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!