Christmas in Germany will be one of the most magical times of your life!
From the end of November till 24 December, learn some new Bavarian Christmas traditions, check out live performances, and keep your belly warm with hot Glühwein!
Bavarian Christmas Traditions
As an American living in Germany, take this opportunity to learn about new holiday traditions. You’ll definitely want to incorporate them into your own celebrations!
Traditional German Christmas Foods
While the Germans love their cakes and breads, Christmas is the time for cookies. Lebkuchen is a traditional German Christmas cookie made with ginger and other spices. If you have a sweet tooth like myself, I recommend the kind that are coated in chocolate.
Fran from Soldiers and Sauerkraut says the best ones are in Nuremberg. But you can also get some at the Weiden Christmas market, or even at Edeka if you’re in a pinch.
In the US, you might serve cookies with milk, but in Bavaria, it’s all about Glühwein! It’s the perfect way to get tipsy and keep your hands warm during the winter.
You find variations of mulled wine with spices throughout Europe, and you can easily make it at home. Buy it bottled at the grocery store and add sliced oranges, cinnamon sticks, or sliced ginger when you warm it on your stove.
When there’s not a global pandemic happening, you can buy Glühwein from multiple stalls at any given Christkindlmarkt. You also pay a pfand on the cup, but…most of us keep the mug as a souvenir.
You may have heard of advent calendars in the States, but it’s definitely a big tradition here in Bavaria! “It makes the waiting time so much better,” Fran says.
Advent calendars count down the days until Christmas, and they often start on December 1st. But it also refers to the four weeks leading up to Christmas, which is important to keep in mind when planning your Christmas market visits! In 2021, first advent will be November 28, and fourth advent is December 19.
You can easily find chocolate advent calendars at any grocery store, but over the past few years, people have gotten creative with them! The DTV family has a wine advent calendar, a beer one, and a pet treat one.
And stores throughout the area may do their own version of the advent calendar on their Instagram. For example, you can comment on their daily advent photo for a chance to win the prize “behind the door.”
Even the alte Rathaus in Weiden has one of their own! You’ll notice the windows are blocked by cards with numbers around the end of November. And every day at 5pm, the Rathaus “opens” a window to reveal a drawing made by a student in the town.
When to Celebrate Christmas (and with Which Characters)
Bavarians celebrate big on two days during the Christmas season: St. Nicholas Day on December 6 and Christmas on December 24.
St. Nicholas has the long white beard and red robes, but he’s dressed more like a bishop rather than the jolly fat man on Coke cans. He comes to your house with his naughty list and reads everything good and bad that you’ve done!
And when he’s gone through the list (which parents give to him before December 6), he asks the kids if they promise to be better next year. When they say yes, he gives them small gifts of chocolate or oranges.
But he’s not the only Christmas character that comes to your door. Covered in fur with horns curling from his head, Krampus helps St. Nicholas manage the bad kids!
You’ll also see them at the Krampuslauf, which is where all the Christmas creatures show up and perform. And it’s not just to scare bad kids – the event is also meant to scare away bad spirits.
Living in Germany with kids will be such a memorable experience! Learn more about traveling in Europe with kids
A few weeks later, Bavarians celebrate Christmas Day on December 24. But instead of St. Nicholas or Santa leaving gifts under the tree, it’s the Christkind: an angel who flies around Germany and brings gifts.
Children can write letters to the Christkind to request gifts, just like they write to Santa in the US – I mean, the North Pole!
But there’s one more Bavarian Christmas tradition: Three Kings Day. On January 6 (the 12th day of Christmas), a small group dressed as the three kings come to your door, sing a carol, and may light some incense to bring good tidings into the new year. Then they write those little characters above your door frame to bless your home!
About Local Christmas Markets in Bavaria
Wherever you are in Bavaria, you’ll come across a Christmas market some time between the end of November and December 24. Large cities all over the country have Christkindlmarkts (also called Weihnachtsmarkt), but in our humble region, you’ll find markets in small towns as well.
As you may notice with local fests in Germany, it’s hard to find information about when and where Christmas markets will take place. Everyone just seems to know when they’re going to happen, like it’s just part of daily existence or their DNA.
The city markets are easy to find information for, but for the smaller Christkindl markets, you’ll want to talk to the locals!
The Best Bavarian Christmas Markets to Visit during COVID
There are a couple Christmas markets that have decided to keep the Christmas spirit in the form of drive-thru markets. Cruise through the Zollhaus Landshut to drink, dine, and shop all from the comfort of your car! It’s a bit less than a 2-hour drive from Grafenwoehr, but be prepared to wait in a line.
There’s also a drive-thru market in Schnaittenbach, just a 30-minute drive from Grafenwöhr. It’s a small market, but still fun! The staff was full of holiday spirit, the decor was festive, and the food was delicious.
Walking around the Weihnachtsmarkt and exploring the booths has its charm, but it’s also nice to sit in the warmth of your own car!
Another Christmas market that adapted to COVID is the Fürth market. For the past couple years they’ve introduced creative ways to make shopping easier, such as “The Bag Bus,” which allows visitors to store their purchases as they stroll through the market (and spend more money).
This year, they offer a delivery service: if you order from the vendor before noon, they will deliver the same day!
When Drive Through Christmas markets aren’t an option and you want to get outdoors, check out this new Bavarian Christmas tradition near Amberg. A local organizer started gathering donated Christmas ornaments and hung thousands of them for you to find at the Asphaltkapelle “Asphalt Chapel” in Etsdorf.
The Best German Xmas Markets to Visit in 2021
With so many Christkindlmarkts to choose from, my friend Stefan gave us his top three choices! After all, there are only so many advent weekends.
Vilseck Sorghof Christmas Market
Tucked away in the Vilseck forests, the Christmasmarkt in Sorghof occurs on the last Saturday before Christmas. There’s a live nativity scene, complete with animals!
But unlike other Christkindlmarkts, this one only lasts one evening. For anyone on Vilseck post, the market will be just outside the main gate.
Auerbach Christmas Market
The coal mines in Auerbach make their Christmas market unique! On the third advent Saturday, there is a miner’s parade. They walk through the town with lit torches, and then celebrate the holiday spirit with their fellow townsfolk.
Their Christkindlmarkt takes place during the first couple weeks of advent. The Auerbach Christmas market also hosts a famous fairy tale parade which happens on the second advent Saturday.
And, of course, there’s plenty of great shopping opportunities for all your German decoration needs.
Naburg Christmas Market (Schloss Guteneck)
This is definitely a fan favorite! As the flagship Christkindlmarkt in der Oberpfalz, it has everything you could want from a Bavarian Christmas market: live performances, a castle, glühwein, trees, on fires, churros, medieval shop stalls, dampfnudel, and live animals.
Children may ride the camels and watch the falconers while you shop for handmade gifts. And in addition to the standard fair of bratwurst, leberkase, roasted nuts, and gingerbreads, Guteneck also has food stands serving beef stew, flammkuchen, churros, crepes, and waffles.
This Christmas market takes place every advent weekend, but be sure to plan your visit in advance! Friday afternoons will be the least crowded. Keep in mind that there is a small entry fee for attendees ages 12 and up.
From Advent Calendars to Zollhaus Landshut: Get in the Holiday Spirit!
If you want to visit the best German Christmas markets this year, you better hurry! The season doesn’t last forever, but that’s part of the magic, isn’t it?