Christmas in Germany: Christmas Eve and Day
In Germany Christmas Eve is known as Heilige Abend, or "holy night.” Throughout Germany many offices and stores close by noon and people scurry home to make last-minute preparations. Lutherans often attend church services on the afternoon of the twenty-fourth, while German Roman Catholics wait until Midnight Mass. Many people visit family gravesites on Christmas Eve. In some areas they leave lighted candles on the graves. In rural areas farmers pay their respects to the family farm animals by making sure they are fed before the Christmas tree is lit. This custom honors the folk belief that farm animals were among the first to welcome the baby Jesus into the world, since he was born in a stable.
Some German families decorate their Christmas trees on the afternoon of December 24. Mother and father may do so behind closed doors, allowing the children their first view of the illuminated tree after sunset. Some German families still light their trees with candles, although others now prefer electric lights as a safer option. In addition to store-bought ornaments German families festoon their Christmas trees with cookies and candies. Families often read the Christmas story aloud by the light of the Christmas tree candles and sing their favorite carols before settling down to open gifts. In some families parents give children sparklers to hold while they stand around the tree and sing.
Today Germans display their Christmas presents under the tree or near the Nativity scene. In the past, however, some gifts were tossed through an open window or door and were known as Julklapp, or "Christmas knocks". Gift givers wrapped these boxes in many different layers, with a different name attached to each layer. Part of the fun lay in finding out who the gift was really for.
Many different dishes appear on Christmas Eve menus in Germany. In past times, carp was standard fare on Christmas Eve, in keeping with the Roman Catholic tradition of fasting on December 24. In Roman Catholic areas of Germany people may still prepare a meatless meal for Christmas Eve. Sweetened rice pudding, a dish which still finds favor with some Scandinavians, once served as another traditional Christmas dish in Germany (see also Christmas in Denmark; Christmas in Norway).
In Germany Christmas Day is sometimes referred as the "First Day of Christmas,” der erste Weihnachtstag. Germans typically spend the day at home with their families or visit relatives. The main meal of the day usually features roast goose.