Archive for December, 2014

4 Tips for Surviving A German Christmas Market

Posted on December 22nd, 2014by Heather Keagan
In German | Leave a Comment »

Christmas time means Christmas markets, and Germany’s Weihnachtsmarkt is the best. You’ll find yourself wandering down newly made streets of little wooden stalls selling amazing handicrafts, useless souvenirs, homemade honey, homemade wine, homemade cakes… homemade everything! If you’re looking for a good souvenir or a uniquely made Christmas present, you won’t be disappointed. Make sure you come prepared though. We’ve made a list of tips and tricks to make sure you get the best experience possible. Fröhliche Weihnachten and happy Christmas market hunting!

Photo by Nenyaki/Flickr

Photo by Nenyaki/Flickr

Pack the right bag

You need a bag that isn’t too big but has plenty of pockets. Christmas markets are busy and crowded, and you’ll want to be able to store your purchases in multiple pockets to keep them separate from your phone and your cash. It’s important too, to make sure that your cash is in a place that’s hard for you to get to, which will mean it will be hard for pickpockets to get to as well. Don’t bring a backpack, as it will just hold you back in the crowds, and it’ll be difficult for you to get in and out of as you shop through the amazing handicrafts you’re bound to find.

Fingerless gloves are your new best friend

You need something that will keep your hands warm, but will still allow you to eat, pay for your purchases, drink your Gluhwein, and maybe check your phone without taking them off. I would recommend normal gloves with fingerless gloves on top, but only if you don’t plan on checking your phone all that often. Don’t wear mittens. They will simply get in the way of all the eating, drinking, purchasing and photo taking.

Photo by Roxnstix/Flickr

Photo by Roxnstix/Flickr

Find the best Gluhwein and make that HQ

Gluhwein is amazing. In English, it’s called mulled wine and it is the best part of any Christmas market. The first thing you’ll want to do when you get to a Christmas market is find the perfect mug of hot, fruity wine. Based on experience, you’ll want to look for the longest line, or people working the stall who look generally rushed off their feet – this is where you’ll find the best Gluhwein (or alternatively the best Wurst). Make this your HQ. If your group gets separated, you meet back there. Every lap that you do, you head back to that stand for a Gluhwein refill. You’ll thank yourself for making this your first priority, because the Gluhwein will help fight off the cold and stop you from buying as many things, as one hand will always be full!

Go on an empty stomach

Christmas markets are full of tasty, hearty, delicious foods. You’ll find multiple stalls offering amazing Wurst, Christstollen (amazing cake),  Lebkuchen (yummy cookies), as well as different stews and baked goods. You can eat like a king and the smells will have your mouth watering and your tummy grumbling. Budget a little extra money for this part of the market. You won’t regret buying some tasty food here, and though it might be a bit pricy, your taste buds will thank you for it!

If you’re looking to go exploring the markets this Christmas time it’ll be handy to have a few phrases under your belt. Contact us today to find German courses and make the most of your trip!


More Than Just Gluhwein? German Christmas Traditions

Posted on December 11th, 2014by Heather Keagan
In German | Leave a Comment »

You may know that the Christmas tree originated in Germany, but do you know about St. Nikolas’ Day? German Christmas traditions may not seem all that strange, but they are interesting and a little quirky. We’ve compiled a list of the most interesting (and weirdly similar to the Western world’s):

The Christkind

Germany’s Christkind (or Christ-child in English) is the one who brings the gifts on the 24th of December.  The Christkind is usually depicted angelically, with blonde hair and delicate features. No one ever sees the Christkind dropping off the presents.  Parents tell their waiting children that the Christkind will not come if they try to sneak a peek. When the Christkind leaves, a small bell can be heard (or at least parents pretend to have heard it), signalling the time to open presents has arrived!

Every year a Christkind look alike is chosen in Nürnberg, and it may surprise you to learn that it’s a girl, with long curly blonde hair.  She is dressed in a gold and white dress, and has different duties that come along with her position. She participates in Christmas parades, and opens the Christmas Market or Weihnachtsmarkt on the Friday before Advent starts (four weeks before Christmas). She also visits hospitals, nursing homes, and appears in some obligatory television appearances for the holiday season.

St. Nikolas’s Day

St. Nikolas’s Day falls on December 6th, and is celebrated in Poland, Holland, France and Malta (to name a few), as well as Germany. In Germany children write letters to St. Nikolas asking for presents.  On the 5th of December, they put a Nikolaus Stiefel or Nikolas boot, outside their front door (nowadays they can also be found outside their bedroom door, or at the foot of their bed). If they have been good throughout the year, St. Nikolas will fill their boot with fruit, chocolate and candies. If they’ve been naughty, they end up with a stick, called a Rute. St. Nikolas has a big book that holds the naughty and nice list (much like the Western idea of Santa), which he checks before filling up the boots.

In areas with a larger population of Catholics, St. Nikolas is dressed as a bishop, with a long beard and rides a horse into town to greet all the children who have been good.  In Bavaria, he hangs out with Knecht Ruprecht; a kind of helper who follows him around, and often carries a cane or staff and a bag of ashes. If you appear on the naughty list, he covers you in ashes from his bag, or he might feel inclined to beat you with a stick. An easy way to encourage naughty children to behave!

Die Sternsinger

Photo by Norbert Staudt/Flickr

Photo by Norbert Staudt/Flickr

Translated as ‘Star Singers’, this specific German tradition (which is also particularly active in Austria and Switzerland), doesn’t take place until the Epiphany, on the 6th of January. It starts with a house blessing, which those who celebrate the Epiphany have the local priest place on or above their door in chalk. The blessing consists of the year, and the phrase C+M+B (so for this year, you would see 20* C+M+B+15). These letters represent each of the Wise Men (Magi); Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.

The tradition of Sternsinger started around the 1500s, but today is used as more of a charity fundraiser. Young boys and girls will dress up as the Magi/Wise Men and will carry a large staff with a star at the top, sing throughout town and move from house to house. It’s a bit like the idea of carolling. At each house the singers ask for donations to a local charity, and in some towns the Sternsinger themselves inscribe the blessing on the house.

Think you know every word to Stille Nacht, or O Tannenbaum? Why not sign up for one of our German courses, and start your journey to knowledge in both the language, as well as its country’s Christmas traditions!