Christmas Eve (Heiliger Abend) is celebrated in Germany on December 24. It is the last day of Advent and the start of the Christmas season. Many people spend the afternoon and evening decorating Christmas trees, attending church services, eating traditional dishes and opening Christmas presents.
What Do People Do?
Many people travel to spend the late afternoon and evening with family members on Christmas Eve. Many people decorate a Christmas tree and some attend midnight mass. Midnight mass is a church service that traditionally starts late in the evening but now often starts earlier in the evening to allow whole families to attend.
Later in the evening, many families open their Christmas presents that were placed under the Christmas tree. In many Protestant families, children are told that Father Christmas or Santa Claus brought the presents. In many Catholic families, they are told that the Christ Child gave the presents. A traditional Christmas Eve meal consists of carp (a type of fish), potato salad, boiled potatoes, cucumber salad and lemon slices.
Christmas Eve is not a public holiday in Germany. However, post offices, banks, stores and other businesses often close early. There may be some restrictions on selling alcohol, public performances, or dancing in the afternoon or evening.
Public transport services run as usual for most of the day but there may be a reduced or no service in the late afternoon and evening. There may be congestion on roads and trains as people travel to visit family members.
The run up to Christmas in Germany starts four Sundays before December 25 and is known as Advent. Many families prepare an Advent wreath with four candles and seasonal greenery. One candle is lit on the first Sunday of Advent, two on the second Sunday, three on the third Sunday and then four on the fourth Sunday. Many Christmas markets are held during this time and many town centers feature special Christmas lights and other decorations.
Children are given Advent calendars prior to Christmas. These are usually made of thick paper and display a seasonal scene with 24 doors. Each day, starting on December 1, children open one door to discover a picture behind each one. Modern versions have candy or a small toy behind each door. In the town of Gengenbach, Baden-Württemberg, the town hall has 24 windows and is turned into a giant advent calendar each year.