Come December and usually frosty temperatures, Germany is filled with festive displays of holiday spirit.
From decorative outdoor markets to giant gingerbread Lebkuchen loafs, here are a few Christmas customs that German expats told us they miss when they’re living in the U.S.
These charming outdoor markets seem to sprout up everywhere there is open space.
Half-timbered homes are festively laced with lights, and vendors sell everything from handmade crafts and sweets to sleek tech gadgets. Many of the Germany’s 2,500 plus Weihnachtsmärkte take place at the foot of glowing castles or churches, or in festive center squares.
There’s no better way to take in the holiday merriment than to saunter around one of these winter wonderlands, listening to the often-live carols, and with a Glühwein (hot mulled wine) or its non-alcoholic variant Kinderpunsch (children’s punch) in hand.
In the holiday season, bakeries around Germany abound with Stollen, a glorified fruitcake filled with raisins and other tasty dried fruits and topped with powdered sugar.
There’s also the Lebkuchen, a scrumptious German gingerbread often filled with nuts, honey or marzipan, another classic sweet comprised of almonds and sugar.
For those still looking to satiate their sweet tooth, Germans often present a tray of Plätzchen, or Christmas cookies, such as Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars) or the anise-flavored Springerle, a Southern German specialty.
In this secret gift exchange, schools, small workplaces and sometimes circles of friends or families will open a door wide enough to toss in a small wrapped gift, usually with a value of less than 15 euros.
The gifts are then passed around until they are in the hands of the ‘correct’ recipient, or the person whose personality the gift is best deemed by the group to match.
One variety of the game, Schrottwichteln (trash wichteln) is reserved specifically for tacky presents, such as that bright green pair of wool socks. It's considered bad luck, however, to find out who the gift giver is.
In Germany, giddy children already get out of bed on the morning of December 6, having placed a boot for Santa Claus to fill the night before.
There they will find oranges, chocolates and other treats. However, those who were more naughty than nice could discover a bundle of twigs that Knecht Ruprecht, Santa’s assistant, left for them.
In Southern Bavaria, the eve of the 5th is celebrated in quite a different fashion. During Krampusnacht, large men dressed in demonic costumes -- representing the half-goat half-demon Krampus and his fearsome friends -- knock on the doors in order to scare children into good behavior.
Especially in South Germany, kids cast their holiday wishes through decorated letters to the Christkind, who represents the Christmas spirit and is the bearer of presents on Christmas Day.
In Nuremburg, arguably home to Germany’s most spectacular Christmas market, a girl donning a white and gold dress and angel wings plays the Christkind role during a popular parade. But her duty doesn't just end there: over the holidays she visits many establishments from senior times to TV studios.
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