Traditional German Christmas Dinners

On the Evening of December 24 Germany Waits for the Christ Child
German Christmas Credit: Cornelia Lohs

German Christmas Credit: Cornelia Lohs

In Germany Christmas is celebrated on the evening of December 24. Traditionally, people eat carp, goose or simply potato salad. Unlike in America, in Germany (as well as in Austria, Switzerland and Northern Europe) Christmas is celebrated on the evening of December 24. Traditionally, the tree will be decorated in the afternoon of the 24th and, as soon as it becomes dark, children anticipate the arrival of the “Christ Child”, an angel in a long white dress with long golden hair, to bring them gifts. First, the children have to wait for dinner, which is served between five and six p.m. After dinner, gifts will be exchanged while Christmas music plays. The evening will conclude with a family film while Christmas cookies are eaten and Champagne is drunk.

This is how it used to be. Christmas is still celebrated in the evening of the 24th within the family, but after exchanging gifts teenagers prefer to spend the evening with their friends. Also, many Germans don’t celebrate Christmas at all and “escape” the family stress, as they call it, by traveling to a warmer country for a two-week vacation. Nevertheless, some traditions are kept, like the Christmas dinner.

Traditional German Christmas Dinner
  • The Carp

Originally, Christmas Eve formerly was a strict fast day in the Middle Ages. The traditional Christmas carp originates from that time. The tradition of the Christmas carp harks back to the time when the Advent season was a time for fasting and Christmas Eve was the culmination of that season. To celebrate this holiday properly and, according to all the rules of the Christian fast, a fish dish was prepared. A carp was chosen because many monasteries bred carps since the Middle Ages. Still, the carp is served traditionally in many German families.

  • The Goose

After 1600, the custom of serving goose on Christmas was imported by Germany from Great Britain. This custom in Great Britain began on Christmas Eve in 1588 when Queen Elisabeth the First was having dinner. While goose was being served, she received the news of the victory of the English Fleet over the Spanish Armada. In her joy, she declared the goose to be an indispensable part of the Christmas dinner. Thus, this part of the traditional German Christmas feast dinner has its origin in the British Isles.

  • Potato Salad

In addition to the carp and the goose, today another simple Christmas feast dinner is common in all parts of Germany: Potato salad and Wiener. This dish is served in many households throughout the country on Christmas Eve. It is unclear from whence this custom originates. It is assumed, however, that this simple dinner is prepared for Christmas Eve because it is easy to cook; on the 24th there is no time to prepare complex dishes.

Christmas Eve – A Family Gathering in Germany

In many households, none of the traditional German Christmas dinners is prepared anymore. Instead, people assemble a menu with several dishes that they enjoy or the family eats in a restaurant. No matter what they eat, it is a tradition to have Christmas dinner in a large circle of family members and friends and to enjoy dinner accompanied by good wine and sparkling conversation.

The 25th and 26th of December are public Christmas holidays in Germany and all shops are closed. People invite family members and friends for late lunch or go out to celebrate with friends.

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