And where better to start than in Germany or, as we’ve started to think of it, the “Country that made Christmas”! Just look at the German Christmas markets that have been springing up all over the UK in the last few years: proof if ever you needed it that our Teutonic neighbours have some great ideas when it comes to Christmassy sights, sounds, and – above all – tastes. The Germans love Christmas so much, they even have a verb for “to get christmassy”: weihnachten. So when you’re next enjoying a Glühwein, why not smile at the stallholder and say Es weihnachtet schon sehr hier: “It’s really Christmasing around here!”
In many respects, German Christmas traditions are very familiar: after all, even before today’s Christmas markets, Britain has been taking festive inspiration from Germany. The Christmas tree, for example, is a German idea introduced to Britain by Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, who was German, and to this day, there is no better country for Christmas trees than Germany. They like them real (plastic trees are taboo out there!) and covered with real candles, too (always keep a bucket of water to hand…). Germans are big fans of Christmas carols, too, which are then sung around the tree. Austrians, the Germans’ even more musical cousins, place special emphasis on Weihnactslieder: after all, it was in the Austrian village of Oberndorf that “Silent Night, Holy Night” was both written and performed for the first time ever in 1818. This carol probably found its way to Britain through Germany and Price Albert, too.
Another specifically German Christmas invention is also such a key part of a British Christmas that’s it’s easy to assume that either we (or the Americans) invented it: the Advent Calendar. We posted about this a few weeks back, and really loved the old-fashioned examples we found from Southern Germany in the 1950s.
British Christmas traditions
Other things that Germans like at Christmas include Christmas biscuits, marzipan, and a nice roast goose – none of which would seem particularly out of place in the UK. In fact, one of the only real differences is also one of the most important: Germans celebrate Christmas on 24th. The big event is the evening meal, with gifts usually being opened just beforehand. This makes Christmas Day into something of a Boxing Day, with a large left-overs lunch and a long constitutional walk. And Boxing Day? Well, they have the 26th off work, too, so it’s kind of Boxing Day Mark II, with even more leftovers and even more walking it off…
So that’s Germany, the land of Christmas cheer, but what about other countries and their yuletide traditions? Well, there’s plenty of fun stuff going on across Europe at Christmas – so much so that we’ll need another article entirely to take a look at that.