Christmas celebrations in Germany

By Jolene Harley

December is a joyful time when we look forward with anticipation to a sea or bushveld holiday while the youngsters compile their Christmas wish lists, yet this time of the year is also a time of deep longing and nostalgia. During Christmas time we always think of the children and grandchildren or the brothers and sisters who are celebrating Christmas on their own on the other side of the world.

This week we chatted with Jolene Harley to find out how they are going to celebrate Christmas in Germany.

Are there interesting Christmas customs and traditions?

Advent calendars, Advent wreaths on your front door, Christmas trees and of course, Christmas markets – some of the oldest and best in the world. The bigger markets are impressive, but those in the smaller towns are definitely worth a visit. They are more traditional, and the locals go to great lengths to make you feel at home and to share their traditions.

Do you still enjoy a traditional South African meal, or do you try new dishes?  

It is far too cold for a traditional South African Christmas with salads and cold meats which you can make sandwiches with the next day.

Hot, steaming dishes are the norm here.

  • Kale and sausage stew: Grünkohl, Wurst, Eintopf. Preferably with Bratwurst (braai sausages) specific to your area. In our case Nürnberger Bratwurst, which I would like to put to the test. I included a recipe – I will let you know if it was worth it.
  • Glühwein: warm wine with spices. (Personally, I think it is a shame to add anything to a good red wine, but if you have ever tasted German red wine adding spices is a definite improvement.) You can buy a cup at the markets for which you pay a deposit (pfant). It can be returned after which you get your money back. The cup is decorated with a picture of the town or market. Many people collect these cups.
  • German fruit cake: Stollen
  • Ginger cake: Lébkuchen, you place it under your pillow and then the things you dream about will come true. (I prefer my grandmother’s ginger biscuits. You need a hammer for these.)

I like Jamie’s quick, practical recipes.

Kale and sausage stew

Ingredients (Ala Jamie Oliver)

  • olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ½ teaspoon crushed chillies
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 6 sausages
  • 1½ tablespoons plain flour
  • 1 x 400 g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 500 ml organic vegetable stock
  • 1 large handful of kale


  1. Peel and slice the onion, then add to a pan with 1 tablespoon of oil. Fry for 5 to 7 minutes, or until softened.
  2. Peel, finely slice and add the garlic, then peel 3 strips of zest from the lemon. Add to the pan along with the spices and bay leaf. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Chop the sausages and toss with the flour, then add to the pan and cook until browned all over.
  4. Pour in the tomatoes and stock and bring to a simmer. Let it bubble away for 20 minutes, chop and add the kale and cook for 5 minutes, then serve.

Are there beautiful Christmas lights in your neighbourhood or a new Christmas trend that has emerged?

Stadt Erlangen has the most beautiful lights every year. This year the city and participating businesses focus on sustainability and green energy. All the lights are powered by green energy. It starts getting dark at 16:30 this time of the year and then the Christmas lights are on display until 21:30.

This year we have angel wings (a new trend) where people can take photos.

The Germans love sport on ice, to such an extent that they build an outdoor skate rink every year just for Christmas. There are ice hockey, Eisstockschießen (a Bavarian form of curling), ringette, broomball, curling, rinkball and bandy. The surface of the outdoor skate rink is a special plastic that reacts like ice when you skate on it, but doesn’t need to stay “frozen”. During the day you can rent skates for ice-skating. No matter how bad the weather, the people show up.  

Do you enjoy traditional celebrations, or do you have new ways of celebrating Christmas?

Our family’s only real Christmas tradition is to attend a Christmas church service on Christmas morning, no matter where we are. Last year we were still in the process of finding our feet and we didn’t have adequate clothes to protect us against this cold.  

We also had a very basic command of the German language. This year, German has started to sound more like Afrikaans than Greek. We are also armed with better clothes this year and we are planning to attend a German service at our nearest Lutheran church in Büchenbach. The church is also affiliated with the Gimnasium (high school) our daughter attends. We get to church by walking in the snow. Very carefully, because snow is just pretty on Christmas cards. We also know now that it is safe to leave your jacket and umbrella at the door.  

How do you keep in contact with family that is far away?  

We Zoom for as long as possible or until everyone in South Africa is cut off by loadshedding. We also sent Christmas gifts for the cousins via a colleague who was here for a course. It is a bonus if someone can play Father Christmas on your behalf.  

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