Traditions, Values and Young People

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Christmas Customs in Germany

 

Christmas Customs, Traditionally and Today

Santa Claus, the Christ Child and Father Christmas in Germany<

 

christmas decorations

 

Christmas Customs, Traditionally and Today

We are students of the Gustav-Heinemann-Schule Mülheim (in Germany) and we want to present some of the results of our work on Christmas traditions. We also did two surveys on how young people feel about Christmas celebrations, and the results of these surveys are included here.

The Christmas season starts at the end of November, around the first Sunday in Advent. That is also when the Christmas fairs open. In the old days, you were able to buy Christmas decorations and hand-carved mangers or drink hot mulled wine. These days you still get these things and lots of other things besides which are apt as Christmas presents. But Christmas fairs have a hundred stalls or more, and you can buy lots of snacks there, too.

christmas fair dresden

Some younger people wear red and white Santa Claus caps or moose antlers when they go out shopping for Christmas.

The advent wreath used to have 24 candles, one for each day. Today it has only 4 candles, one for each Sunday in Advent. You can buy candles in different sizes so that they all have the same length on the fourth Advent Sunday.

Santa Claus (Saint Nicholas) is a figure who comes every year on 6th December and brings presents for the "good" children. He was a real person who was the bishop of Myra. He supported people in need and helped them. He wore a mitre (the special headdress of bishops) and a red bishop's robe. In his hands he held a bishop's crosier and a bible or prayer book. In addition he had a long white beard. The feast of Saint Nicholas is colloquially called "Nikolaus".

Modern Father Christmas is mainly rooted in European popular legends about Saint Nicholas. However, the two figures are not identical. Father Christmas originated in the 18th and 19th centuries. Since Coca-Cola used him for advertising he has been wearing a red suit with white fur trimmings, a long white beard and a pointed cap also with white fur around it. He comes to the "good" kids on Christmas Eve and brings them presents.

The difference between the two figures is that Saint Nicholas really lived, while Father Christmas was invented. Besides, Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas comes on December 6th, while Father Christmas comes on the 24th. /

The Christmas tree is usually decorated on the 23rd or 24th of December. Contrary to former times, many people these days use electric candles. Tree decorations have also become more colourful. Our survey showed that about 90 per cent of all families have a Christmas tree at home, and that most of these are still real trees and not plastic ones.

christmas tree

Customs at Christmas have not changed much. Practically everybody celebrates it, and for two thirds of the people we asked it is the most important festival of the year. You celebrate Christmas with your family, not with friends. It is a family get-together, and it's concentrated on the 24th, not the 25th of December.

Most people still go to church, sing carols and recite poems. About one third of the people in our survey thought that the religious side of Christmas is very important, and so they go to church every year. Another third go sometimes, and only the last third stay at home and do not find the religious aspect important.

Eating together with the family - usually on Christmas Eve - is a central part of Christmas celebrations. 90 per cent do this, and there are some special dishes, such as fish, duck, goose, or potato salad with sausages, that are traditionally eaten on this day.

After church and before or after the meal you give each other presents. For many, especially the children, this is the highlight of the evening. 80 percent of the people in our survey think that in former times the religious aspect was more important than the presents. On the other hand only a minority say that they find presents the central aspect; to two thirds the family time seems to be more or equally important.

Today you generally get the presents that were on your wish list. In former times this was different: You always got something as a surprise. While 40 per cent of the people in our survey spent less than 40 Euros on presents, half spend between 50 and 150 Euros, and around 10 per cent pay more than 150 Euros for presents.

 

Santa Claus, the Christ Child and Father Christmas in Germany

Santa Claus (Saint Nicholas) is a figure who comes every year on 6th December and brings presents for the "good" children. He was a real person who was the bishop of Myra. He supported people in need and helped them. He wore a mitre (the special headdress of bishops) and a red bishop's robe. In his hands he held a bishop's crosier and a bible or prayer book. In addition he had a long white beard. The feast of Saint Nicholas is colloquially called "Nikolaus".

st. nikolaus
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chapelle_du_Grand_Rombach_005.JPG. Copyright: see that page.

Martin Luther abolished Santa Claus in the 16th century and replaced him with the new-born Christ child, who is the same as the baby Jesus and the real reason why Christmas is celebrated. The idea of the Christ child as an angelic figure probably goes back to processions at Christmas time and to Christmas plays in which a host of angels was often led by a Christ child.

Christ in manger
© Rike / PIXELIO, www.pixelio.de

Modern Father Christmas is mainly rooted in European popular legends about Saint Nicholas. However, the two figures are not identical. Father Christmas originated in the 18th and 19th centuries and originally did not have a special form of dress. More and more he now replaced the traditional Christ child, and in the 20th century Coca-Cola used him in an advertising campaign and you often see him as a pleasant white-bearded Santa. Since the big Coca-Cola campaign he has been wearing a red suit with white fur trimmings, a long white beard and a pointed cap also with white fur around it. This has become his standard dress. On Christmas Eve he comes to the "good" kids and brings them presents; the "bad" kids get a rod.

father christmas
www.costumers.com

The difference between the three figures is that Saint Nicholas is the only one who really lived, while the Christ child and Father Christmas are invented. Besides, Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas comes on December 6th, while the Christ child and Father Christmas come on the 24th. Santa Claus, the Christ child and Father Christmas are thus mythical symbolic figures that represent the giving of presents at Christmas time.