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A German Christmas
German Christmas Customs and Vocabulary

German and Austrian Christmas customs have spread throughout the world wherever Christmas (Weihnachten) is celebrated. From the Christmas tree (Tannenbaum) to "Silent Night" ("Stille Nacht") and on to the Advent calendar (Adventskalender), people around the globe have adopted many traditions that began in the German-speaking world.

In this feature we look at German Christmas vocabulary and expressions related to the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus, a celebration that actually goes back to pagan times and the pre-Christian Germanic tribes, as well as other pre-Christian societies.

Most of today's "traditional" Christmas customs are more recent than we think, only dating back to the 19th century. Before then, Christmas was either not celebrated at all or was observed in ways and at times quite different from today. Below is an excerpt from the German Way Christmas page:

"Even the date of the celebration of Christ's birth has fluctuated. Until the Roman church adopted December 25 in the 4th century, January 6 was the day of celebration-today's Epiphany or Heilige Drei Könige (the "Wise Men," "Three Kings," the Magi) in German. To this day, the initials of the Three Kings-C+M+B (Caspar/Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar)-plus the year are inscribed in chalk over doorways in German-speaking countries on the eve of January 6 to protect house and home. In many parts of Europe, including Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, the Christmas celebration does not end until this date, now considered the arrival of the three "kings of the orient" in Bethlehem-and the end of the "twelve days of Christmas" between Christmas and January 6."

But here we want to concentrate on the vocabulary of Weihnachten (not that the words of Christmas don't involve the traditions as well). Our annotated glossary explains some terms in greater detail in English, in addition to the German equivalent. So, if you don't happen to know who or what a Krampus or a Vanillekipferl is, our Christmas glossary will tell you. You can also learn how Queen Victoria's husband, the German Prince Albert, helped bring German Christmas customs to England, or when the first White House Christmas tree appeared. Also see our German Christmas Carols-in German and English.

NEXT > Annotated Christmas Glossary (English-German)
MORE > Christmas in German - ALL of our Christmas pages

Christmas tree graphic above courtesy
Graphics by Celeste


Related Pages

Advent and Christmas
Our article about the four-week Advent period and the key dates for Christmas customs in Germany - with related vocabulary.

Annotated Christmas Glossary
An English-German glossary of Christmas vocabulary and expressions that also explains the origin of many traditions.

German Christmas Calendar
A Christmas countdown with Advent and the important dates of the German Christmas season.

German Christmas Carols
Sing along in German! Lyrics in German and English.

Christmas in German
Our complete contents page for Weihnachten.

Christmas Links in German
Web links - most in German - for Weihnachten - from your Guide.

German Christmas Recipes
A collection of recipes for delicious Christmas goodies!

Erntedankfest: Thanksgiving in Germany
Our article about German Thanksgiving customs - with related vocabulary. The German Thanksgiving celebration is different and earlier than the U.S. version.


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