Weihnachten und Silvester in Deutschland / Christmas and New Year’s in Germany

It’s always fun and interesting to experience holiday traditions in different countries/cultures. I became familiar with most of the major Ukrainian holiday celebrations during my two years there, and my family is often invited to celebrate Norwegian Christmas Eve with friends. This year I had the chance to celebrate my first Christmas and New Year’s in Germany, with F’s family and friends. Here are a short list and a few pictures of my experiences:

  • Weihnachtsmarkt in Bonn: Germany is famous for its Christmas markets, where many people go in the evenings to meet friends, drink a warm mug of Glühwein (mulled wine), and shop for handcrafts, candied almonds (Mandeln), and Lebkuchen hearts.
  • Like many other Europeans, Germans celebrate Christmas on 24 December, what we call Christmas Eve and what they call heilige Abend. Highlights of heilige Abend include:
    • Decorating the Christmas tree (Tannenbaum) with lights, red and gold ornaments, and red candles (which may or may not get lit).
    • Enjoying a big supper with some kind of roast meat (F’s family makes Sauerbraten, a beef roast pickled/marinated for seven days beforehand), bread dumplings (Semmelknödel), and lots of gravy-like sauce.
    • Present-opening after dinner.
  • What we call Christmas Day is called “the first Christmas (holi)day,” and 26 December (Boxing Day in the UK) is called “the second Christmas (holi)day.” Both days are free days in Germany, when families can relax and enjoy each other. We had delicious kohlrouladen (cabbage rolls) for lunch one day. They’re not unlike Ukrainian holubtsi, but the German version is only ground meat wrapped in cabbage, rather than rice + meat that Ukrainians use. We also went to watch the Bonn professional basketball team play.

F and I celebrated New Year’s (Silvester) in Münster, where F studied and where most of his friends still live. Activities included:

  • (Another!) Christmas dinner with nine friends. Everyone contributed something, potluck-style. I made my mom’s sweet potato casserole and F made a delicious pot roast as the meal’s centerpiece.
  • One evening, we enjoyed grünkohl (kale cooked for ages with sausages and pork, a typical dish in Westphalia) at F’s friend’s parents’.
  • New Year’s Eve is traditionally celebrated with friends, like in many places all over the world. We gathered at F&M’s place for raclette and then fireworks (Feuerwerke). Interestingly, Germans are only allowed to buy fireworks for the couple of days leading up to New Year’s Eve. That means Silvester has tons of people setting off their own fireworks at midnight. We walked down to the Aasee and had a great view of ours and others’ fireworks around the lake.

How does your family celebrate Christmas and/or New Year’s?

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