Heiligabend – Christmas Eve in Germany Posted by Sten on Dec 25, 2017 in Culture, Food, Language, Traditions
It is Christmas morning! Frohe Weihnachten (Merry Christmas)! Today is the day that Jesus Christ was born. And it means waking up to presents, because Santa was there, too! But not so in Germany. Kids and adults wake up on December 25 without presents to unwrap. Do they not receive and give presents during Christmas? Oh, they do. So what is going on?
Well, in Germany, it is on the Heiliger Abend (literally “Holy Evening”, Christmas Eve), or more commonly, Heiligabend or Weihnachtsabend, that Geschenke (presents) are ausgepackt (unwrapped). So on December 24, not December 25!
Sometimes, when the Kinder (children) are not old enough yet, the Bescherung – the handing out of the presents – takes place in the afternoon. However, before that, some Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) are had. That is quite common throughout the year in Germany, a sort of afternoon tea. However, there are special cakes and cookies during Weihnachten. My Mutter (mother) always makes these amazing Weihnachtsplätzchen (Christmas cookies). And a Stollen (Christmas stollen) must be there, of course. Sometimes, the Kaffee is also exchanged for Glühwein (mulled wine). After these Köstlichkeiten (delicacies), the Auspacken (unwrapping) begins.
However, when the children are old enough, all the Auspacken happens right after an excellent Weihnachtsessen (Christmas Dinner). Together with some more Glühwein or some Bier (beer) – a German staple you just cannot go around -, it is an evening on which families in Germany come together and celebrate being together, giving each other presents. For this reason, it is the Lieblingszeit (favorite time) of the year for many people.
Presents are placed underneath the Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas tree) in the Morgen (morning) or Nachmittag (afternoon) of the 24th. Of course, if there are Kinder, they are not supposed to see that it was not the Weihnachtsmann or the Christkind. The what?
In some regions of Germany, it is not the Weihnachtsmann (literally “Christmas Man”, Santa Claus) that brings the Geschenke, but the Christkind (literally “Christ Child”). It is a figure brought by Martin Luther to eliminate Saint Nicholas, so that people stop commemorating him. The procedure is quite similar to how it goes with the Weihnachtsmann. The Kinder (Children) are not allowed to go look for the Christkind, or it won’t come! So kids, just sit still and let the Christkind do its thing!
And today, it is Weihnachten, though because of all the festivities on the day before, many people already see Heiligabend as Christmas. The presents are unwrapped, and many people go to church. All shops are closed, because it is erster Weihnachtstag (First Christmas Day). First? There is a second?
Yes, because on the zweite Weihnachtstag (Second Christmas Day), Saint Stephen is commemorated. It is an official holiday in many countries, including Germany.
On both these days, many people visit friends and other family to give them Geschenke, or to have some food together or some more Kaffee und Kuchen. Both days are official holidays, so mostly, it is just a day of relaxing!
For a whole list of Christmas-related vocabulary, check out this excellent post by Larissa!
What do you celebrate at the end of December? If you celebrate Christmas, how do you do it? Let me know in the comments below!
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