A Musical Christmas in Germany

Can anyone imagine what Christmas would be without music? Does anyone want to? The first time I went to Germany at Christmas my head was full of dreams about cities and markets and wonderful things to buy—dreams that came true immediately on my first evening in Munich at the big Christkindlmarkt in the Marienplatz. I was completely dazzled, and then (as I wrote in my first post): All of a sudden … [Read more...]

In Germany, St. Nicholas is not Santa Claus

Does everyone know that St. Nicholas is not Santa Claus? I have to admit that when I began visiting Germany at Christmas, having been raised on Clement Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas, I assumed they were one and the same and I suspect I’m not the only American who has failed to note the difference. In Germany, on the other hand, the 4th-century bishop Sankt Nikolaus, also known as der … [Read more...]

St. Nicholas and his Day in Germany at Christmas

Many of you are probably already familiar with St. Nicholas Day, known in Germany as Nikolaustag, when, on the evening of December 5, little children place their [well-polished] shoes or boots outside the door, on the windowsill or under the bed. They write letters to the saint and set out carrots for his white horse, hoping that in the morning he will remember them and fill their shoes with tasty … [Read more...]

German Christmas History Basics

How did Christmas get to be such a big deal in Germany anyway? Scouring the Internet didn’t provide a definitive answer, but was instructive nonetheless. The German word for Christmas is Weihnachten, which means holy night. Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, is known as the Weihnachtsmann and a Christmas market is a Weihnachtsmarkt, at least in Northern Germany. Dresden’s Striezelmarkt, which … [Read more...]

Shopping the German Christmas Markets: Plauen Lace

So far, most of my German Christmas market shopping posts have focused on holiday-related items, but these frequently represent only a fraction of a manufacturer’s total output. Take lace: the majority produced is not at all season-specific, although lace featuring Christmas motifs also exists. Now lace isn’t particularly my thing, although I admire it when it’s good. As my life proceeds, I … [Read more...]

Shopping the German Christmas Markets: Nativity Scenes

Nativity scenes: finally, a Christmas tradition that did not originate in Germany. Legend has it that on Christmas Eve in the year 1224, St. Francis of Assisi created the first nativity scene outside of a cave near the town of Greccio. Real people dressed as Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, and others from the Christmas story--as well as live animals--gathered around a manger containing a wax figure of … [Read more...]

Shopping the German Christmas Markets: Glass ornaments

Probably the most common of all Christmas tree decorations are ornaments made of glass. And I doubt anyone will be surprised to learn they are a German invention. The first ones were made in the town of Lauscha in Thuringia, which for centuries had been an established center for glass-blowing. Around 1880, F. W. Woolworth visited Germany and began importing glass Christmas ornaments into the … [Read more...]

Shopping the German Christmas markets: Nutcrackers

Of all the many types of Christmas decorations from Germany, nutcrackers are perhaps the most familiar in this country—after Christmas trees, of course. When I was a child we never owned a German nutcracker, nor did I ever attend a performance of The Nutcracker ballet (an omission I rectified when my own daughter was young). I was acquainted with the music of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, but … [Read more...]

Shopping the German Christmas markets: Pyramids

Until my first trip to Germany at Christmas I had never seen or heard of Christmas pyramids. At first, I was puzzled by the popularity of this previously unknown artifact but, since they were everywhere—in Christmas markets, shop windows, hotel lobbies, and even a monument-sized version in the heart of Dresden’s Striezelmarkt—I became intrigued, then appreciative, and finally, covetous. … [Read more...]