Tag Archives: Christkindlmarkt

Christmas in Germany

I was asked to submit an article about Christmas traditions in Germany to Gen X Moms Blog. I wanted to share what I wrote here.

Christmas in Germany
Living on the edge of the Bavarian Alps as we do, one of my favorite times of year here is the Christmas season. Between the holiday decorations, Christmas markets and the impressive backdrop of snow-covered Alps, this time of year is magical.

Christkindlmarkt, Marientplatz, München

Christkindlmarkt, Marientplatz, München

Saint Nicholas

We call him Santa Claus, but in Germany he’s called Sankt Nikolaus, or Saint Nicholas. In Germany, Saint Nicholas brings gifts to children on December 6th, his feast day.

This year, I thought Rosebud was old enough to learn about Saint Nicholas. On the evening of December 5th, Rosebud and I sat at our kitchen table, where I sang her a song about Saint Nicholas called “Lasst uns froh und munter sein” (or “Let us be happy and cheerful”). The song is about how children put out a plate on Saint Nicholas Eve, and then while the children sleep, Nicholas puts treats in the plate for the children to find the next morning. We sang the song several times (“Mommy, sing it again?”), and then I helped Rosebud put a plate on our kitchen table for Saint Nicholas. The next morning, her eyes were wide with amazement when she discovered her plate was full, with a few sweets and many clementines.

Originally, children in Germany would put out a boot or a stocking, just like the tradition of having Christmas stockings for Santa to fill. Usually Saint Nicholas leaves gifts of oranges or clementines, nuts, chocolates, Lebkuchen (similar to gingerbread) and maybe some other small gifts. A friend of mine in the Netherlands told me that Saint Nicholas is very important there; he’s called Sinter Klaas and children get most of their gifts on Saint Nicholas day.

At some of the Christmas markets in Germany, Saint Nicholas appears in costume. He asks the children if they have been good and usually gives them a clementine or apple. Unlike our jolly Saint Nick in North America, Saint Nicholas is slender rather than plump, and dressed like a bishop in red and gold.

O Tannenbaum – Oh Christmas Tree

Christkindlmarkt, Salzburg, Austria

Christkindlmarkt, Salzburg, Austria

The custom of bringing an evergreen into your home and decorating it is an old one; the tree symbolized the return of spring. Traditionally, Germans decorate their tree with candles and bows; also common are sweets, glass balls, straw stars and wooden ornaments and figures. Most people have lights in the shape of candles for their tree, but some families still put actual candles on their tree. When I was an exchange student in Köln (Cologne), my family had real candles for their tree. We lit the candles and admired the tree for about twenty minutes, but then extinguished the candles and plugged in the string of lights for the rest of the time. The candle-lit tree was beautiful, though. I’m not brave enough to do it myself, but the candle-lit tree is something I’ll always remember.

Some families put up their tree on Christmas Eve and then take it down on January 6th, which is called Three Kings day. In the ballet The Nutcracker, the parents of Clara put up their Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. The children don’t get to see the tree until the parents finish decorating it, which is another tradition that some families have.

Adventskranz – Advent Wreath

Most families have an advent wreath in their home, even if they aren’t necessarily religious. It’s thought that the Advent wreath originated before Christianity spread throughout this part Europe. In the Germanic and Scandinavian countries, a large wheel was decorated with four candles. The four candles represented the four seasons, and the wheel represented the earth. The candles were lit in the hopes that the wheel would turn back toward the sun.

Today, the candles are lit for each Advent Sunday and instead of a wheel, a circle is usually fashioned out of pine boughs. Last year, one of the students I tutor in English was telling me how he and his friend always collect pine boughs to make into wreaths to sell at their local Christmas Market. The hand-made wreaths I’ve seen here are decorated with ribbons, pinecones, dried oranges, whole spices and other seasonal items. The wreaths make for a beautiful table decoration and help to bring a little light into one’s home during the dark December days.

Christkindlmarkt/Weihnachtsmarkt – Christmas Markets

The Christmas markets, which are outdoor street markets, are probably my favorite tradition here. Especially in southern Germany where we live, the markets are called the “Christkindlmarkt” but in other parts of Germany the markets are called “Weihnachtsmarkt”. When the festive Christmas markets open on the first weekend of Advent, I feel like finally it is time to get ready for the holidays.

Christmas market stall, Oberammergau

Christmas market stall, Oberammergau

Carousel at the Christkindlmarkt, Oberammergau

Carousel at the Christkindlmarkt, Oberammergau

The markets are generally held in town squares or pedestrian zones, and wooden stalls are set up to display handmade crafts, foods, ornaments, jewelry and other items. It wouldn’t be a Christmas market without sausages or bratwurst, gebrannte Mandeln (candied almonds) and Glühwein (mulled hot wine) or Kinderpunsch (spiced warm fruit punch).

Nuts and sweets, Christmas market, Bad Heilbrunn

Nuts and sweets, Christmas market, Bad Heilbrunn

Rosebud eats kettlecorn, Oberammergau

Rosebud eats kettlecorn, Oberammergau

Rosebud holds out her Kinderpunsch mug

Rosebud holds out her Kinderpunsch mug

Larger cities like Munich have multiple Christmas markets, and even special themed ones. This year, with baby Superdude in the stroller and Rosebud who likes to walk, we have gone to the smaller markets in our region. Rosebud in particular has loved going to the Christmas markets. She gets excited over the lights and decorations, the outdoor music and even all the people.

Listening to the band playing Christmas music, Oberammergau

Listening to the band playing Christmas music, Oberammergau

Even though the weather can be very cold and snowy, somehow we don’t mind when we are walking around the Christmas markets. A mug of Glühwein or Kinderpunsch helps keep the cold away. My children are lucky to experience the Christmas traditions here. As they grow older, we will all have fond memories of celebrating Christmas in Germany.

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The Shelby Family visits the Bowmans in Bavaria!

In early December, my friend Shelby, her husband Kevin and her son Theo came to visit us as part of their vacation. We had the best time together, especially because we were able to talk about Mom stuff and share tips on parenting. We have a similar parenting style, too. That was one of the best parts about the visit, because Rosebud and Theo were able to play together and we were able to really enjoy each other’s company.

Shelby’s son Theo is what the Germans call a “Christkind” – a Christmas child, as his birthday is on Christmas Eve. He’s not that much younger than Rosebud, although he is a lot bigger! The first time I picked him up, I almost fell over; the first time Shelby picked up Rosebud, she says she felt like she almost threw Rosebud as she is so much lighter than Theo. 🙂

On our first day, we went to Schloss Linderhof, one of King Ludwig’s castles. It is the closest of the King Ludwig castles to our house. I conveniently ordered some snow for Shelby, Kevin and Theo.

Rosebud and Theo asleep in the car

near Schloss Linderhof, a winter wonderland

Rosebud plays in the snow and slush outside the castle

snow-covered Schloss Linderhof gardens

Handsome Theo, waiting to go in the castle

Schloss Linderhof was designed to resemble Versailles palace in France, as King Ludwig was a fan of King Louis XIV, the Sun King. It’s a small castle, and in terms of its size, feels more like an over-decorated country manor. But it is impressive and quite beautiful. Both Rosebud and Theo discovered that their voices carried well in the castle rooms, so they entertained themselves by listening to their voices.

After our visit to the castle, we had a bite to eat in a café. Rosebud had a grand old time drinking hot chocolate with a spoon. The hot chocolate was all over her bib and shirt, and she was very pleased with herself.

Gratuitous Theo photo:

Nom nom nom!

The next day, we went to the Zugspitze, which is the highest peak in Germany. The Zugspitze is outside of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. To get to the top of the peak, we took the cog train. Especially during the skiing season, the Zugspitze is mainly accessed by skiers, although visitors can make reservations for an overnight stay in an Igloo hotel. Other activities include a kid’s skiing area, snowshoeing and during other times of the year, hiking.

The tickets up to the ski center near the peak are not cheap, but the ride up in the cog train was really neat. As it was late in the day – in fact, the last train up to the top – we were the only people in the train car. This worked out well because Rosebud walked up and down the car. I followed close behind, holding on to her shoulder, as we were at a fairly steep angle. Rosebud thought that walking uphill and downhill was pretty great.

Shelby, Theo and Kevin in the cog train car, going up to the Zugspitze

Kevin holds Theo so he can see the snow-covered trees on the mountain

It took about 40 minutes, maybe a little longer, to reach the ski chalet at the top. We didn’t stay outside very long with the children, as it was bitterly cold. Kevin and I took turns to take photos and watch the kids. Braving the frigid temperatures was definitely worth the stunning views:

The Zugspitze

The ski chalet at the top of the Zugspitze, at an altitude of 2600 meters

The sun sets on the Zugspitze

On our last day together, we drove to Salzburg which is about an hour and a half from our house. Salzburg has a charming Altstadt, or old city quarter where we spent most of our time. It was another bitterly cold day, so we all bundled up. As we wandered around, we found a lovely Christkindlmarkt, also called a Weihnachtsmarkt, or Christmas market. I liked this one much better than the one in Munich, as most of the items were hand-made and local.

Shelby and Kevin at a Christkindlmarkt in Salzburg

Cozy, napping Theo

A view of the Altstadt and Christkindlmarkt

The cathedral and view of the fortress from the Christmas market

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit with Shelby, Kevin and Theo; I only wish we could have spent more time together.