Christmas Vocabulary — Weihnachtswortschatz
In Zurich the christmas lights are hanging and the Christmas market (der Weihnachtsmarkt / der Christkindlimarkt) in the main station as well as off the Bahnhofstrasse and at Bellevue have opened and are serving mulled wine and hot apple cider (der Glühwein, der Glühmost) along with gingerbread (der Lebkuchen) and roasted chestnuts (heisse Maroni).
In class last week my students started asking me what we say to people at Christmas and when, and AnneMarie said it would be nice to have a more cultural blog post, so I thought I’d discuss some Christmas expressions.
Let’s start with the most important days:
Advent = die Adventszeit
First Advent = erster Advent = If you want to wish someone a nice first Advent, you can say: “Schönen ersten Advent.” You can replace ersten with zweiten, dritten, and vierten as the Sundays come and go. Notice the adjective ending for masculine accusative.
December 6th = der Nikolaustag = On this day Sankt Nikolaus (St. Nikolas) comes with his helper Knecht Ruprecht and brings good children apples, nuts, mandarins and chocolates. Unlike St. Nikolaus, Knecht Ruprecht is dressed in black and gives bad children a spanking and a lump of coal. In Switzerland St. Nikolaus is also called Samichlaus and Knecht Ruprecht is called Schmuzli.
December 24th = der Heiligabend = Literally holy evening. In Switzerland most families open the gifts (die Geschenke), which have been placed under the Christmas tree (der Christbaum, der Weihnachtsbaum) on Christmas Eve. Traditionally it is not Santa Clause or Saint Nikolas that brings the gifts but rather the Christ Child (das Christkind, das Christkindli). the giving of gifts on Christmas Eve is called die Bescherung. Be careful here though, as “schöne Bescherung!” means “Nice mess!” and is usually meant humorously.
December 25th = der Weihnachtstag = On Christmas Day most families have a nice early dinner. Gifts are still exchanged (Geschenke austauschen) among family members, who were not present on Christmas Eve. Unlike English tradition, there is not really a countrywide or cultural meal that is had at Christmas in the German speaking world. In the north carp (der Karpfen) is quite popular and goose (die Gans) is also widely eaten, especially in Germany. In Switzerland, many families have Fondue or Racelette on Christmas Eve and a meat dish with venison (der Wildbraten) or veal (der Kalbsbraten) on Christmas Day.
December 26th = der Stephanitag (Stefanstag) = This holiday commemorates the martyrdom of Saint Stefan (Sankt Stefan). In Austria and Germany it is an official holiday as well as in Switzerland’s Catholic cantons. Many Protestant cantons consider Stefanstag a day of rest and set it equal to a Sunday.
December 31st = der Silvester = The day is called Silvester after the patron Saint of the day, Pope Silvester 1, who died on December 31, 335. Shops are generally only open till 4 or 5pm. At midnight the firework display (das Feuerwerk) starts and in many large cities lasts into the early morning, as people continue to shoot off their own fireworks.
January 1st = der Neujahrstag = The first day of the year, New Year’s Day is also a holiday in all German speaking countries. Most people use this to rest up after having celebrated into the early hours of the morning. Each year the Wiener Philharmonic performs its New Year’s Concert (Das Neujahrskonzert der Wiener Philharmoniker). The concert always features music from the Strauss legacy (Johann Strauss I, Johnann Strauss II, Josef Strauss and Eduard Strauss) and is broadcast to 72 countries and some 50 million listeners.
January 6th = der Dreikönigstag = This is essentially the last day of Christmas. In fact the “Twelve Days of Christmas” is about the days between Christmas (das Weihnachten) and Three Kings Day. On this day people in Catholic areas usually have their doors marked with the initials of the three wise men and the year. It stays above the door frame all year as a symbol of good luck. People also eat a special cake with a a coin inside. Whoever finds the coin is the “king” for a day.
What does one say at Christmas?
Generally you’re always safe wishing: “Frohe Weihnachten!” (Merry Christmas). Some people will argue that it should only be said on Christmas, but one hears and sees it starting in early December. For those who prefer to be more politically correct and not have the argument as to when you can say Merry Christmas, try “Frohe Festtage!” (Season’s Greetings). If you also want to wish people a happy new year, in let’s say your Christmas cards, you can write: “Guten Rutsch ins Neue Jahr!” or “Frohes Neues Jahr!”
For those of you wanting to have a little poem for your cards, you can try these:
Ich wünsche dir
Ich wünsche dir für den Weihnachtstag
Das Beste was es nur geben mag
Gesundheit, Glück, Zufriedenheit
Und das – bis in alle Ewigkeit!
Was dein Herz erfreut
Ich wünsche dir zum Weihnachtsfeste
Natürlich nur das “Allerbeste”
Und alles was dein Herz erfreut
Wünsch ich dir liebe/r . . . heut.
Ich wünsche dir
Und eine Menge hübscher Sachen,
Die das Leben dir versüßen
Und viel Freude machen.
Ich wünsche euch zur Weihnachtszeit
Gesundheit, Glück, Zufriedenheit
Und hoffe dann, dass es so bleibt
Alles Liebe zu Weihnachten
Endlich ist es nun so weit
Weihnachten die stille Zeit
Hab’ grade leis’ an dich gedacht
Und einen Wunsch für dich verpackt.
Alles Liebe zu Weihnachten!
**If you’re wondering about the origin of the word Weihnachten and why it does;t sound like any of the other European words for Christmas here is the answer. The word first appeared in a minnesong (Minnesang) by the minstrel Spervogel: “Er ist gewaltic unde starc (…) der ze wîhen naht gebórn wárt. (…) daz ist der heilige Krist, (…) jâ lobt in allez, daz dir ist” (Minnesangs Frühling VII. IV.). It is believed to be a translation from the Latin “nox sancta” or “heilige, geweihte Nacht”
German Christmas Vocabulary Trainer
Use these quizlet flashcards to learn your German vocabulary (91 cards from Advent to wreath):