Christmas Traditions: Advent in Germany, Austria and Switzerland

The Advent tradition is a religious celebration in preparation for the arrival, or “advent” of the Christ Child (das Christkind) on his “official” birthday, the 25th day of December. The Advent season and its celebration have changed over the years from a more serious, somber character (including giving up things, as for Lent) to one of a more joyous nature — including such treats as chocolate-filled Advent calendars. The four weeks leading up to Christmas Eve are a happy time – at least for those not too caught up in the increasingly hectic and commercial aspects of this time of the year.

More on The German Way
The German Way Advent Calendar
Daily Christmas-in-Germany facts starting on Dec. 1

Advent wreath

A German Advent wreath with four candles.
PHOTO © Andrea Goldmann

Today in German-speaking Europe many families set up an Advent wreath (Adventskranz) on the first Advent Sunday (the fourth before Christmas) to start off the Advent season. The picture on the left shows an Advent wreath with its four candles, one for each week of Advent. Traditional families gather around the wreath on each Advent Sunday to light the next candle and sing Christmas carols. This was even more important in the past, when the Christmas tree was usually reserved for a special unveiling only on Christmas Eve. Until then, the Advent wreath provided the evergreen look and aroma in the house.

Advent Calendar
The Advent or Christmas calendar began as a plain card with paper backing. On the face were 24 windows, that when opened revealed various Christmas symbols and scenes. These windows or small doors were to be opened, one each day, over the 24 days leading up to Heiligabend or Christmas Eve. The largest window is still reserved for December 24th and usually offers a view of the Nativity.

Today the most popular version of this calendar is the candy-filled variety. Instead of mere pictures, the windows open to reveal pieces of chocolate shaped to resemble stars, fir trees, and other Christmas symbols.

There are also Advent calendars online. See our own online Advent Calendar with Christmas Facts starting on December 1.

More on The German Way
The Barbarazweig Tradition
A legend and springtime in December

Other Christmas Customs
Of course, there are many other Germanic Christmas contributions. For instance, it is a real treat to wander through Germany’s annual Christmas markets — the most famous being Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt — to see, taste, and smell all the Christmas goodies, from Lebkuchen (gingerbread) to Stollen (fruit bread). Marzipan, made with almonds and sugar, is also a German treat. And the aroma of Glühwein (“glow wine”) will warm you up even before you actually drink this German version of hot mulled wine.

Advent candles

A traditional Advent wreath with four candles burning. PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

There is much more to tell about Christmas in German-speaking Europe. We haven’t even touched on Krampus, Knecht Ruprecht, Barbarazweig, and the numerous other fascinating elements of Weihnachten. That’s why we have the links below to pages where you can find out more. Frohe Weihnachten!


“Ist die Weihnacht hell und klar,
hofft man auf ein fruchtbar Jahr.
Steckt die Krähe zu Weihnacht im Klee,
sitzt sie zu Ostern oft im Schnee.”
“If Christmas is bright and clear,
one hopes for an abundant year.
If the crow is standing in clover at Christmas,
she’ll be sitting in snow at Easter.”
– Traditional Bauernregel (“farmer’s/country saying”)

MORE > The German Way Advent Calendar with Christmas facts
MORE > Christmas Carol Lyrics – Popular German and Austrian carols with lyrics in German and English

Next | Barbarazweig

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