Christmastime in Germany is one of the most unique experiences you ever have. With world famous markets in every town. The scent of grilled sausages, mulled wine and gingerbread waft in the air. Stalls full of locally produced toys and gifts can be found at every turn.
Germans celebrate Christmas not very differently than Americans. You’ll see giant Christmas trees with presents underneath. Lights are strung all over the place as well as stockings hung with care to be filled with goodies.
City Christmas Tree
Many town squares have their own Christmas tree in the city square or in front of city hall. They are always beautifully decorated with lights and locally made ornaments. The tree is often the lit in early in December with a big lighting ceremony and Christmas market opening.
Many Germans display a traditional wooden Christmas pyramid in their living room. The pyramid is a little carousel with decorations that range from: angels and nativity scenes to Star Wars and Snowman; with each stand on several levels that spin. The carousel spins with the help of lit candles that use the steam and heat to set the mechanism in motion.
The tradition of using Christmas pyramids originated from German mountainous areas and dates back to the middle ages. Many shops sell these pyramids and will help you ship them home.
Santa Clause isn’t Alone
Santa Clause (Weihnachtsmann in German) may not come, Christkind (the Christ Child in English) is the gift bearer in Germany and throughout different parts of Europe.
He (or she) is usually depicted as angel-like with curly blond hair. Weihnachtsmann is becoming more common as the gift bearer in Germany, much to the protest of the more religious parts of Germany. Slogans such as “We believe in the Christ Child, don’t give Santa Claus a chance” are common.
Santa Visits Early in Germany
The Christkind comes in the evening of Dec 24th and presents are opened then instead of the morning of the 25th. There is also a early holiday on December 6th! St Nikolaus Day (was so beloved that when he died December 6th, he is remembered with his own Holiday) comes knocking on houses, reading from his nice and naughty list. If you were “nice”, St. Nicholas would reward you with some candy.
Goose is King in Germany
In North America, Christmas is usually celebrated with a nice turkey dinner, but not in Germany. A roast goose is the traditional dish served alongside red cabbage. Another classic dish is wild boar!
There is a festive atmosphere during the whole month of December. German Christmas markets are set outdoors popped up in little squares or in the city center. At each market there are many wooden booths, each selling their own unique treats.
The Markets are where real craftsmen sell one of a kind trinkets and locally made handicrafts from: ornate nutcrackers to delicate glass ornaments. Besides gifts, food and drink stalls are plentiful and integral to the Christmas market experience.
Most German Christmas markets offer family friendly incentives such as ferris wheels, carousels, roller coasters to live entertainment of jugglers and dancers.
Christmas markets and stalls sell traditional German treats such as:
- Christmas stollen
- Hot sweet roasted almonds
- ‘Lebkuchen’ hearts (gingerbread hearts)
How To Make The Most of German Christmas Markets
- Remember that each Christmas Market is Unique. Try incorporating both small and large cities into your travel plans to experience the variation between individual Christmas markets. The markets represent the city and the people living there, each one have their own unique element, and that is part of the fun of visiting multiple cities during the holiday season.
- Large cities like Berlin have multiple Christmas markets across town, each with their own theme. Some markets are huge and stretch across several city blocks. Others are more compact. Whatever you are visiting, you will be outside and walking a lot so make sure to wear comfy shoes and dress in layers to stay warm. Mulled wine can only do so much.
- Bring Cash. Be prepared with cash before you venture into a market as credit cards are not normally accepted, plus it slows the transaction process down for those waiting behind you.
- The Markets close reasonably Early. Normally, you will find the Christmas markets close around 9 p.m., keeping with the tradition of it being a family gathering place and no one has an opportunity to get too many cups of wine in.
There is always a beautiful Christmas tree put up in front of Brandenburg Gate.
The city’s main market is held beneath the Memorial Church (Gedächtniskirche), however because of Berlin’s size, there are over 60 smaller markets scattered around.
Gendarmenmarkt is the showman of the markets. It boasts traditional and modern holiday treats, as well as bursting with all sorts of entertainment: jugglers, acrobats, fire artists, choirs, dance groups. We saw belly dancers in the freezing cold, we made sure to tip them well for their efforts.
Walk over to Potsdamer Platz to shop in the mall (and get a little warm). If you are feeling adventurous, take a ride on Europe’s largest mobile toboggan run. We had a great time just watching riders wipe out and fall all over themselves.
Lucia Christmas Market is Nordic-Scandinavian themed, offering an intimate atmosphere.
If it’s nostalgia and tradition that you’re looking for, the Staatsoper and Opernpalais Market is for you. From here you can enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride through the old centre of Berlin.
- Lots of family activities like tobogganing, carousels and farris wheels dot the city; along with more variety of live entertainment to enjoy.
- There are a lot more markets to enjoy, so if one is too crowded you can just walk in almost any other direction and enjoy a different one instead!
- Raclette Cheese. Ours was served from an enormous wheel of cheese that’s melted and scraped onto slices of freshly baked bread, a truly mesmerizing experience to watch.
- Schneeballen and Eierpunsch – Similar to a cakepop, it’s a ball formed of strips of cookies and coated in frosting. Order a Eierpunsch ( “egg punch”) it tastes like eggnog.
- Pfannkuchen – Also known as a Berliner. Doughnuts with a fruit filling and dusted with powdered sugar.
Dating back to 1434, the Striezelmarkt in Dresden is Germany’s oldest Christmas market.
It opens up early in December with the Stollen Festival, the highlight of which is the unveiling of a four-ton Christmas Stollen.
Dresden is also home to the world’s largest Christmas pyramid and the world’s largest nutcracker.
- Rauchermanner – Tiny figures carved from cones of incense that are painted to look like they are puffing away on a pipe.
- Stollen (Striezel) – A soft fruitcake that is specially served in Dresden
- Glühwein (mulled wine) – purchase a mug at any wine stall (usually around 2 euros) and walk around the market sipping your wine. Come back for more at any other stall in the Market for a discounted price. Return the mug and get your deposit back, or keep it! Cities create new designs for their mugs every year so they are fun collectibles. They make great souvenirs to bring home.
- Kartoffelpuffer – scone sized potato pancakes, served with apple sauce. Yum!
- Champignons Mit Knoblauchsoße – Mushrooms doused in garlic sauce. Amazing, savory dish that helps break up all the sweets being eaten that day.
When it comes to Christmas markets, none can beat Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, which has been continuously running since 1628 and showcases handmade crafts. With the medieval Castle overlooking the festival, Nuremberg is a spectacular back drop for one of Germany’s oldest Christmas markets.
- The Kinderweihnacht, or Children’s Market is filled with family fun with: a carousel, Ferris wheel, and Nativity scenes.
- The Christkind will be walking around greeting children and taking pictures with everyone.
- Over 180 traditional wooden stalls gives the market its authentic feel. Mass-produced goods are prohibited from being sold ensuring visitors they are only purchasing hand-crafted products in keeping with the tradition of the market.
- Lebkuchen – a gingerbread spiced cake topped with almonds. These are sold at all markets, but the ones in Nuremburg are special and there are rules designating who can produce the original Nuremburg Lebkuchen.
- Grilled sausages – special regionally flavored with marjoram and served with mustard
- Glühwein (mulled wine) – Can’t go wrong! Collect another Christmas mug it you’d like.
- Zwetcshgenmännle – (Plum people) – small figures made from prunes, raisins, nuts and plums. It is a tradition that dates back to the 17th century. Locals believed that if they keep the figures in their windows, no harm would come to them.