Contributing Editor: Claire Botsy
Germany is a very special place to be during the holiday season. Think of the Christmas Markets, the snow, and a very festive New Year’s Eve celebrations. Many of the celebratory traditions we embrace so dearly in the US (and beyond) for Christmas and New Year’s Eve have very strong roots in Germany. Christmas in Germany is known as Weihnacht and New Year’s Eve is called Silvester. Much of Germany is blanketed in snow by the time January rolls around, making Germany the perfect environment for a picturesque holiday season.
Celebrating Advent (Nov 30th in 2014) kicks off the season with beautiful wreaths, often homemade, and calendars that involve the participation of the entire family. Christmas markets usually open when Advent starts, allowing everyone to buy their decorations and get into the Christmas spirit early. Singing carols, throwing large feasts, gift-giving, and visits from Santa Claus all have origins and strong ties to German culture.
The best place to see where our traditions come from are the small towns in mountainous areas, such as the Black Forest, where small ski towns mostly inhabited by locals host elaborate Weihnacht markets. These markets have stalls ranging from delectable local favorites to beautiful wooden trinkets and christmas nativity scenes handcrafted by local artisans and craftsmen. And any market would be incomplete without the nationwide winter drink Glühwein, a cousin of sorts to mulled wine. Weihnacht markets happen all over the country though, so you do not have to find yourself in a small village to enjoy what they have to offer. Larger cities, such as Berlin and Munich, hold incredible Weihnacht markets though the elaborateness and authenticity tend to vary.
After the cozy dinners and family activities that bring people together during Weihnacht, focus then shifts to the anticipation of new beginnings brought on by the new year. There are many New Year's Eve traditions, however in one particular city there is more activity than most. Beyond the insane parties that are common place, Berlin is one of the craziest settings you can find yourself on Silvester. The city erupts in fireworks as they are legal only on this day of the entire year. You can hear some people testing them out days before New Year’s eve, however on the actual evening of December 31st the entire city sounds and looks like a war zone. Smoke in the streets and explosions of sound and light confuse the senses. There is no reason to be alarmed however as no one is sending them off in malicious ways, merely in the sense of excitement for the new year. Most locals send them off from their homes, going down to the streets minutes before the clock strikes midnight.
Though a cold and harsh time of year, the traditions and festivities that revolve around the holiday season make Germany an interesting place to visit. Whether in the city or in the mountains, the locals and tourists are all as equally enthusiastic about their own holiday activities.