This weekend I get to hang out with my mom for the day and help her at the German Cultural Center in Edmonton, Alberta, and ‘man a booth’ with her for this years’ Christmas Market, or – Christkindlmarkt. I LOVE Christmas. I love the values underlying Christmas, the time to spend with family, and celebrate a year passed with them. I love the twinkling lights, the delicious dinners, baked goods, chocolates, and drinks you don’t get any other time of the year (hot apple cider, mulled wine anyone?). So, when asked to help with this, I was obviously pumped.
In preparation, I thought, what better way to get ready for such a fun event, than to explore some German Christmas Traditions! These traditions vary by region, religion, and family, but are interesting and fun, non-the-less!
The Christmas Market or Christkindlmarkt or Weihnachtsmärkte
I am so excited that this tradition is finding it’s way to North America!
The sweet smell of gingerbread, and sounds of chiming, ringing, and music fill the air. The energy of excited children fills in your belly as you watch them tug on dad’s jacket for a cup of hot chocolate. Kids throw tiny snowballs in a fenced off area, or play on a merry go-round, and parents sample drinks and foods they’ll buy for Christmas, or eat as a pre-celebration like it was a fair. The vendors stalls are filled with hand-made toys and trinkets, sweets, nuts, and wooden carved nick-nacks. A ginger-bread bear Calvin bought for me at one of our first Christmas markets still adorns my bedroom wall (another cute tradition!). This special event marks the beginning of the Christmas season in mid-November, and is just the thing to get you in the festive mood!
St. Nicholas or Nikolaos of Myra
Every year while I was growing up, I remember looking forward to December 6th. My mom kept this bit of German Christmas tradition alive with me, and it is still one of my fondest childhood memories.
St. Nicholas, was taught to me as the ‘origin’ of Santa Claus. He is the patron saint of travellers – sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, and students in various locals in and around Europe. St. Nicholas stories from resurrecting dead children, butchered for food during a famine, to protecting sailors from a wicked storm. A favourite, however, is the story of St. Nicholas helping three young, un-wed women. The father of these girls was a poor man, and could not afford a proper dowry. During the time, an un-wed woman either became, was forced, or assumed to be a prostitute. St. Nicholas sought to protect the girls from such a fate, but didn’t want to embarrass them, so he anonymously gifts them a sack of gold and coins each, so that they might wed. The story varies, telling different tales of when he gave the gift to each girl, or how. My favourite tale is that he gives as much as he has the first night. The next day, he goes out and raises more money by selling things and collecting donations (without telling for what, of course), and drops it in the house that night. The third day he goes to get more coins to ensure each of the girls has enough to marry, but he hears the father of the girls talking about catching the person who has been giving them this money, so that he could thank him. St. Nicholas does not want to embarrass the girls, and wants thank to be given to God; so, that night, St. Nicholas climbs up the chimney, and drops the sac of coins down, where it falls into a stoking one of the girls had hung to dry.
On December 5th it is time to prepare for St. Nicholas! My mom would remind me to clean my boots, so off I’d go with a sponge, and maybe something to buff and shine. Basically, you clean your boots, and St. Nicholas brings gifts for the children, and drops them in the child’s boot. St. Nicholas adorns a bishop’s robe, and leaves gifts of chocolate, nuts, and fruits in the boots if the children are good. If the child is bad, however, the ‘evil servant’ of St. Nicholas may leave a rod, or a stick.
Krampus Night or Krampus Nacht
Imagine the sounds of hooves banging the ground, as a part goat, part man, part demon comes stomping toward you. He is a beast, a devilish being, and his intent? Literally to beat children into being nice!
I’ve heard some say that Krampus is St. Nicholas’ slave, and others say he is the counterpart to kindly St. Nick. Either way, his reason for being is to beat children into being kind and nice, and punish them for making it on to the ‘naughty’ list. Showing up on the same night as St. Nicholas, Krampus is known to leave the stick or rod in a bad child’s boot, as a symbol of their future beating for being bad.
Want more Krampus, or see a parade of devilish beasts in the street? See Krampus on Krampus Nacht down Whyte Ave, Edmonton on December 5th!
A Few Others
My first Christmas in Germany I found there were a few other daily activities, that weren’t considered traditions, but I found to be different – and wonderful!
We picked out our own Christmas tree! At a village lot, not far from my Oma and Opa’s, we were handed a saw and got to pick out and cut our own Christmas tree. On Christmas day we went on a family walk, most stores are closed, but the park we went to was full of other families going for a walk. It was an event in and of itself. For Christmas dinner, we had fresh garden vegetables and duck, and Christmas presents are typically opened on Christmas eve, instead of Christmas morning.
What are some of your favourite German Christmas Traditions? Are any of these similar to your Christmas traditions? Share your tales of Christmas adventures in the comments below!