Most of PROaupair’s professional au pairs are German, and will likely introduce you and your family to various German traditions throughout the year. Some of them will seem almost familiar to you – that’s because many of the American Christmas traditions we celebrate are modified versions of traditions that originated in Germany.
St. Nicholas Day (Nikolaustag)
St. Nicholas Day takes place on December 6 and is celebrated in different ways around Europe. In Germany, children put their shoes outside their doors on the night of the 5th and hope that St. Nicholas will fill them with small treats such as chocolates, candies or nuts. If they haven’t been good, they might get a stick or twig inside their shoes instead! Father Christmas (der Weihnachtsmann) delivers the bigger Christmas presents on December 24.
The Tannenbaum, or fir tree, has a long history in Germany, where it has been used since the Middle Ages as part of the Christmas celebration. It is traditionally put up and decorated on Christmas Eve – which is why your au pair may be surprised if you set yours up sooner! The Christmas tree was popularized in England when Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband, who was German) put one in Windsor Castle. If you put tinsel on your Christmas tree, you can thank the Germans. The modern incarnation was invented in Nuremberg and originally made of actual shredded silver!
Most German cities have at least one Christmas market, sometimes called a Christkindlmarkt, which is set up about a month before Christmas. These markets include Christmas crafts, food and drinks that are traditional to the season. Many of the crafts are handmade and include traditional items such as candles, toys, Christmas angels, and woodcarving. Delicious food includes roasted chestnuts, sausages and baked apples as well as marzipan sweets and gingerbread biscuits.
Traditional Christmas Foods
The traditional Christmas dinner involves a duck, rabbit or roast as well as stuffing, red cabbage and potato dumplings. In some parts of Germany it is eaten on December 24 and in others December 25. For dessert most families have fruitcake (Stollen) but other sweet treats include gingerbread (Lebkuchen), Christmas cookies (Plätzchen), or marzipan. Hot mulled wine (Glühwein) is also popular.
The Advent tradition involves preparing for the arrival of the Christ Child. The Advent Calendar (or Christmas calendar) originated in Germany, though it has also become popular in the U.S. The calendar consists of 24 paper “windows” that are opened, one each day, to reveal Christmas scenes, toys or other images. The last window is opened on Christmas Eve. Modern versions include “windows” that open onto candies or chocolates.
The 12 Days of Christmas
Before the Roman Church adopted December 25 as Christmas, it was often celebrated on January 6 (today’s Epiphany, or the day when the three wise men were thought to have brought gifts to the baby Jesus). In Germany, the celebration of Christmas continues until this date – the end of the period of twelve days between December 25 and January 6.
These are just a small sampling of German holiday traditions, which also vary depending upon the particular city or region. Ask your professional au pair about the traditions celebrated in her hometown!