A big part of the Christmas celebrations in Germany is Advent. Several different types of Advent calendars are used in German homes. As well as the traditional one made of card that is used in many countries, there are ones made out of a wreath of Fir tree branches with 24 decorated boxes or bags hanging from it. Each box or bag has a little present in it. Another type is called an 'Advent Kranz' and is a ring of fire branches that has four candles on it. This is like the Advent candles that are sometimes used in Churches. One candle is lit at the beginning at each week of Advent.
Christmas Trees are very important in Germany as well. They were first used in Germany in the Middle Ages. If there are young children in the house are usually secretly decorated by the Mother of the family. The Christmas tree was traditionally brought into the house on Christmas Eve, and that evening the family would read the bible and sing Christmas songs.
Christmas Eve is the main day when Germans exchange presents with their families.
In some parts of Germany, children write to the 'Christkind' ('The Christ Child' in English) asking for presents. The letters to the Christkind are decorated with sugar glued to the envelope to make them sparkly and attractive to look at. Children leave the letters on the windowsill at the beginning of or during Advent.
The Christkind is often described as a young girl with 'Christ like' qualities. In Nürnberg a young girl is chosen every year to participate in a parade as the Christkind. She wears a long white and gold dress, has long blond curly hair and wears a gold crown and sometimes wings like an angel. The Nürnberg Christkind officially opens the Christmas market on the Friday before Advent starts. And before Christmas she over 150 official duties including visiting hospitals, old people's homes and children's nurseries!
Santa Claus or Father Christmas (der Weihnachtsmann) brings the presents on December 24th. December 6th is St. Nicholas' Day and "der Nikolaus" brings some small gifts, such as sweets and chocolate, to the children. He comes in the night between the 5th and the 6th and puts the presents into the shoes of the children, who usually place them by their doors on the previous evening. In some regions of Germany, there is a character called "Knecht Ruprecht" or "Krampus" who accompanies Nikolaus (St. Nicholas) on the 6th of December. He is big horned monster clothed in rags and carries a birch. He will punish the children who were bad and will give them a birch as a present. He is usually the one who scares the little children. In other parts of Germany, St. Nicholas is followed by a small person called "Schwarz Peter" (Black Peter) who carries a small whip. Black Peter also accompanies St. Nicholas or Sinterklaas in Holland. In North West Germany Santa is joined by Belsnickel a man dressed all in fur.
Another tradition is the Sternsinger (or star singers) who go from house to house, sing a song and collect money for charity (this is a predominantly Catholic tradition). They are four children, three who dress up like the Wisemen and one carries a star on a stick as a symbol for the Star of Bethlehem. When they're finished singing, they write a signature with chalk over the door of the house. The sign is written in a special way, for example: 20*C*M*B*08. It is considered to be bad luck to wash the sign away - it has to fade by itself. It has usually faded by the 6th of January (Epiphany). The Sternsingers visit houses between December 27th and January 6th.
Carp or Goose is often served for the main Christmas meal. Stollen is popular fruited yeast bread that is eaten at Christmas.