Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Christmas in Germany: License to Swag


I’ve been shepherding a dear friend around the local Christmas markets the last few days, which explains my absence here. As a result of her great good taste, my home is now wreathed in Christmas splendour: starry, starry lights in the window, a large lantern with a Christmas candle in it on the doorstep, crystals of various hues reflecting candlelight back at us. There are swags, bows, pine cones, walnuts and angels serving as decoration and a big Stollen cake languishing in the kitchen. The Christmas tree is not up yet, but that comes later in the month, in time for Daisy’s and my birthdays.

I have learnt to love a northern hemisphere Christmas. I’ve come from a place where we barbequed our turkeys and ate them cold with salad and chilled white wine, and now I live in a place where we roast our geese and eat them hot with red cabbage and Gluehwein. It’s fantastic.

In Germany, Christmas starts in early November, with the Laternefest. This is in honour of Sankt Martin, a kindly sixth century fellow who gave part of his cloak to a beggar in order to protect him from the cold. He then went on to become a Bishop (Martin not the beggar), and we celebrate his act of kindness by making our own lanterns, lighting them and walking through the streets at dusk singing lantern and Sankt Martin songs. I still haven’t made the connection between the lanterns and the saint, but I love the festival. It’s one of my favourites. However, as Ms Yum Yum Cafe says, it does mean that Christmas has a seven-week build-up. Which if you are the parent of three small children, can be exhausting.

My strategy is to ignore Christmas until December. While my kids have been annotating the Toys R Us catalogues for some weeks, I have been pretending not to notice. But now it’s here, and I have license to swag. I started by selecting my Advent wreath at the weekly market. The wreath has four white candles and sits on the table. You light one candle for each weekend of Advent. The children each have Advent calendars – two in fact, thanks to the lovely Frau M and I not conferring and each buying a set. Every morning, they open a little window and eat the small plastic chocolate lurking there, bringing us closer to the huge chocofest that they hope their Christmas will be. Ollie, only 20 months, can actually say “chockit”. It is a mild obsession in our home.

Then it’s time to hit the Christmas markets. This weekend, we did four different ones. Our little town has a rather bijou market compared to the larger ones, but it is perfectly formed: you can buy Gluehwein, Schweinsteaks in various forms, Lebkuchen from mini to monstrous, some beautiful wooden toys, homemade candles and angels. They have a craft tent, where for a couple of euros they take your kids off your hands and teach them how to make things. This weekend, Lily (and her mother) learned how to make a wreath. This is now adorning our front door.

We also managed the Heidelberg, Schwetzingen and Speyer markets. Both the former have open-air ice rinks attached to their Christmas markets, which adds to the atmosphere. I displayed my lack of northern hemisphere nous by taking my daughters ice-skating in skirts and tights. After an hour, children were both rather wet and I was getting looks from other parents who were clever enough both to be born in Germany and to know the ice-skating mantra, “Always in trousers”. I stand re-educated. We’ll be there next week, waterproofed.

On Wednesday, 6th December, we celebrate the arrival of Sankt Nikolaus, who, confusingly, looks exactly like Father Christmas, but isn’t. My daughters have told me on clear authority that Sankt Nikolaus is in no way der Weinachtsman. Each child will put a boot out on the front doorstep, and in the morning, this will be filled with sweets (more chocolate, no doubt) and small presents. Emphasis on small, since we still have the visit of our more familiar Anglo-American Father Christmas to await on Christmas Eve. I’m pleased to report, though, that thanks to today’s swagging efforts, Sankt Nikolaus will at least be able to warm himself next to one very large lantern. And if he’s hungry, he could have a walnut.


Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

12 thoughts on “Christmas in Germany: License to Swag

  1. Hmmm…all those great excuses for eating lots of chocolate is making me need to go find some.

  2. This sounds so lovely. I feel as if I’m there, a kind of mental tourist. I’d love to go to the bijou market and see the candles and wooden toys.

    I’m getting used to a Southern Hemisphere Christmas. I do quite like the tradition of having a barbeque on Christmas day, with lighter food like fish and salad. I found Christmas dinner in UK to be too heavy. Then again, there is nothing like the atmosphere of a European Christmas. I wish I had Santa’s sleigh and could fly over there this festive season.

    I hope Saint Nicholas enjoys his nut!

  3. I agree with Helen about feeling like I’m there. It sounds wonderful. One year, I’m going to have a Northern Hemisphere Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere (traditional roast lunch in air-conditioned comfort for our family).

    The ice-skating sounds like so much fun.

  4. Wonderful post. St. Nicolas is tomorrow! Yikes, better get out and buy some chocolate, walnuts, and mandarines. We tend to put at least one book or something other than stomach-stuff in the boots. My son’s boots are too big to be filled just with sweets (he’s sixteen). Do your children just get one boot full? Their mighty midgets let them splurge on two!

  5. Northern Hemisphere Christmases with children are wonderful – you are fortunate, Charlotte, but I think you know that.

    I am now feeling stupid. I knew that St Martin gave half his cloak to a begger, but I had not joined that up with the work for the homeless done by St Martin in the Fields in London. An interesting church. It has an entrance on to Trafalgar Square and its own orchestra (The Academy of St Martin in the Fields) and works to support London’s homeless:


  6. This cold northern Christmas IS lovely and I am fortunate, especially to see it through the eyes of my kids. Helen and Kerryn, I think you would enjoy the markets and the atmosphere. Lilalia, we keep the St Nicolas treats very modest, with more focus on things to do rather than things to eat. So a few chocolates and a few colouring things and that’s it. AB, thanks for making that connection for me – it’s good to see St Martin in his wider perspective and not just as the guy with the cloak.

  7. Ahhh… memories of my childhood. Advent calendars and Saint Nicholas. The idea of mixing chocolate and oranges (love my clementines!) is a good one.

  8. That all sounds so wonderful. I have had the more doubtful pleasure of shepherding the children round Canal Walk mall, avoiding plastic Father Christmases and huskies trying to pretend they are giving snowy sleigh rides, when it is 30 degrees outside. We’ll do the tree at the last minute too so it doesn’t dry out too soon in the heat…shall we swap one of these days?

  9. I forgot all about Advent wreaths and St. Nicholas! Good luck with your next (waterproofed) ice skating adventure. (Outdoor rinks are the best.)

    Wonderful post!

  10. MMMMM. I’m running out to get St. Nicholas things in a few minutes. (Every year I think my boys will forget to put out their shoes, but they’re quite good at things that involve chocolate.)

    What a wonderful description of your Christmas! I like it that Ollie can say “chockit”! My children also have the chocolate advent calendars (but not two each, poor things!), and I have a lovely German one with beautiful pictures behind each of the days.

    I’m looking forward to hearing more. xo, BL

  11. I can say “chockit” too, and what I recall of visiting my college roommate Gisela in Leer?Loda was the amazing variety of that substance available in Germany.

    Mmm. Lebkuchen: I have a book of recipes that details how to make it. Must get it out and play a bit.

    Not that I need to eat any sweets.

  12. That sounds wonderful. I have fond memories of the Christmas markets in Vienna and Nuremberg from a couple of backpacking trips at Christmas time (we Australians always visit Europe in winter while the university holidays are on), and I would love to take my boys back some time to see the magic.

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