Christmas Customs in Germany
German springerle molds and cookie cutters at Deutschheim State Historic Site
Holiday Events in Hermann
As in Germany, Hermann begins preparing months in advance for this beloved time of year. The town is aglow as historic homes deck the halls for Yuletide visitors and crafters fill Kristkindl Markts with holiday treasures.
Child dressed in lederhosen at Stone Hill Winery’s Kristkindl Markt
Held annually the first two weekends of December, Hermann’s Kristkindl Markts follow a tradition that dates back to 1434 in Dresden, Germany’s first recorded Christmas market. In medieval times, markets lasted only a day or two and were held around the main church.
Today, German Christmas markets are open from the end of November until after Christmas. Markets in larger cities (the most famous is in Nuremberg) are huge open-air fairs with spectacular displays and non-stop entertainment. In a small village the Kristkindl Markt may be just a booth or two hung with pine boughs and lanterns.
Christmas markets are popular gathering places where friends meet to share a glass of mulled wine or two. Beautifully decorated booths tempt shoppers with handcrafted gifts. Food vendors sell roasted almonds and chestnuts, Lebkuchen (gingerbread), grilled sausages and mulled wine.
Recent years have seen increasing numbers of towns and cities attracting local artists to their markets. Some have created separate, small markets for them to display their wares and demonstrate their craft.
The Kinder Room at the Historic Hermann Museum
On the evening of December 5, St. Nicholas Day, German children leave their shoes or boots outside the front door. That night, Santa Claus, Nikolaus, visits and fills them with chocolates, oranges and nuts if they’ve been good. His servant, Knecht Ruprech, leaves bundles of twigs in the shoes if the children have been naughty and are listed in his black book.
In some parts of the country, it’s believed the Christ Child sends a messenger on Christmas Eve, das Christkind, an angel in a white robe and crown, bearing gifts. There is also a figure called der Weihnachtsmann, Christmas Eve Man, who looks like Santa Claus and brings presents.
It’s traditional for parents to lock a room before Christmas. In earlier times on Christmas Eve, they would wake their children at midnight and take them into the room, where they were delighted to find presents under a lighted tree. There were also treats of fruit, nuts, marzipan, chocolate and biscuits.
In some homes, this event was made even more magical by ringing a bell as a signal for the children to enter the room. Carols were sung, the Christmas story was read and the children opened their presents.
Nowadays, most German families attend afternoon mass at 4:00 and return home at 6:00 to eat, read the Christmas story and open presents.
Essen und Trinken (Food and Drink)
Holiday bake sale at the Historic Hermann Museum
Germans often have special baking evenings for making spiced cakes, cookies and gingerbread houses. The German Christmas tree pastry, das Christbaumgebäck, is a white dough which is molded into shapes and baked to make decorations for the tree.
On Christmas Eve there is an evening feast, generally of carp and potato salad (meat is avoided for religious reasons). On Christmas Day the family tucks into suckling pig or roasted goose, white sausage, macaroni salad, and regional dishes, such asder Christstollen, long loaves of bread with nuts, raisins, lemon and dried fruit, der Lebkuchen, ginger spice bars, das Marzipan and der Dresdner Stollen, a moist, heavy bread filled with fruit.