German Christmas Songs

Christmas in Germany traditionally starts with the arrival of the advent time at the end of November or early December. German people set out to buy their advent wreath - a wreath made of fir tree branches - with four candles on it, each marking one week of the countdown to Christmas, - often families make their own advent wreath. Usually the lightening of the candles is accompanied by singing Christmas carols and eating Christmas biscuits.

On the first of December German children begin to open the windows in their advent calendar for every day getting closer to Christmas. The advent calendar used to have small pictures relating to Christmas, though these days the pictures have mostly been replaced by chocolate pieces. On December 4th many families - in particular in the Catholic regions of Germany - will start the flowering of Saint Barbara's branches , these are twigs cut off cherry trees, put into a vase and supposed to flower on Christmas day. December 6th marks another big day in the countdown to Christmas - it is Saint Nicholas day. Saint Nicholas used to be the patron of the children who gave small presents to the children. This tradition of receiving little gifts is still practised across Germany. Another important event is taking place on this date - the opening of German Christmas markets. All major German cities have their own Christmas market, the most famous can be found in Nuernberg and in Aachen. At these markets Germans will buy decorations for their Christmas tree while warming up with mulled wine and Bratwurst.

Finally on December 24 Christmas has arrived. Shops close around 3 pm in the afternoon, and German parents will be busy decorating the Christmas tree. Often German children do not get to see the Christmas tree until they receive their presents. But they do not need to wait until Santa comes through the chimney on December 25, as Christmas is being celebrated on the eve of Christmas day. It is a little angel called Christ child - dressed in a white dress with long golden hair - who delivers the presents. Once the ceremony is over - accompanied by traditional Christmas songs - , German families will sit together and enjoy their Christmas meal. Often they will wait until midnight to attend the Christmas mass in the local church.

December 25 and December 26 are dedicated to visit relatives, although many families set out to start their Christmas holiday somewhere in the snow. As December 25 used to be the end of the year, the period between December 25 and December 31 is called "Between the days" in memory of the additional days added when switching over to the Gregorian calendar. January 6 marks the end of the Christmas period. The Three Kings will wander from house to house - singing Christmas songs and collecting money for their local church. Then the Christmas tree has to be taken down - getting everybody ready for a new working year.

German Christmas carols became popular in Germany in early 1800. Some songs are in general more dedicated to the advent time, while some are supposed to be sung only on Christmas eve.

Oh Tannenbaum is one of the most welll known Christmas carols around the world. The lyrics date back to an old folk song from 1600, later on it got changed into a tragic love song, until it was converted into a Christmas song by a teacher from Leipzig around 1820.

One of the most popular carols is "Kling Gloeckchen" (Ring Little Bell) describing the Christ child wandering through the cold winter landscape in search of a warm place to stay. When singing this song, it is not difficult to imagine to hear little bells tinkling in the ears.

On December 5th and December 6th children will chant along the tune of "Lasst uns froh und munter sein" (Let us be happy and cheerful"), an old carol celebrating the arrival of Saint Nicholas.

"Ihr Kinderlein kommet" (Come ye little children), "Suesser die Glocken nie klingen" (Sweeter the bells never sound) and "Alle Jahre wieder kommt das Christuskind "(Every Year the Christ Child Comes Again) are some other songs very popular before Christmas. The carol "Oh du froehliche" (O how joyfully) is actually based on a Sicilian fisher song which had been brought to Germany by a famous German poet after a trip to Italy. "Morgen Kinder wird's was geben" (Tomorrow, children, just wait) starts the final countdown to the Christmas celebration. "Stille Nacht" (Silent Night) is - in many families - a carol often reserved for Christmas Eve and not being sung before the candles on the Christmas tree are lit. It was first performed by the village teacher Franz Xaver Gruber in 1818 in a small church in Oberndorf near the Austrian town of Salzburg. By chance somebody who repaired the organ in the church heard the carol and took it into Germany where it quickly became much loved across the whole country.

"Am Weihnachtsbaum die Lichter brennen" (On the Christmas tree the lights are burning) and "Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen" (Lo, how a Rose 're blooming) are two other carols dedicated to Christmas Eve.

While most carols are of German origin, a few English songs have become popular over the years. The German actor and singer Roy Black introduced a German version of Jingle Bells - "Ein kleiner weisser Schneemann", although almost every German will rather know the English version these days. And "Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann" (Tomorrow Santa's coming) is based on the tune of "Twinkle, twinkle, little star".

Before Christmas bids its farewell in early January, the Three Holy Kings - also often called the "Star Singers" - will walk around from door to door chanting their carols, reminding everybody of this lovely time of the year.