Ever since my dear friend (and former college roommate) Nobie took an extended holiday in Germany, I have been traveling vicariously through her and her pictures that document this amazing adventure! I always get so excited to hear about her explorations over seas, from her engagement in Ireland (to a charming and dashing German fellow) to navigating the language she was formerly unaccustomed to. With Christmas Eve upon us I knew she was the perfect person to guide me through the customs and traditions of Christmas internationally. Here is her post on Christmas in Hamburg! Enjoy and Fohe Weihnachten!
If you are needing your spirits lifted for the Christmas season, and have the budget to travel, I highly suggest taking a trip to Germany. As a current resident, I’ve gotten to experience my first German Christmas in the Hanseatic City of Hamburg. Germany wears Christmas well. It is rich with tradition, full of fairytale Christmas markets and has an atmosphere focused greatly around Advent and being together with friends and family.
The Christmas markets, called “Weihnachtsmarkte” kick off the season on the Friday before Advent, and last until two days prior to Christmas. You can find a Christmas market in nearly every German city, regardless of size. There are large, well known markets throughout Germany and other European countries, but my main experiences came from those which adorned Hamburg. The Hamburg markets consist of half log cabin like buildings, big and small, that are heavily decorated with garland, lights and ornaments. Wherever there’s space there’s a market, in all shapes and sizes whether wrapped around beautiful churches or small city squares. They’re at the harbor, next to the subway station and in just about every neighborhood. I’ve even seen single stands set up in narrow passageways between two buildings. Vendors sell some sort of regional good in each logged booth, such as carved toys, gifts or trinkets. In other booths you can find specialty foods, such as sweets, assorted meats and cheese or even beverages like hot chocolate, beer or my personal favorite- Gluhwein (mulled wine). The markets bustle with locals and tourists, the sound of brass instruments and street performers in the air. Children love the carousals and mini-ferris wheels especially for them. With the sun setting in Hamburg around 4:30pm, the markets provide a cheery and warm atmosphere for the darkening afternoons and evenings. Although it’s cold outside, you can feel the warmth of the booths pouring out onto the walkways, as well as fire lamps burning in order to keep patrons warm while they eat and drink with family and friends.
Traditionally there two gift bearing figures recognized in Germany. December 6 is known as Sankt Nicholas Day. The tradition holds that children will leave a shoe or boot outside of their bedrooms on the evening of December 5th, and wake up with their shoes full of gifts left by St. Nicholas during the night. This figure comes from The St. Nicholas, a saint from the 4th Century, who in addition to his deep religious status was also known for leaving coins inside the shoes of those who left them out for him. Christkind, a childlike angel figure with wings sent by the Christ child, is another gift bearing figure in Germany. This tradition holds that children are sent away for several hours, perhaps to church or with relatives, so that the Chirstkind could bring them gifts while they were away from their homes.
O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum
The Christmas tree, known in Germany as Tannenbaum, originated in this area and dates back to the Middle Ages. Christmas trees are typically put up and fully decorated no more than two days before Christmas and stay up through New Year’s Eve and January 6th, which is known as the Three Kings day. Today is Christmas Eve and we just finished decorating the tree. From my current experience, the decorating of the tree is a festive event! Instead of traditional string lights, the limbs are decorated with white candles (battery operated just to be clear!), round glass ornaments and little wooden figurine shaped like apples or snowflakes. The variety of ornaments here remind me of my family Christmas Tree back home, full of assorted ornaments that have been in my family since childhood. To some it may seem short lived to decorate the tree only one day before Christmas, but here it seems ideal, almost like putting icing on the cake!
Christmas Eve & Two Christmas Days
Unlike Christmas Day in the states, with the opening of all presents, Christmas Eve in Hamburg is the big day for gift exchanging. It is currently Christmas Eve in Hamburg and we are preparing for dinner, the newly decorated tree warmly glowing in the background with soft Christmas music playing. There are homemade Christmas cookies on the counter (which are not overly sweet, making it easy to eat a dozen at a time) and soon we will sit down for a meal and the gift exchange. According to my fiancé, the gifts would have already been exchanged if we were children, but that’s not much different than the states is it? Christmas Day will find us at morning mass, followed by a day of continued eating, family gatherings and the celebration of the season. The day after Christmas is also recognized as a holiday and is simply called Second Christmas. Second Christmas is another day spent visiting with family, friends and neighbors.
And to All a Goodnight!
As the Christmas Eve festivities are about to be in full swing, I highly recommend spending the Christmas season in any German city if you have a chance. It is a lovely country, with kind people, that makes the season unbelievably magical! Merry Christmas everyone!- or should I say, Fohe Weihnachten!
Follow Nobie’s journeys through Germany, and her life overseas, on Instagram! @nobie1