festivals Germany for beginners

Bavarian Volksfest

Peteris, my friend from Latvia, likes Bavarian folk festivals (Volksfest) like I do. In 2018 we visited as many festivals as possible. We looked for the dates on the Internet and “tested” them. We called it our “Volksfest-scouting”! It inspired me to offer something like a crash course for Bavarian festivals. Because there is a lot more to know than drinking large amounts of beer 🙂
Here I describe the cultural background, what’s going on there and give practical advices.

Folk festivals and Bavarian folk festivals

There are actually folk festivals all over Germany. In the federal state of Bavaria, however, a special style has emerged. What is special about the Bavarian folk festivals are the large marquees (“Festzelt”) with their 1 liter beer mugs (“Bier-Krug”), Bavarian music, typical food and the well-known traditional clothes (“Tracht”: Dirndl and Lederhose). The Oktoberfest in Munich is only the largest and best known, but there is a number of such festivals. Outside of Bavaria, however, most people only know the Oktoberfest. I myself had little idea of ​​these festivals before I moved to Bavaria.

Im Inneren eines Festzeltes auf dem Oktoberfest München
Inside a Festzelt. Oktoberfest ,München

Where and when?

Except for the winter time, the folk festivals take place all over the year. They last between 1 and 3 weeks. Some cities also organize them several times a year, at different seasons, like in spring and summer. They are everywhere, even in smaller places. The bigger the place, the more its folk festival is similar to the Oktoberfest in Munich. For the recent years, festivals in this style are organized throughout Germany in autumn and are also called “Oktoberfest”. The Oktoberfest in Munich is the prototype of them. But the “originals” can still only be found in Bavaria.

Why? / Occasion

Volksfeste generally have a historical origin. Mostly it was an annual market or a religious festival. Very often it was the anniversary of the inauguration of the local church (“Kirchweih”). Food and drinks were also sold. But not only that. In the past, you couldn’t always buy everything everywhere. Traders have moved across the country to offer their goods. So they often came to the town for annual festivals. The dealers held a fair (“Messe”). Kirche (Church) + Messe (fair) = “Kirchmesse” (an fair that tooks place at a church festival). This word became “Kirmes” (the nowadays meaning is “fun fair”). Both are partly synonymous with a folk festival. Typically for Germany: There are innumerable terms of their own due to the dialects for “Kirchmess” and “Kirmes”. At the Oktoberfest in Munich, however, the origin is different. There was a wedding of the King of Bavaria, at which there were also celebrations for the “normal” people. That later became a tradition.

At many of these festivals, the origin has faded into the background. Over years, often centuries. The festival has turned from the secondary aspect (food an fun) to the actual event we know today.

A Volksfest (folk festival) is a festival for the general people, i.e. for everyone. Today of course there are people who like it and others who don’t like it. Everyone has to decide for themselves, but you should make your own judgment about it.

Separation into two parts in a fair (outside) and marquee (inside)

To put it simply, a Volksfest consists of two parts. The first part is the “rides and booths” (Fahrgeschäfte und Buden). This is the basis of all folk festivals. It is simply about fun and pleasure. There are rides, games and snacks. The second part is the marquees (Festzelt) or beer gardens. Their style is what makes the Bavarian festival special. Depending on the size of the festival, there is a single large “beer tent” or there are several. Here you can comfortably eat and drink during the day. In the evening it becomes a “party tent”. Incidentally, the folk festivals are always set up at fixed locations, every time anew. The rest of the year the fairground is used differently, e.g. as a parking lot.

Rides and booths

This part is actually a portable amusement park. During the day it is a place for families. In the evening, when it is dark, it is a fun area for everyone. The great thing is that you can discover a lot, when you are a child. When you are grown up and maybe a little bit drunk, you can feel like a child again.

  • Amusement rides (e.g. bumper cars, ghost trains, children’s carousels, whirligigs, roller coasters, free fall towers, giant wheels, water slides, pony rides…)
  • Games (e.g. air rifle shooting, small lotteries, ball throwing, ring-the-bell…)
  • food stalls (“Fressbuden”) – these are small, portable sales stands where snacks are sold: sweet, fatty and so on. It is delicious fast food for in between
giant wheel, whirligig and booths

marquee (Festzelt)

There are rides and booths all over Germany. Even marquees. At Bavarian folk festivals, however, they are the core of the whole event. These tents can be transported, but they are set up over weeks. Several thousand people can fit in. There are very typical benches and tables made of wood and steel. They are simple, but very stable. They have many names: “Bierbänke” (beer benches), “Biertische” (beer tables) or as a set also “Festzeltgarnituren” (marquee sets). In the middle of the tent, they are simply set up in a row, so that as many people as possible find space.
The guest areas on the sides of the tent are the “Boxen” (boxes). They are often divided into smaller compartments, sometimes a little bit higher then ground level. There are fewer people walking past the tables. So it’s more comfortable (“gemütlich”). The catering facilities are on the sides of the tent.
There are also seats outside the tents. It has more of the atmosphere of a beer garden. It’s easier to find places there, but when you sit there you don’t hear the music inside the tent. Inside is the stage on which the live band plays.

Eating and drinking inside the marquee

The typical drink is of course beer! This tasty and diverse drink is firmly linked to German culture. Especially with the Bavarian marquee culture. So much so that the Bavarian folk festivals abroad are simply called “Beerfest”.

You use beer mugs (“Bierkrug/Bierkrüge”). These hold 1 liter of liquid. A “Krug” (beer mug oder pitcher) is something bigger than a “Glas” (glass). Today they are usually made of glass, but earlier they were made of stoneware / ceramic. These traditional stoneware jugs (“Steinzeug-Krug”) are actually better for the beer because they keep it cooler. The advantage of the glass variant is that you can see whether the host has filled in the correct amount of beer and not too much foam.

To order, you just say “Eine Mass, bitte” (A beer mug, please). Then you get the standard liter. If you want to take it smaller, order “Eine Halbe” (a half). That’s half a “Mass”, half an liter. Bavaria pronounce “Mass” with a short “a”. All other Germans who do not know their way around use a long “a”.
You don’t need to be afraid of a whole liter of beer: I experienced myself, that you somehow can drink more in a beer tent than anywhere else. At least I do. My theory is that the “Festbier” is particularly easy to drink. It is sweeter, not bitter like Pils beer. In addition to the “Festbier” (festival beer), there are also other types of beer, or “Radler” (mixed with lemonade) or non-alcoholic beer.

The price for a liter is about 9-12 €. That sounds a lot, but you get a whole liter for it! Compared to the beer prices in Western and Northern Europe, this is still normal. In general, the bigger the festival, the higher the prices.

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Steinzeug-Maßkrug and Brezen

If someone doesn’t drink beer, then it’s totally okay to drink something else. There is also a large selection of other drinks. As in the beer garden, you also get soft drinks, water, juices, wine etc. The most important thing is that you have something in your Hand to toast!

The food is relatively expensive (10-20 €), but necessary. If you drink a lot, you also have to eat a lot! There are hearty Bavarian dishes, pastries and vegetables (tavern food, “Wirtshaus-Essen”). Half a chicken (“Hendl”), knuckle or pretzel is typical. Not everyone likes that, so there are also foods like burgers and fries. You also get vegetarian food. In the middle of the tent you should have finished eating by 5/6 p.m. From my own experience I can confirm that it is very difficult to eat from a plate between dancers.

About the service: You sit down and wait for the waiter/waitress. Often, however, you can also get food and drink at the edge of the tent, at the counter. If you are unsure, just ask there.

Music in the marquee

When the tent is still empty, sometimes music is not played. In the afternoon, usually until 6 p.m., Bavarian or Austrian folk music (Alps, brass band) is often played. This is the “gemütlich” (cozy) time.

In the evening there is a live band. This is not intellectually demanding, it is party music. It is important that it is well known so that people can sing along. Mostly German music is played, often from the 80s and 90s. But also there is well-known music with English lyrics, often classics like “ACDC” or “Backstreet Boys”. The music spectrum ranges from rock to pop, from old to current songs. The band sometimes takes a break of 15-30 minutes. Then a DJ plays music. In time, if you want to meet members of the band (for example at the toilet) you can wish for your own songs! Later, towards the end, a lot of music from the 80s is played. The “Neue Deutsche Welle” (german New Wave vor the 80s) plays a special role here.

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Stage with Band

The band animates to celebrate and drink. In addition there are “Trinksprüche” (toasts, cheers) from the singer, in which the audience participates. Here are the classics:

Band (slow): “Ein Prosit… ein Prosit… der Gemütlichkeit!”
(Like “cheers to coziness!” This is an extended version of the “Prost!” (Cheers!) In the end, everyone cheers with everyone he/she can reach)

Band (fast): “Zicke Zacke! Zicke Zacke!”
Audience replies (fast): “Oi, Oi, Oi!”
(To be honest, I don’t know the meaning)

Band: “Prost Ihr Säcke!”
Audience replies: “Prost du Sack!”
(“Sack” is an insult. The band’s singer insults the audience. In response, the audience insults the singer. -> Then they are quitt)


The marquee is typically open from noon. There is often plenty of space until late afternoon. It is a comfortable mood: you can eat and talk. Cards are also played etc. (Exception is the Munich Oktoberfest at weekends)

It gets louder in the evening. The people who are far from the stage usually sit. In the middle and close to the stage there is dancing on the benches from 5 to 7 p.m. until the end. It’s drinking, dancing and having fun. The atmosphere there is somewhere between a club and a festival in the village. You have to experience it yourself, preferably with 4-10 friends.

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When you get into a tent it is not uncommon that there are no tables left. You then ask whether you can sit with others. If you ask long enough you are sometimes lucky. People keep the seats free for acquaintances. It can take a long time to find a place. But you can have a look at the whole tent. When you sit down at the table with others, you quickly come into contact with your neighbors. A common “cheers!” and you are a community. It’s easy. It’s no problem to say “Du” to strangers, even if they’re older than you (when you usualy use the formal “Sie”).

Popular festivals are also al bit “rough”. There is a lot of drinking, but generally people control themself. In Germany, drinking beer is so firmly anchored in society that most people have long experience of drinking, but still behaving… Drinking liters of beer works with a lot of food. Of course, sometimes there are people who drink too much. But security quickly brings them out of the tent. If people are in a bad condition, paramedics are called. At larger celebrations there are separate departments with paramedics who take care of health problems.


General security is like any other major event. Rather better, because security is very important. When you dance on the tables you are asked to come down. If you fall it’s very dangerous for yourself. There is aggressiveness or fights, but not more than at any other party with so many visitors. Usually the reason is a misunderstanding. I have certainly been to a Volksfest 50 times, but have never experienced a serious situation on the site itself. The way to the train station is more dangerous. It’s like flying on a plane: you think it’s particularly dangerous, but with all the security measures in place, it’s actually safer than any other form of transportation.

It ends at around 11 or midnight. It is not an event to go through the night. But it starts much earlier. At 11 p.m. in a marquee you can sometimes feel as if it were 5 a.m. Then it goes back home or you go partying somewhere else.

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the end…


If you want to sit at a table in the evening, you need a lot of luck – or a reservation. You can do that, but often you need a minimum number of guests. In Munich you hardly get a place in the evening without a reservation. But there are also areas where you don’t have to reserve. But you should arrive early. During the week you generally get seats faster. Reservations are made months in advance at the Oktoberfest. The situation is better elsewhere. You should find out more on the website of the Volksfest. You can often reserve tables there. In the tent there is an overview where you can see which table you can use. You have to be on time! As I have described above, you can always get a few places by asking.

a reserved table…


There are certain traditions for the festivals. This can be a solemn entry at the beginning. The first day of the Oktoberfest in Munich is the “Einzug der Wiesnwirte” (arrival of Oktoberfest hosts) . Some barrels of beer are brought to the festival area on historic beer wagons. This is symbolic, because in reality you need a lot of trucks to transport the beer. Also marching bands and traditional costumes clubs walk along, presenting their music and clothing. In Munich clubs from all over Bavaria, but also Austria are gathering there.
Also some traditional customs can be seen on the festival site. For example, the “Goaßlschnalzen” (whipcracking), where the whips crack directly over the heads of the visitors. On the first day of a festival, it is customary that the beer is only served after the “Anstich” (tapping). The first barrel is opend. And that by the acting mayor of the city. It has to be opened with a hammer. Attention is paid to how many hammer clubs it needs to open the barrel. The less the better. In Würzburg, on the Kiliani, there is a boxing match every year. At the Würzburg “Frühjahrsvolksfest” (spring folk festival) there is a tree trunk in the middle of the tent where everyone can try to climb up. Anyone who gets up to the top gets a “Mass” for free.
But these are just examples. There are always special features to discover at the folk festivals.


Trachten (Bavarian Style Clothes)

There are actually many types of “Tracht” (simple translation: Bavarian costumes). By far the best known form is “Dirndl and Lederhose”. A few sentences about the meaning: At the end of the 19th century, many people moved from the countryside to the cities to work in the new factories. The cities grew quickly, it was loud, fast, modern. Many of the newcomers founded “Trachtenvereine” (traditional clothes clubs). People from the same region came together to preserve a piece of their home and identity. This included wearing the rural clothing of the home region. But it was not the normal farm work clothes, but the clothes that were put on on Sundays and public holidays. Each region had different costumes, and there were often differences from village to village. The other way around came tourism. Townspeople from the middle and higher classes wanted to get out of the noisy city, polluted by the factories. They went on country trips. Often into the mountains (in northern Germany, on the other hand, often to the sea). When the townspeople were in the mountain villages, they sometimes wanted to dress in the “popular” way. For this they bought a “Tracht”. They also took them home as a souvenir of this countryside-area. So tourists have been buying lederhosen and dirndls for more than 120-150 years!

Today, the traditional Bavarian costumes are worn as “original Bavarian” at folk festivals. The well-known dirndls and lederhosen are only a “modern, simplified” version. There are endless shapes and subtleties.

Equality has long been a high value in Germany (in the past, of course, this was especially true for equality within the strata). Popular festivals were intended for the people, that is, the mass of ordinary people. Today it is something for everyone. The social differences disappear at the Volksfest. The costume supports this. If many wear the same, you can not see who has a lot or little money. People are indistinguishable by clothing. In addition, a wide variety of people often sit table to table. Everyone can participate, admission is free. It is a piece of social equality.

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Dancing at the “Oidn Wiesn” | Foto: RB

When everyone meets for the festival, also the cultural differences disappear. Anyone who is a migrant or a child of migrants is a part of the whole, immediately by wearing “Tracht”. Then he is one of all. Everybody can participate. (Admittedly, I only saw women with a headscarf outside and never inside the beer tent.) In the tent itself, however, the origin takes a back seat. Whether someone comes from Africa, Iran or Australia is not that important anymore.

The main thing is whether you are Bayer (Bavarian) or not. No matter whether foreigners or non-Bavarian Germans (the “Preißn”): There is no difference for a real Bavarian.

Arrival and departure

Especially at the big festivals you are not alone if you e.g. arriving by train. The trains are full and you can recognize those who are partying by the traditional wearers. The party usually starts in the morning on the way, also because of the beer prices directly at the festival. When you get off at the train station, you usually only have to follow the crowd to get to the festival site. When the festival area ends (11 or 12 p.m.) you can also join the crowd to get to the train station. Even on the train you are with a lot of mostly young people who all go home. The party often goes on there. Even if the train is late, or if there is a replacement, you are at least not alone. I’ve already met a lot of people on these return trips.

Peteris an I
at a smokers balcony
Beer 1, Beer 2 and Peteris

It’s like everything else: The best is to experience it yourself.

festivals Germany for beginners

Carnival (Karneval / Fasching / Fastnacht)

Carnival: Karneval, Fasching, Fastnacht… As so often in Germany there are different names for one and the same thing depending on the region. In Germany it is often described as this: controlled excess!


Mainly these 3 names are used:
(Der) Karneval -> that comes from the Latin, either “carne levare” (take away meat) or “carne vale” (meat, farewell!)
(Die) Fastnacht -> “die Fastenzeit naht” (Lent is approaching) oder “die (letzte) Nacht vor dem Fasten” (the (last) night before Lent)
(Der) Fasching -> from the medieval “Fastenschank” (serving of drinks), the last serving of alcoholic drinks before Lent

For me personally it is Fasching! But I will use “Karneval” here because it is used nationally in Germany and is also close to the English “carnival”.

Straßenkarneval in Würzburg | Foto: Robert Behrendt
street carnival in Würzburg | Photo: Robert Behrendt


Regionality: How significant the carnival is depends very much on the region. Most are predominantly Catholic regions where a strong carnival culture has developed and maintained. It is particularly popular in the Rhineland (Cologne, Dusseldorf, Aachen, Bonn, Mainz and others). But it is celebrated everywhere, although there is not the same intensity everywhere.

“meeting carnival”, “street carnival” and “party carnival”:
Classically you can distinguish between meeting carnival and street carnival. The meetings (“Karnevals-Sitzung”) are special indoor events organized by carnival societies. The street carnival takes place outside and in bars. However, there are also organized events such as the carnival parades or the “town hall storming” (Rathaussturm), in which the fools symbolically take power in the city. Then there are also carnival parties in various forms, be it in bars, clubs, in schools or private.

Carnival Societies (Karnevalsgesellschaften): These are associations whose members are passionate about celebrating carnivals and, above all, organizing events.

Carnival meeting (Karnevals-Sitzungen):: They are organized by carnival societies. You have a large, decorated hall full of mostly costumed guests. There are several artists, comedians and dance groups, that perform on a stage. This “Sitzung” is chaired by a session president and the Elferrat. Everything is hilarious, yet there is an ironic serious facade in the process reminiscent of a member meeting of a serious organization. As so often, it is a parody of otherwise serious gatherings. At carnival time, many meetings of the big and well-known clubs are televised. But if you really want to experience it, you have to be there in person. The humor on such sessions is usually not very intellectual, but it’s just about the fun.

Street carnival (Straßenkarneval ): celebrations on the street and in adjacent bars. It is laughed, drunk and celebrated especially exuberantly. Here are things that are otherwise not possible: For example, alcohol in harsh amounts, public, by day and night. Sentences that would be sexist on normal days are not worth mentioning in the street carnival. Of course it is not always that extreme. But you should be prepared to have fun when you are in the middle of the crowd.

Carnival parades (Karnevals-Umzüge): They are the highlight of the street carnival. Costumed people are walking through the city on foot or on decorated vehicles. It is also a parade of carnival societies. On the vehicles is celebrated or even current topics recorded critically and humorously. Mostly the “powerful” are mocked. The biggest is the Rose Monday parade in Cologne. But there are also small, cozy parades in many small towns.

Carnival cries (Karnevals-Rufe): At the height of the Carnival season, there is a special greeting. With him you can also show that you join in the whole bustle. They are also regionally different. The best known are “Helau” and “Alaaf”. One says for example in Cologne “Alaaf” and in Duesseldorf “Helau”. Because a kind of “enmity” exists between these two cities, one should use the correct greeting 😉S

Schwäbisch-Alemannische Fasnet: Independent, original carnival in southwestern Germany. The elements of the “modern”, Rhineland carnival are not here consciously.

typical food:
(similar to donuts)

As I mentioned before, the street carnival is sometimes rough. Here is a quote from an opinion article by Dagmar Rosenfeld, editor-in-chief of WELT:

Carnival will answer the question of how far we go if we let ourselves go. Precisely because on the great days some principles are overruled, they reveal how stable and equal our society is. And that it is so stable, that it preserves decency even in indecency.

Dagmar Rosenfeld

historical meaning

Carnival is the time before the Christian Lent until Easter. The basic forms of the festival in Germany go back to the Middle Ages. Previously, when Lent was still strictly for everyone, all supplies of animal food and alcoholic beverages had to be “used up” until Lent. So it was celebrated a really dissolute party, before fasting was 40 days. In addition, there were still very ancient times customs that should scare away the winter. These are temporally collapsed. As a result, a hilarious party with masks, fairings, etc. has developed. It was also a time when in a few days the “world conditions” were reversed. The servants became masters and vice versa. The “fools” (“Narren”) took power. That is also the reason why there are symbolic “carnival-storms” of the town halls in Germany. Many elements are also from the 19th century. The soldiers were parodied with their uniforms, with their step and discipline. It started with hidden mockery of the Napoleonic occupation troops in the Rhineland. Then to the Prussians, who after the war of liberation against the French in many countries now had the shots. That’s why the traditional stage dances, uniforms, etc. look like military: it’s a parody of the military!


11.11. (November 11th): Beginning of the carnival season. Historically, because there was a Lent before Christmas in early Christian times. Here the town halls are stormed.

February / March: Events and splendid meetings of the clubs take place here.

Closer carnival days: The right Carnival days take place just before Lent, so at a fixed distance from Easter. Because Easter depends on the lunar calendar, which does not quite agree with the solar calendar (365 days), Easter and therefore Carnival fall each year to different dates in the months of February and March.

  • Weiberfastnacht/Weiberfasching: Thursday before Ash Wednesday (Aschermittwoch). This is where the street carnival begins.
  • “Carnival Friday”, “Carnival Saturday” and “Carnival Sunday” -> the weekend before, many parties are celebrated
  • Rose Monday (Rosenmontag) -> The “highlight” of the carnival. Here the famous Rosenmontagszug takes place in Cologne
  • Shrove Tuesday (Faschingsdienstag)
  • Ash Wednesday (Aschermittwoch) -> Here only the ashes remain of the whole festival and it is over). It is interesting that traditionally the parties organize a “political Ash Wednesday”. It’s about talking to your own people and criticizing the political opponent particularly hard.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Christian Lent, which runs until Holy Thursday / Easter. Lent takes 40 days but Sundays are excluded. Lent is traditionally about giving up meat. But in the present day many believing Christians are above all concerned with the symbol. For example, alcohol, sweets etc. are not used. According to a representative survey in 2017, 11% of the population in Germany fast in Christian Lent. This origin is not that significant anymore.

No carnival day is a public holiday. Rose Monday and Shrove Tuesday are in some areas but days on which the companies release their employees.

small glossary:

  • “fünfte Jahreszeit” (“fifth season”) -> this is another name of the carnival (the time from November 11th to Ash Wednesday)
  • “Karnevalshochburg” (“Carnival stronghold”) -> where the carnival is particularly strongly rooted
  • “Jeck” / “Narr” / “Narren” (“Fool” / “Fools”) -> Expressions for people celebrating Carnival. You can also use “jeck” as adjective: you can describe it as cheerful, witty, in party mood.


In Germany, it’s usually pretty neat. The carnival, however, is a “state of emergency” and “organized loss of control”. There are people who hate it and others who love it.

If you want to join in a tip: you should know if you are in the area where you say “Karneval” or “Fasching”, or something else. And what the regional exclamation is: For example, “Helau” or “Alaaf”. You do not have to dress up consuming, something colorful is enough. Otherwise, only: good mood!

festivals Germany for beginners


After writing about the Christmas season in another post, I would like to write about the festival itself. About what is closely related to time, Christmas Eve, the Christmas holidays and the time after Christmas.

Nativity scenes and nativity plays: Of course part of Christmas is the biblical Christmas story . Mainly in the churches “cribs” are set up. These are a model representation of the stable scene in the Christmas story. In addition in some places a play is practiced and performed by the children of the parishes.

The Christmas season is also time of stories and classic films. On television, many fairy tales are shown. There are classics that have been shown again and again for many years: For example, “3 Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel” (3 hazelnuts for Cinderella), the Swedish “Michel from Lönneberga” stories of Astrid Lindgren or “Der kleine Lord” (Little Lord Fauntleroy).

At Christmas time you can often see oranges / tangerines, apples and nuts. Background: In the past, these things were not available year round. Apples mature in the fall and are therefore abundant at this time. Nuts are also easy to store and provide plenty of energy in the cold winter. Oranges and tangerines are ready for Christmas (in Southern Europe), so they will be given away for Christmas.

Christmas Eve (Heiligabend), as well as the first and second Christmas Day is designed differently depending on the family tradition. December 24 is not a public holiday. The shops are usually open only until noon. Many people use this as a last resort for shopping. That’s why you should organize the things you need for the festival in advance. During the day the last preparations are made. Traditionally, the Christmas tree is also set up and decorated on this day. The food is prepared and relatives travel to their visits. Believers attend the services. For many people it is one of the few church visits in the year. The evening is usually designed as a quiet celebration in the family. In some families, singing songs or playing instruments is customary. But for those who don*t do it theirself there are concerts, shows, fairy tales etc in TV. Board and card games are also popular. There is definitely delicious food. On Christmas Eve, however, there is the custom of eating sausages with potato salad. This is a simple meal, as a contrast to the elaborate dishes in the next two days.
The gifts will be distributed at the “Bescherung”. If there are children in the family, then a Santa Claus is engaged, who presents the gifts. But that’s not easy! Be prepared to recite a poem or sing a song to get the gift. Depending on the region the “Christkind” (Christ Child) brings the presents. This is of course not to be seen, so the children can be surprised by the fact that the gifts are suddenly there. Even if no special Santa Claus comes, then usually someone who will distribute the gifts – including fun factor. Big or small gifts, bought or homemade. Everything is possible what you can imagine. The most important thing is that you spend a nice evening in the family.

Appearance of Santa Claus: Has developed from “Nikolaus” (St. Nicholas). The look of Santa Claus was very various until the 30s. There were different ones. often inspired by the bishop-origin. Coca Cola in the US did not invent Santa Claus, but he has made the red-and-white style popular worldwide and unified it! It was used for an advertising campaign, with red and white chosen from their own colors.
The Christ Child: Martin Luther, as a reformer of the church, rejected the worship of saints (Catholicism) and sought a replacement for Nicholas, who was a bishop and was canonized.

The first and second Christmas day will also be used for visits. And of course, to try the gifts 🙂 In these days meals are very well. Very typical are goose or duck with red cabbage and dumplings. Often one uses the time for visits with relatives. Ironically, Christmas is always associated with family quarrels. Especially when meeting relatives who do not really like each other. And of course you can not force harmony and contemplation … When the party is over and you do not see it for a long time, everything is fine again. See you next Christmas …
To find out what the Germans really do on 25 and 26 December, you have to ask them. That is different according to taste. One can of course assume that there are people who do not join in all this bustle. These Christmas muffle are looking for these days occupations that have nothing to do with Christmas. Or they go on vacation at the time!

The time between Christmas and New Year’s Eve is also called the “Zeit zwischen den Jahren” (“time between the years”). Many people take a vacation. Some companies do not work or almost do not work at all., But with New Year’s Eve the quiet time ends . Traditionally, the Christmas tree and all other decorations will be dismantled on January 6th. The decoration will be stored and is waiting for the next Christmas. In Germany, of course, its regulated how the Christmas trees are disposed of! Either there is a special date, at which the city cleaning makes an extra Christmas tree tour to collect everything. Or (usually in smaller places) there is a small cozy party, the “Christmas tree burning”, in which usually the local fire department burns all the Christmas trees of the place in a big fire.

Christmas trees, ready to be picked up! | Photo: Robert Behrendt

January 6 is the day of the Magi (“Heilige 3 Könige” / holy three kings). This is especially important in Catholic regions. In some states it is also a public holiday. There is the tradition of the “Sternsinger” (“star singers”). Thereby children draw as holy 3 kings dressed in the houses, sing and collect donations for the poor, etc. In large places you have to order them. As a conclusion you get a blessing at the front door. It is the last part of all Christmas dates. This will be the end of the year.

Christmas is a Christian festival enriched by geography and history. Winter solstice is the highlight of the cold, dark winter and the end of the year. Germany is Christian in its history, and Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at this time. This festival has become an integral part of the culture. The religious aspect is still noticeable, but is now only one part. Most of the things I’ve described here are beautiful traditions and customs even without the religious occasion. Regardless of origin, people without faith or other religions also more or less commit to traditions. It is the time of light in the dark, the review of the old year and a look into the new year. It’s holidays for the family, contemplation, peace … So it’s something that is important to all people.

Photo: Robert Behrendt
festivals Germany for beginners

Christmas Time

I would like to give an overview of the Christmas season and Christmas itself with some of its customs. I can only show a section, because there are many regional features of which I don’t know myself. Each family also has its own traditions and procedures. In addition, I am not a Christian, so Christmas for me has less to do with religion, but more with family and rest in the middle of winter.

Christmas, the Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, is more precisely the 24th of December (Christmas Eve / Heiligabend) and the 25th and 26th of December (1st and 2nd Christmas Day / 
1. und 2. Weihnachtsfeiertag). The weeks before are called pre-Christmas time.

This Christmas season (Weihnachtszeit) really starts with the first Advent. The 1st to 4th Advent, these are the 4 Sundays before Christmas. There is the custom to set up an Advent wreath. Traditionally it consists of fir green, on which there are 4 candles. Each Advent Sunday, another candle is lit. Fir green, like the Christmas tree, are classic decoration. They symbolize as evergreen plants (also over winter time) the nature / the life / the spring after which the people long back.
Of course, the advent calendar with its 24 doors must not be missing. The classic version of our time is filled with small chocolate figures. But nowadays, everything can be in there. Cosmetics, literature texts, tea or sex toys for adults. You can also make a calendar from a box of beer. The imagination knows no limits. The basic idea is 24 little surprises every day from December 1st to 24th to make waiting easier. Although impatient and addicted to chocolate open all 24 doors at once to eat the chocolate.


The Christmas decoration (Weihnachtsdekoration) will be set up on the first weekend of Advent and will last until the 6th of January.Examples of typical Christmas decorations are: the candle arch, the smoking man, the gingerbread house, the nutcracker and the Christmas pyramid. Fairy lights in all possible forms are also part of the Christmas decoration. Also shops in the city and many companies decorate at Christmas time. However, excited flashing and color-changing lights spring rather Asian taste, so as most of the lights decoration is made. The nicer decoration is calm and stylish.

Christmas decoration in Berlin main station, picture: Robert Behrendt

St. Nicholas

December 6 is St. Nicholas Day (Nikolaus). In Germany there is already a foretaste of Christmas on this day by giving small gifts. There is the following custom: the children clean their shoes or boots and put them outside the door overnight. The next morning, the shoes are filled with small gifts: But only if they are well cleaned, because diligence is rewarded! Who does not clean his shoes properly gets nothing. In addition to shoes, in some places plates are set up overnight. Nowadays children almost always get something, even if they were not good. It has developed to the fact that there is a Nicholas in kindergartens, elementary schools or similar places a Nicholas who brings small gifts. It’s because at Christmas, the people won’t meet. In early times, Nicholas brought the actual gifts on December 6th. However, the messing (Bescherung) has wandered into Christmas in Germany as well as in other countries. Then Santa Claus or the Christ Child (depending on the region) brings the presents. In English-speaking countries, the gift-bearer is also called Santa Claus and comes for Christmas. Not only the name, but also the secret delivery of presents at night corresponds to the German tradition. It is not boots or plates, but stockings in which the gifts are placed. The idea is the same – only the appointment is different.

obligatory things…

Christmas parties (Weihnachtsfeiern) are among the obligatory things in clubs, businesses and other organizations and groups to have a Christmas party. The occasion and thought is the same, it is also a joint meeting at the end of the year. Otherwise, they can have very different moods. It can be a cozy coffee-drinking in the old people’s home or a common restaurant visit of a company or department. Or a big party of the company or association. Especially with companies, this is one of the few occasions when you organize a party with all your colleagues. It is usually funny to “extremely funny” ;).

In the pre-Christmas period, one often speaks of “Weihnachtsstress”  (english: “Christmas stress”). This arises through the preparation of the festival. Especially by getting gifts or organizing trips or Christmas dinner.

For Christmas cookies (Weihnachtsgebäck) only the following: There are many different varieties, sometimes known only regionally. Everywhere but are known cookies (german special name: Plätzchen), Stollen, gingerbread (Lebkuchen), cinnamon stars (Zimtsterne), specula (Spekulatius) …In the shops, Christmas cookies are usually offered at the end of October. The early date has nothing to do with tradition, but with sales. Home-made, it tastes almost always better. Especially nice is the Plätzchen-cookie baking at home.

Plätzchen | Photo: RB

Christmas Markets

Christmas markets are mainly in German-speaking countries, Germany, Austria, Switzerland. They take place during the pre-Christmas period, ie the end of November to the end of December. Traditionally, they are already finished before the actual Christmas days. Most of the time they close for 22/23. December. You visit them with family or friends. In festively decorated stalls you can find delicious food as snacks, you drink hot drinks and can look around for small gifts.
Normally you are not outside for a long time at this time of the year – but in this occasion its comfortable in cold temperatures. You will find a quiet, pleasant atmosphere that you can just enjoy.

Depending on the size of the city there are bigger and smaller Christmas markets. Very large cities often have several ones in different parts of the city. The smaller markets in small towns usually do not last long. They often take place only a few days or a weekend instead. But they are often more comfortable and organized by the local residents. There are lots of little things to eat. The classics are bratwurst, roasted almonds, waffles and hot chestnuts. Usually you drink mulled wine. This is hot wine with spices and sugar (cinnamon, cloves, lemon, etc). Usually it is red wine, but there are also white mulled wine. Who ordered “Mit Schuss” (“with a shot”) receives some rum or Amaretto in the mulled wine. If you like it without alcohol, you can drink a punch or a fruit punch (“Früchtepunsch”). It’s also common to warm your hands on the hot glasses.

You can also buy presents and decorations at the Christmas markets. It is of course very nice when they sell hand-crafted things. These are often available on special smaller markets. Of course, there are always differences and special orientations. For example, medieval markets where you can drink warm mead. There are also markets with many rides and annoying music. Traditional markets can be recognized by the fact that no music or only live music is played. Christmas markets often have proper names such as the “Dresdener Striezlmarkt” or the “Nuremberg Christkindlsmarkt”.
For a visit I personally recommend the Christmas market in Erfurt.

What is the origin of the traditional decoration?

The Christmas season in December is the time in which the days are shorter and therefore there is little daylight. The shortest day is the day of the winter solstice on 21th or 22th of December. On this minimal short day pass from sunrise (about 8:15 clock) to sunset (about 16:15 clock) only 8 hours. Therefore, the decoration with light is especially common. You have been longing for the light of the sun for a long time now. With Christendom, Jesus Christ was added as “light in the dark world”. It is also the time when all the leaves of the deciduous trees have fallen off. It is (normally) cold and it can snow. In this situation, conifers have a special meaning. They are evergreen plants and the only trees that remain green even in winter. They have therefore become a symbol of life and a return of spring. Branches of coniferous trees such as fir trees have become a classic decoration. The same goes for mistletoes.

So also the Christmas tree in Central Europe, in Germany, has become part of Christmas. In some parts of Germany it is also called “Christbaum” instead of “Weihnachtsbaum”. Things are hanged on for decoration. In ancient times, food was hung on him. How it is decorated is left to the imagination, taste and style. The important thing is that he has a tip!
Precisely because ecological thinking is widespread in Germany, a real tree is preferred. Real trees are authentic, plastic trees are sometimes practical, but definitely not nice! In public places it belongs to the normal Christmas decoration and stands during the entire Advent season. In private, in the family, he is traditionally set up and decorated privately on Christmas Eve or the days before. It was bought fresh a few days earlier, in DIY stores, supermarkets, on Christmas markets or directly on the Christmas tree plantation.

conifers and mistletoes in Quedlinburg | Photo: RB

Special thanks to Gayane Karapetyan for the Photos (inclusive featured image)

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