here are answers to the most important questions.

Do only religious Germans celebrate Christmas?

No. Although it is a Christian festival to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, Germans with no particular religious beliefs also celebrate Christmas. Last year, 81 percent of the people living in Germany celebrated Christmas. Celebrating this festival is an important family tradition. Fewer and fewer people go to church at Christmas, however. Before the pandemic, a visit to the church was still an integral part of the Christmas programme for 23.6 percent of people. This figure dropped to 15.4 percent in 2022. This was revealed by a study conducted by the University of the Bundeswehr in Neubiberg.

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Which German Christmas traditions are there?

One of the most popular and best-known customs is to put up and decorate a Christmas tree. There is still a clear trend on the question of whether to have a real or artificial tree at Christmas: 43 percent of those surveyed said that they will be putting up a real Christmas tree this year. That said, 24 percent do opt for an artificial tree. This was revealed by an online survey carried out by Statista.

And what do Germans give as gifts? Nearly one in two people (44 percent) give gift vouchers or simply money. 37 percent give food or sweets, according to the results of an Ernst & Young study. A slightly smaller percentage of people give toys (34 percent), clothing (32 percent) or books (30 percent).

How is Christmas typically celebrated on the day?

There are two days of Christmas in Germany, the 25th and the 26th of December. For many people, Christmas Eve, on the 24th of December, has a hectic morning part and a festive evening part. If Christmas Eve falls on a weekday, shops remain open until noon and tend to be packed as people rush to buy their last remaining presents or food for the festive meal. Then it’s time to decorate the Christmas tree with fairy lights and baubles, to wrap the presents and prepare the meal.

Families get together in the early evening. Some have family traditions such as singing or playing music together. After the meal, the presents that are under the Christmas tree can be unwrapped. Children write their wish lists weeks before Christmas and wait excitedly to discover whether they will get the presents they want.

Young adults who have returned to their home town to see their family at Christmas often head out again late in the evening to meet up with old friends.

What do Germans eat at Christmas?

In the old Christian tradition, the period from St. Martin’s Day on 11 December until 24 December was a time of fasting. That’s why a simple dish is often served on Christmas Eve - such as carp for example, as fish was allowed to be eaten during the fasting period. Potato salad with sausages is also a very popular dish. On the first or second day of Christmas, an opulent meal is often served up on a festively decorated table. Roast goose with potato dumplings and red cabbage is a traditional Christmas dinner.

How Christmas is celebrated in Germany
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