Home > Resources > Top 10 German Christmas Traditions (Weihnachten)

Top 10 German Christmas Traditions (Weihnachten)

Popular German Christmas traditions include Adventskranz, Heiligabend, Plätzchen backen, and more. If you’re keen to learn about how Weihnachten is celebrated in Germany, this list offers a comprehensive guide to Germany’s top 10 Christmas traditions.

Weihnachtsmarkt Cologne entry sign.
Table of contents


In German, “Weihnachten” translates to “Christmas,” signifying the consecrated night. To wish someone “Merry Christmas” in German, you say “fröhliche Weihnachten.”

1. Advent

The Advent season starts in early December and is celebrated with an Adventskranz (Advent wreath) featuring candles for each Sunday during Advent. This festive countdown to Christmas starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. Christmas markets in Germany typically start on that day.

Chocolate Advent calendars, known as Adventskalender, are a popular tradition amongst German kids, revealing a little surprise for each day.

2. German Christmas markets

Christmas markets in Germany typically boast a tall tree in front of the townhouse or city hall, decorated with Christmas lights.

Weihnachtsmärkte feature charming wooden huts offering a variety of festive food and drinks. Don’t miss the typical German Christmas market treats like mulled wine, known as “Glühwein,” served in collectible mugs, stollen cookies, and delicious sausages.

The Christmas markets feature live performances, such as the captivating nativity scenes called “Krippenspiel,” and carols.

Some of the best German Christmas markets include:

Traditional German gingerbread cookies on a cookie rack.

3. Plätzchen – German Christmas Cookies

The most popular German Christmas cookies are gingerbread which are called Lebkuchen. The spiced cookies come in many different variations including Elisenlebkuchen, Pfeffernüsse, Spekulatius, and gingerbread houses of course.

Other must-try German Christmas cookies – aka Plätzchen – are:

4. St. Nicholas Day

Saint Nicholas Day, known as Nikolaus, is a beloved tradition in Germany that takes place on 6th December. It is based on the celebration of Saint Nicholas, who is known as the patron saint of children and is often associated with gift-giving.

German children leave out a boot with a wishlist for Nikolaus on the fifth of December. St. Nicholas takes the wishlist and fills the boot of good children with sweets and fruits in exchange. His companions, Knecht Ruprecht or the Krampus, accompany him to discipline naughty children.

5. Christmas Carols

During Christmas time, Germans come together to sing Christmas songs in small villages and large cities, including homes, churches, town squares, schools, kindergartens, and Christmas markets.

Popular German carols include “O Tannenbaum,” “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night), and “Oh du fröhliche”.

A red candle on a Christmas tree next to a bauble.

6. Christmas Decorations

Homes in Germany start to shine with festive decorations from the first Advent, while the Christmas tree is decorated later on Christmas Eve. Traditional decorations include wooden decor including nutcrackers (Nussknacker), Christmas angels (Weihnachtsengel), and a hand-carved wooden nativity scene (Weihnachtskrippe) including Maria, Joseph, and baby Jesus.

German Christmas pyramids, also known as Weihnachtspyramiden, are traditional wooden decorations that have their origins in the Erzgebirge region of Germany. These pyramids are a unique and charming part of German traditions.

Christmas fir trees (Weihnachtsbaum), often Nordmanntanne (Abies nordmanniana), are adorned on Christmas Eve with fairy lights, real candles, mouth-blown hand-painted baubles, and cherished wooden ornaments passed down through generations. These festive traditions capture the spirit of the season in Germany.

7. Wichteln

Wichteln, akin to Secret Santa, is a popular way to exchange gifts in larger groups, such as schools, clubs, and workplaces, as a joyful part of celebrating the festive season. The term ‘Wichtel’ refers to a small Christmas gnome or elf.

8. Heiligabend – Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve on December 24th is known as Heiligabend in Germany. Shops close early and businesses typically shut for part or the entire day.

Heiligabend is marked by unique customs, including the lighting of candles on the tree in the living room, which is decorated only on this occasion. A Christmas plate known as Weihnachtsteller, filled with festive treats, is placed beneath the tree.

Families gather for a special Christmette church service, followed by singing around the tree. The present opening ceremony, called Bescherung, is thanks to the Christkind (Christ child), a figure resembling an angel, instead of Santa Claus or father Christmas. This joyous event is followed by a long family meal.

The day after, known as the first Christmas Day (Erster Feiertag or Weihnachtstag), is centered around family and tends to be quieter, with most shops closed. Subsequently, the second Christmas Day on December 26th (Zweiter Feiertag) provides an opportunity for people to reconnect with extended relatives and family friends.

A food stall on a German Christmas market.

9. Traditional German Christmas Food

German Christmas cuisine features a delightful array of sweet treats such as Stutenkerl, German butter cookies (Plätzchen), Christmas stollen bites, mulled wine, Baumkuchen, Marzipan, Feuerzangenbowle, and roasted chestnuts (Maronen).

When it comes to Christmas dinner, Heiligabend traditions vary, but favorites include a simple potato salad with sausages, roast goose or duck with red cabbage and potato dumplings, ragout fin, carp with salad, and raclette fondue.

10. Heilige drei Könige

On January 6th, known as Heilige Drei Könige or Three Kings Day, the holiday season comes to a meaningful close.

It’s a day when the three holy kings, Casper, Melchior, and Balthazar, roam to bless homes. In return, homes in certain parts of Germany receive chalk markings on their front door, signifying these blessings.

This tradition is often carried out by the local Catholic church communities and their group of singers, known as ‘Sternsinger’ in German, meaning ‘singers or followers of the star.’

Which German Christmas tradition is your favorite? Are you keen to include one in your Christmas celebrations?

For more German tips, check out the following articles:

Similar Posts