How to create an Old World German Christmas

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Gingerbread King Nutcracker
Nutcrackers are a 15th Century German tradition
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Create a sense of tradition and timelessness with an Old World German Christmas

In preparation for the holidays, are you ready to nom on some gingerbread, drink mulled wine by the gallons, and look forward to a visit from der Weihnachtsmann (the Christmas man)?

You, my friend, are longing for an Old World German Christmas. Full of rich, beautiful traditions, the German people sure know how to holiday. Incorporate a few of these Yuletide elements from Deutschland, and not even Krampus will be able to dampen your festive spirit. 


The four weeks leading up to Christmas Eve is known as Advent, and is a big part of the German tradition. Many households display Advent calendars (or Adventskalender)—cardboard or paper squares with a “window” for each day leading up to the big event. As the days go by, each little daily flap is opened to reveal a scene behind it, with the Nativity showing as the finale on December 24th.

These days, however, many Advent calendars are made up of boxes containing candies or tiny toys to be discovered for each day of the holiday.  A more rustic and “grownup” version of this is the Adventskranz or Advent wreath, which is made up of greenery and has four candles to symbolize the four weeks of Christmas. One of these candles is lit on each Sunday before Christmas, until the fourth which is lit on Christmas Eve. 


These whimsical Christmas icons are an “Old World German” must-have for the holidays. Dating back to the 15th Century, nutcrackers in the shape of soldiers, hunters, and the aristocracy are famous the world over for their unique appearance and craftsmanship. They are considered good luck and have provided a boon to rural craft makers, especially in the Erzgebirge Mountain regions, for centuries. If you’re going to collect them, do yourself a favor and buy true German made nutcrackers.

O Tannenbaum

Beyond that platoon of nutcrackers patrolling your mantel, the Old World German Christmas home is bedecked with greenery – the real evergreen stuff – a beautiful tree, handblown glass ornaments, and beautiful wood carvings. In the Old World, trees were decorated with fruits, nuts, and baked goods. Think red apples, shaped and decorated gingerbread (lebkuchen) cookies, and handmade candies. They were also often (and sometimes still are) graced with real lit candles, but you may prefer to use strings of lights for safety’s sake. 

In addition to decorations, fill your home with music and musical instruments. In Germany, the singing and playing never stops throughout the entire holiday season, and is therefore a must borrowing from this tradition. Organize a group of friends and go caroling (in Germany these groups are the Sternsinger or Star Singers who go door to door singing for charity), or find an online playlist or CD of German Christmas songs to listen to while trimming the tree and baking Christmas goodies. 

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

If you’re going to have a German themed holiday, you can’t forget the food. A traditional German Christmas dinner is a grand affair with suckling pig, roast beef, or goose as the main course, along with delicious side dishes of braised red cabbage, savory stuffings, sausages, and fried potatoes. Spiced biscuits and lebkuchen are sure to grace the holiday table, as well as the customary, even mandatory, Stollen, which is a sort of German fruit bread. To drink, you may be plied with glasses of warm Gluhwein, a spiced mulled red wine that sometimes has a shot of brandy added for extra oomph. Have a big pot of Gluhwein warming on the stove when guests arrive, and there will be no question the holidays are officially here. 

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