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  • Writer's pictureAnika

Fancy trying some German Christmas traditions this year?


How can it be nearly Christmas already? I am sure I am not the only one thinking that, can I?


As many of you may know , I am half German and grew up in Berlin for a large part of my childhood and teen years. Christmas is a big thing for us – from Christmas markets, Adventskranz wreaths, making Christmas decorations, baking Christmas biscuits, enjoying some Gluehwein, skating outdoors and generally soaking up the pre-Christmas atmosphere. I love popping over to see my family in Berlin during this time and enjoying all the sights and smells and lights and MAGIC that is Christmas in Germany!

I also have a strong desire to introduce my children to as much of this magic as possible, even (or especially) when we are not in Berlin. I want to make some of the German traditions a firm part of our little family’s traditions, as I know how important this is to help children feel a sense of belonging and feeling routed into something larger.


So, what are the top German traditions that I cherish?


Advent calendars


This is something that is obviously now widespread in the UK and around the world. The idea is that you open a little ‘door’ each day on a calendar for each day in December until Christmas. You can buy all sorts of different calendars – from chocolate ones to Molton Brown to wine/ beer/ gin calendars. And you can also make one for your children (or your partner) yourself – and then fill this with whatever goodies that you want. I have put together a set of instructions for how to make an Adventcalendar of a Father Christmas with a beard (and the beard is filled with goodies). You can download it below, if you want make your very own. My mum made the one in the pictures for me nearly 40 years ago now and it is still used every single year without fail! 


I tend to fill the calendar with a mix of things – from stickers, rubbers, pens and small cars or toys to vouchers for activities to do (e.g. 10 min playing whatever you want with Mummy/ a hot chocolate in town, a swim, movie night of your choice…). I try to put in things that are ‘useable’ so that the house isn’t filled with too much more stuff… so things like mini bubble baths or bath bombs, or glitter for making their own Christmas cards are great. And then, if I still have doors to fill, I will add in some chocolate coins or chocolate Father Christmas lollies.



Make your own Christmas Advent calendar
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Download PDF • 432KB

Christmas markets & Gluehwein


I love Christmas markets and it is wonderful to see there being so many more UK Christmas markets popping up. I remember many years ago Leeds and Manchester having awesome Christmas markets, and London has some wonderful ones as well – and these beat most cities on scale and size. The Times has recently published an article on the top Christmas markets in the UK for 2022 and I will definitely be visiting one or two of these!


And if you are lucky enough to be going abroad there is also a list of the best European Christmas markets to be visiting. Berlin is on there as number three, too! :-)




Adventskranz


In Germany we will either buy or make a wreath with 4 candles that we then keep in the centre of the table throughout late November and December. Each Sunday before Christmas we then light one candle. According to the German Embassy ‘the candles represent light and hope which were traditionally meant to defend against evil forces during the long winter months.’


For us as a family, it also helps ground us and it reminds us to slow down a little bit and really consciously celebrate the time before Christmas. It is wonderful to sit by the lit candles and enjoy them as I write Christmas cards or bake Christmas biscuits. And on a practical level, it helps teach the children respect for open flames and what not to do when the candles are lit!




Nikolaus


The tradition here is that on the night before 6th December you scrub your shoes ready for Nikolaus to come and visit and fill them with sweets, mandarins, nuts and little toys for the children. My kids love this extra Christmas tradition and I do to, particularly because I know that at least once a year their shoes will be well and truly scrubbed clean ;-)



Christmas biscuits


I love walking into a house and it smelling of freshly baked Christmas biscuits. When I was growing up in Berlin I have many fond memories of visiting friends during Advent and their homes being filled with these delightful aromas – and then being offered either a biscuit right there and then, or being given a ‘goody bag’ full of homemade biscuits for me to take home. My mum still makes amazing biscuits (especially Vanille kipferl) and if I am lucky, she will send me a parcel with them. Even as a teenager, I remember often getting together with my friends and spending an entire afternoon chatting, baking together and setting the world to rights! Today, I make sure we have at least one baking session in our house with the kids – sometimes we invite friends over too and all bake together!


I’ve put together our favourite Christmas biscuit recipes too that you can download below.



Our favourite Xmas biscuits_FINAL
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Download PDF • 2.47MB

Christmas decorations


Making your own Christmas decorations is another very German thing – especially Christmas stars. And I remember very clearly as a child going ice skating with my Dad and my siblings and then coming home, it being dark outside, and sitting at our kitchen table with a cup of hot chocolate, making Christmas Stars together with my mum and brother and sister.


I have done the same with my children today – and they enjoy it every bit as much as I did. They then get to select what window they want to hang their ‘masterpieces’ – and enjoy them every day until it is Christmas. I have put together step by step instructions that you can download below too.



Make your own Christmas stars_UPDATED
.pdf
Download PDF • 565KB

All of our Christmas pdfs can be found on our Christmas page that is now live on our website too – for you to come back to and easily be able to find, as and when you fancy these activities. You can find the page here.



Christmas is on 24th December


Some people might not know this, but in Germany we celebrate Christmas on the evening of the 24th December rather than the morning of the 25th. The tradition is that the family will often head out to a Christmas market, or skate, or for a walk and then come back around 4pm, get all dressed up in smart Christmas clothes, have Christmas dinner together and then unpack the gifts.


In our house we will sometimes do the gifts first and then eat (although it is hard to get the kids back to the table after all the excitement!). When we are in the UK, we tend to just open one present each on the 24th and then save the rest for the morning if the 25th. But when we are in Germany we will do it the other way around – unpack all presents except one on the 24th and then save one for the 25th. It is our way of honouring both countries’ traditions and bringing them together. Even before I had children my parents-in-law would always suggest I open one gift on the 24th, if I was celebrating in their home, to help me celebrate both :-)


Christmas food


One final thing – in Germany we traditionally will have Goose for Christmas with red cabbage and dumplings. It is a wonderful meal and we do our best to combine that with the UK tradition of Turkey… plus have any other food that we fancy…. Which often means we have leftovers to eat for days! I’ve picked out a BBC good food recipe for both Goose and Gluehwein, in case you fancy trying them!



That rounds up my favourite German traditions!


And even though I absolutely love this time of year, I also know that I sometimes get tied up in knots trying to share with my children as many of the German traditions and keeping up with all the UK Christmas traditions, too. I know the bit that really matters is enjoying the magic of Christmas together with the children. Seeing the joy and wonder in their faces and slowing down to that pace rather than constantly stressing about things that I feel should get done.


Sometimes it helps me to remind myself of the power of staying in the now, sometimes it helps to make a list and plan what I need to do by when. It also helps me to get started early. My mum always says that you need to start the Christmas cards by the 18th November or they will either not get done, or turn into being stressful. So, that is what I try to do. And in the years when I do manage that, I can actually enjoy writing 10-15 cards each evening with a nice glass of wine and relax, rather than having to do a mammoth session of writing all cards in a weekend just to meet the postal deadline!


I have also learnt from friends over the years, that sometimes, if things are too much, it is a good idea to stop and choose the things that are most important for you to do and LEAVE THE REST. So, one year a friend decided she couldn’t face writing cards with a newborn and having just moved house, so she instead communicated to everyone on Social media that they would not be receiving cards this year, but that instead she was going to donate the money she would have spent on cards and postage to a charity of her choice. And just like that, there was one less thing for her to stress about and more time for her to enjoy in the now, exploring her new neighbourhood with her family.


I hope you have a lovely Christmas period with your loved ones and get to have some downtime as well as honour whatever traditions are close to your heart.

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