Waiting for Christmas has always been exciting for both young and old ones, but here in Bavaria, it’s as big as Oktoberfest I must say. Though people look forward more to a warm mug of Glühwein instead of beer and Zimtstern (Cinnamon Star cookies) than Pretzels. I, myself is looking forward to see all these new things in my eyes.There’s something about experiencing things for the first time–everything seems special. I can still remember my daughter’s excitement when she saw her boot was filled with goodies during St. Nicholas Day ( Nikolaustag) . All around the city and on each home, everywhere is decorated and the atmosphere of Christmas is so heavy here in Bavaria. I know that in other regions, the traditions vary and things are celebrated differently, but with same looking forward for Christmas Day.
Children have this big anticipation in their eyes, a longing for something exciting! There’s the glow in their eyes when they know that they are counting the days for the big day comes starting with the Adventkalendars. It is practically a calendar with treats or chocolates in every date with small doors.On the 1st of December children get to open the first little door, behind which they find a chocolate or some other little treat. On the 2nd of December they get to open the 2nd door, and so on and so forth up to 24 December. Now, which kid will complain? Even the adults loved this one. Enjoying every piece of chocolate in silence.
Christmas in Germany is one of the happiest and most celebrated holidays of all times here,but Christmas here comes in a long, sweet, waiting game. As early as November, the city center was transformed into a winter wonderland and place for the Christkindlmarkt. Another custom that I have observed here is theirAdventkranz or the Advent wreath. This is a truly one German cozy tradition,though the concept of Advent wreath originated from German Lutherans in the 16th century, but spread out to other denominations. German families celebrates the 4-Sundays of Advent before Christmas with an Advent wreath shaped into a round, flat wound of fir pine It is adorned with cinnamon sticks,orange peels and with 4 red candles.
From Hamburg, the Advent wreath started its triumphal procession out to the Christian world: In 1925 an Advent wreath with four candles was set up in a catholic church in Cologne for the first time. Since 1930 as well in Munich.
On every Sunday during Advent another candle is lit until in the end all four are burning. “Advent, Advent, ein Lichtlein brennt,” goes one children’s rhyme. “Erst eins, dann zwei, dann drei, dann vier, dann steht das Christkind vor der Tür.” “Advent, Advent, a little candle’s burning. First one, then two, then three, then four. Then the Christ Child’s at the door.”
Children watching the candle in silence, but with eager anticipation. Looking admiringly on the packed gifts under the Christmas Tree and watching the lights flood the living room while listening to Christmas carols. One of the things that I love doing here nowadays is watching the locals decorate their houses in a very unique way, totally different from the culture that I grew up with.When I am out,I love watching people in silence as they all go around with their busy hustle and bustle during Christmas season. Busy shopping, gift wrapping, and some are just celebrating life everyday in the coziness of the German Christmas markets. With a warm mug of Glühweinand with tasty treats, or a bucket of roasted almonds or chestnuts. Some towns are famed for their Christmas markets, for example Dresden’s Striezelmarkt (named after a type of cake – now known as Stollen – traditionally sold there) and Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt (“Christ Child Market”).
Anticipation doesn’t need to be loud or grand, because some days in Christmas season are made with silent anticipation.
I grew up adoring Santa Claus. Almost every Christmas, someone would dressed up as Santa Claus to make the occasion even more festive. The party gets more alive and kids shrieked with glee once they see him. From decorations ,cards, Christmas socks, to figurines set up in shops, there is this heavily- bearded old man dressed in red suit with a hat and black boots, carrying a sack full of gifts. It has even become a tradition for kids to sit in the lap of Santa Claus and take photos. The sight of him elevates our excitement for the great gifts that He brings. As a kid, I am also enamored to the old tale that if you have been good all through out the year, you will receive presents from Santa Claus. Santa flies through the air on a winter night of Christmas eve with his sleigh full of gifts pulled by reindeer, especially led by Rudolf, the one with a red nose. Santa Claus climbs up to the chimney and then leave the gifts under the Christmas tree.
On the other side,my Dutch husband grew up adoring Sinterklaas or the De Goede Sint(The Good Saint) which is the big thing for kids in the Netherlands . Sinterklaas is widely celebrated on Dec. 5th and most anticipated by Dutch kids during December more than Christmas day itself. Sinterklaas wears a long red cape or chasuble over a traditional white bishop’s alb and sometimes red stola, dons a red mitre and ruby ring, and holds a gold-coloured crosier, a long ceremonial shepherd’s staff with a fancy curled top. He traditionally rides a white horse. In the Netherlands, the horse is called Amerigo. Sinterklaas with his Zwarte piets roam around the neighborhood and give gifts to children.This festivity is full of Kruidnoten, Gevuldekoeken,chocolate letters, spekulaas cookies and so many different treats for the little ones. It’s really the biggest event for Dutch kids.
There are so many Santa Claus figures all over the world but I believe that they all portray the same role as the mythical Santa Claus and its connection to Christmas.But here in Germany, Santa Claus is nowhere to be found because St. Nicholas beats him. In this festive season,all German kids look forward for St. Nicholas Day or Nikolaustag on December 6, more than Christmas Day on December 25th.
But who is the real St. Nicholas?
Across the German-speaking region of Europe there are many kinds of Santa Clauses with many different names. Despite their many names, they are all basically the same mythic character. But few of them have anything to do with the real Saint Nicholas (Sankt Nikolaus or der Heilige Nikolaus), who was probably born around A.D. 245 in the port city of Patara in what we now call Turkey.He is credited with several miracles and his feast day is December 6, which is the main reason he is connected with Christmas. In Austria, parts of Germany, and Switzerland, der Heilige Nikolaus (or Pelznickel) brings his gifts for children on Nikolaustag, Dec. 6, not Dec. 25.
So what happens during Nikolaustag in Germany?
I noticed that German kids are very very spoiled during Christmas season here in Germany. As early as October, the shops are already filled with Adventkalendar which is literally a calendar with chocolates , toys and sweets! German kids count the days before St. Nicholas ‘s arrival through the Adventkalendar which also coincide with the 4 weeks of Advent season before Christmas day. Around November, the shops are already adorned with Christmas decorations, there’s the wide array of different Adventkranz, and the Weihnachtsmann or (Father Christmas ) strolls inside the shops with a sack giving out chocolate balls and sweets for kids. He also visit the Christkindlmarkt during Frohe festtages where there again, giving away candy bracelets, toys and chocolate balls to eager kids. One happy day for kids, and for parents too!
On the night of December 5th , in small communities in Austria and the Catholic regions of Germany, a man dressed as der Heilige Nikolaus (St. Nicholas) who resembles a bishop and carries a staff) goes from house to house to bring small gifts to the children. Accompanying him are several ragged looking, devil-like Krampusse, who mildly scare the children. Although Krampus/Knecht Ruprecht carries eine Rute (a switch), He only teases the children with it, while St. Nicholas hands out small gifts to the children. In some regions, there are other names for both Nikolaus and Krampus (Knecht Ruprecht in northern Germany). The Krampuslauf custom found in Austria and Bavaria also happens around December 5 or 6, but it also can take place at various times during November or December, depending on the community. While Santa Claus is more gay and cheerful ,take note that St. Nicholas doesn’t even say Ho ho ho !
Now that we live in Bavaria, my daughter had her first taste of Nikolaustag. She shrieked with delight when she saw her yellow boots is filled with goodies and gifts . Her first taste of Nikolaustag came as a bright and sweet surprise! This experience is new to us but then I am so glad that my daughter can have things such as this. This is one of the local traditions that we are looking forward to celebrate through the coming years.
Do you believe in Santa Claus?
What Christmas traditions do you do during this holiday season?
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Finally, I have made my very first visit and seeing a real German Christmas market–the Christkindlmarkt ! The great thing about being an Expat is exploring things like a tourist and enjoying it like locals do. I am so grateful that my Expat Life had brought me so much new cultures to learn and different stories to share with you. I am sure that you’ve heard about Germany being famous worldwide for its beautiful Christmas markets &meaningful traditions and now I know why…
This year is our first taste of Christmas in Germany and as I finally became a resident here, I wanna share with you my whole experience through Germany’s Weihnachten, after all, it’s my favorite time of the year,the Christmas season.
After almost 8 years of Christmas in Kuwait, where celebrating Christmas is confined into the insides of our flat, this year’s gonna be a whole lot different for me personally. I am seeing lots of new things, and various exciting things as we look forward for this holiday season. Even away from the Netherlands, my daughter is so ready to celebrate Sinterklaas version or the St. NicholasDay (Der Nikolaustag) on Dec. 6. Again, for the first time as well, I have made our own Advent wreaths (Adventkranz) and pine wreaths which I decorated to hang in our doors. It’s so different to have a real wreaths made out of twigs and pines.Traditionally, German families gather around the wreath on each Advent Sunday to light the candle, sing Christmas carols and eat Christmas cookies. For me, I needed to pay extra attention when the candle is lit because I have a frenzy toddler who wants to play with the pines and ehmm..blow the candles.
Last Wednesday, November 23, at 5pm, the Christkindlmarkt in Ingolstadt opened with sparkling lights and putting up the giant 14- meters Christmas tree (Weihnachtsbaum) in front of the Town Hall (Rathausplatz) signalling the start of this year’s Frohe Festtages.The whole city center were transformed into a winter wonderland and I was really amazed by how efficient the local organizers have put up the whole set for the next 31 days. Everything looks like a page in a book of Winter Wonderland. The Christkindlmarkt here in Ingolstadt along with all other Christmarkets all over Germany lights up the city from November 23 up to 23rd of December 2016, some even lasts until 8th of January next year.
I was looking forward to see Ingolstädter Krippenweg. For me, it’s the highlight of celebrating Christmas as well as Filipinos observed the “Simbang Gabi“or the Night Mass observed for 9- nights from Dec. 16-24. I remembered having our Nativity set placed under our Christmas trees. This year, we have our hand- crafted Nativity set from Kenya, a gift from my parents in-law. But here in Germany, they have the city’s Trail of Nativity and there’s a special tour for tourists- the “Kumm,geh ma Kripperl schaugn” for visitors who wants to see the unique ‘cribs’ that can be found here in Bavaria. I have seen 2 of them already and I look forward to see the largest nativity in the Spitalkirche on the next days. Ingolstadt is a home of famous “cribs”as early as 1594.
Stay tuned for my detailed post about the historical cribs in different periods and styles displayed in various places and churches spread in this old Bavarian city and of course, the Polish artist from Opole carving the wood cribs.
As shoppers flocked everyday in the busy city center,the shops along Ludwigstr. adorned their windows with colorful, festive and holiday displays which gives delights to all ages. The whole city is adorned with Christmas decorations . Everywhere I looked, I see decorated wreaths and cafes have become even more cozier with their winter lounges and warm decor. I felt like I am really in a different world. Along the streets, the little ones get crazy with the carousels (Kinderkarussell), trains (Kinder eisenbahn) and the Weihnachts Märchenweg. There are Story telling- booths with statues and moving puppets for famous fairy tale stories like “Der Frösch-Konig”, “Rapunzel“, Hänsel und Gretel”,”Rot-Käppchen”,”Schnee Wittchen” and many more. Such a fun way to engage the little ones!
Outside, I observed that most trees gradually lost their colored leaves, some are already bare, it seems to be getting colder from day-to-day and the hedges starts to freeze. I wonder when will the first snow fall here in Bavaria? Schokonikoläuse and gingerbread have long adorned the shelves of supermarkets, a clear sign, the year is drawing to a close. I can’t believe that 2016 will soon get over…another brand new year to come.
Also I noticed that Germans ( also Bavarians ) celebrates this holiday with style and lots of Uhmm.. sweets and threats, such as the Advenkalendar. While I was doing our grocery shopping, I noticed that there is a huge pile of these colorful boxes, some in edgy shapes, with Christmas stories and designs. The German Advenkalendar madness had begun. Germans surely have a way to spoil themselves ( and little ones!) with lots of chocolates even before the calories add up on Christmas dinners and parties! For the 3 visits we’ve made, my daughter was showered already with lots of Scholonikoläuse, bonbons, and sweets..for this I need to be tolerant. The Weihnachtsman inside the shops are so generous!
In addition to so many sweet and hearty treats, a lot of punch, mulled wine and Feuerzangenbowle, and the aroma of Glühwein (“glow wine”) are served. These drinks will warm you up even before you actually drink this German version of hot mulled wine.Germans really know how to keep the chill away.
Outside the confines of shops, this place is packed with so many great gift ideas in displays.We strolled inside the Christkindlmarkt and found many tempting food stalls. There’s the German rolls and brötchen with sausages and Bratwurst, grilled meats in buns, or with crispy pommes, the Stollen (Fruitcake) and lebkuckens even French crepes!
There are huge stall for decorative glass wares, candles made out of beeswax, toys, arts & crafts, Christmas decor to adorn the Weinachtsbaum (Christmas tree), yummy threats like Ginger breads , Lebkucken,Schaumküsse, and lots of tortes and chocolate bonbons! My favorite was the shop with all the hand painted Christmas balls. They all looked so beautiful!
The city was transformed into a scenic festive place as well the arcades of the old town hall, the Winterlounge opens again . An oasis of peace, where you can relax the day with a mulled wine or punch. This is also a perfect place to socialize and just enjoy a cozy night out with friends.
The fun continues when we saw another special thing about German Christmas market-the Ice Skating rink! The whole area ofParadeplatz were transformed into a beautiful “Eis Arena am Schloss”. Imagine skating in front of the beautiful Neues Schloss ( New Castle), for a true magical Ice skating experience. A 500- square meter ice surface is waiting for all ice skating enthusiasts and the adventurous ones. My toddler can’t keep her eyes from this place but she’s still too young to skate with all the big ones.
Beside the Herzogkasten,the Carraraplatz is transformed into a small handicraft space. On the four adventures, artists and artisans, in Christmas-decorated huts, offer their unique products. I realized that there are so many talented artists here and so many beautiful crafts! There is also the Kulturezeit,special treat for big and small ones. The tent moves from the Schlossinnenhof to the Herzogkasten. Story-tellers, artists and authors invite young and old to join in and listen.
What about you, how’s Christmas celebrated in your place? Have you ever tried Glühwein ?
So much already right? Germans really have a way to make every Weihnachten the best holiday time of the year and as an Expat, I can really say that “It’s not this time of Year without Christkindlmarkt”.
To think it’s only the first week,and I bet there’s more to come. I will share them all in my next posts so stay tuned for more about celebrating Christmas the German way.