Christmas Traditions from Germany

Joan Frances’ vintage Christmas card collection designed by a German artist.


Christmas is the most celebrated holiday of the year. Highly anticipated thoughts of Santa Claus bringing gifts consume the minds of small children. Exploring the attic to find hidden treasures for the Christmas tree and the smell of delectable food permeating the house are cherished family memories. The holiday season is a culmination of traditions from various nationalities. For many residents of Fort Bend County, the German customs dominate the holiday spirit and are exuberantly shared every year.

The German settlers influenced several significant Christmas customs for America. Long before the advent of Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year were hung in homes over doors and windows in belief that evergreens would keep evil spirts and illness away. The first recorded Christmas tree on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers in Pennsylvania. Trees were decorated with hand-made toys, apples, homemade cookies, decorative candy and strung popcorn. Hand-carved wooden Christmas angels, often playing their musical instruments, were a popular addition to the Christmas tree ornamentation. The Advent wreath, made from evergreen with four large candles, pinecones and berries, was traditionally a month-long celebration. Every Sunday in December before Christmas, a candle was lit, and the family would gather for a reflective hour of Christmas carols, German goodies and family entertainment. In many homes, the Advent wreath was the only reminder that Christmas was coming until Christmas Eve when the decorated tree was revealed.

The most popular tradition with children was their beloved Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas, a monk born in Turkey around 280 A.D., was known for his generosity and secrecy in giving gifts. He eventually became known as the protector of children and sailors. The legend was brought to America by Dutch settlers in New York in the 18th century. The Germans continued with the tradition of Kris Kringle. This jolly man, dressed in furs of those shaggy Germanic gift bringers, brought presents to good girls and boys and were opened on Christmas Eve.

Christmas cards were another thoughtful expression of celebrating the holiday season. Considered the father of the American Christmas card, Louis Prang was a German immigrant. He was the first who created and produced attractive and reasonably priced chromolithographed cards for the mass market. This artistic tradition allowed consumers from all levels of income to participate in the holiday season. The cards captured the Christmas spirit by depicting memorable moments and eloquent statements of good will and happiness. Recipients treasured this small gesture of kindness as the Christmas card grew in popularity and tradition.

Perhaps the most anticipated celebration was the German Christmas dinner. The traditional meal featured duck, goose, rabbit or a roast. German delicacies such as apple and sausage stuffing, red cabbage and potato dumplings accompanied the main course. One of the best German pastries in the world is Christmas Stollen or Dresdner Stollen. Shaped with tapered ends and a ridge down the center, symbolizing the Baby Jesus in swaddling clothes and filled with nuts and fruit, it is much better than the traditional American fruitcake. Lebkuchen (gingerbread), apple strudel and Platzchen (Christmas cookies) completed the perfect meal. The German drink of choice was hot Gluhwein, consisting of mulled red wine with an optional shot of brandy.

The Christmas season is a magical time of the year. It brings people together from all nationalities and cultures to celebrate and to give thanks. Merry Christmas to the residents of Fort Bend who are united and continue to help each other cherish this holiday season.