A very German Christmas

Some Christmas traditions that have become popular around the world have their roots in Germany, explains SMWS ambassador Peter Eichhorn

We have no idea. Nowhere in the Bible is it written that Jesus Christ was actually born on December 25th. Actually, it seems quite improbable. There are herdsmen mentioned, but in those times it would have been rather cold in December. Too cold to camp outdoors. And the poor fellows didn’t even have whisky back in the days to warm them up.

Still, in the German speaking countries, many traditions came up to celebrate Christmastime and playfully enjoy the winter.


So the countdown is on and that means SMWS members can also enjoy each day in December leading towards Christmas Eve. Today we may open a bottle of whisky each and every day with our whisky Advent Calendar. The tradition of having a calendar to mark each day of the month started in the mid-19th century, when a special Christmas clock marked the days.


The first printed calendar for children was published in 1903 in Munich. Publisher Gerhard Lang had the idea of showing a picture every day to bring joy to the little children. The idea was a huge success and was picked up by many other publishing houses and later by producers who put chocolates or other small gadgets behind the doors.

The advent wreath was invented in Hamburg by a priest named Johann Heinrich Wichern in 1839. He ran a place named ‘Rauhes Haus’, which translates as ‘rough house’, where he took care of homeless children.

He took a wagon wheel and placed many candles on it to celebrate the days of advent. Later the number of candles was reduced to four.

In around 1860, fir sprigs were added. His idea picked up in the Protestant areas of Germany at first and then in the Catholic counties after the Second World War.


Cities like Dresden and Nuremberg are famous for their beautiful Christmas markets. This custom dates back to the 14th century in Germany, when pastries and mulled wine gave comfort in the cold winter. Every region has its own specialities, and intriguing delicacies will be eaten with strange names like Vanillekipferl, Spekulatius, Zimtstern, Lebkuchen, Printen, Springerle or Husarenkrapferl. Immensely popular is the ‘Christstollen’ with stollen meaning ‘mining tunnels’. It is a cake made of yeast dough and dried fruits like raisins. Its shape indeed brings to mind the old mining areas of Saxony, where it is hugely popular. In 2013, a huge Christstollen from Dresden, weighing in at more than four kilos, found its place in the Guinness Book of Records. In many regions, the first Christstollen is presented with a festival in the beginning of advent with a march of miners in their traditional uniforms.

Also in Saxony lie the mountain ranges of the Erzgebirge. For Germans, this area is synonymous for Christmas decorations made of wood, such as carved angels or “Räuchermännel”, (smoking and scented figurines) and beautiful pyramids that turn in circles when the smoke of the candles make the propeller on top turn. Around 1870 a carpenter named Friedrich Wilhelm Füchtner became famous after he whittled the first nutcracker man.


Children today still love to write a wishlist and ask for their ideal presents. Already in the early 18th century, children had started writing notes, although there were no wishes for themselves – instead they had to thank their parents and wish them luck. It was the modern toy industry that started giving out pre-printed wishlists for their products in the late 19th century – quite a smart PR-move for those times!

For children who didn’t trust the generosity of their parents, the German postal service installed seven mailing addresses for children to write to Father Christmas, the Christmas Child or St Nikolaus, whoever they prefer. The best-known address is in the town of Himmelpfort, or ‘Heaven’s Gate’. Many of their parents trust the postal service that brings precious parcels with SMWS whiskies. But someday their children will grow and learn about this beautiful variant of a Christmas spirit.