Tag Archive: Christmas traditions

New Year’s Eve Traditions in Britain and Germany: similarities and contrasts

Whereas an earlier post discussed the differences in Christmas traditions in Britain and Germany, this one focuses on the New Year’s Eve traditions.

Both countries certainly know how to enjoy New Year’s Eve. That is the wonderful thing about living in Europe: the more diversity the better, as far as I am concerned.

Happy New Year / Frohes Neues Jahr!

Britain: New Year’s Eve Germany: Silvester
Party Time: When the old year is about to end and the new one is about to dawn, Britons celebrate like most people around the world. Parties and fun are the order of the day, often dressed-up for the occasion (e.g. dinner jackets and bow ties for men). They often go to the local pub to celebrate. Silvester Ball: Germans celebrate the change of year just as noisily and merrily at the “Silvester Ball” with the usual eating, drinking, dancing and singing. The 31st of December is the day of the Feast of Pope Sylvester I, the day that he died, hence the reason for the name in German.
Big Ben and Auld Lang Syne: When Big Ben strikes midnight, people across the country cross arms and link hands with the nearest person, regardless of whether they are complete strangers or not, and sing “Auld Lang Syne” (by the Scottish poet Robert Burns), which refers to friendships and loves in “times gone by”. Sekt und Berliner: The focal point of the New Year’s Eve celebrations is the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin and the midnight fireworks. Germans toast the New Year with a glass of Sekt (German sparkling wine) or champagne, as well as a doughnut (Berliner).
Eating and drinking: There is much drinking, especially of Champagne to see out the year and bring in the new one. Shortbread is a feature of Hogmanay, sometimes served with cheese. Whisky of course, if also part of the tradition in Scotland. Essen und Trinken: It is common to enjoy a Feuerzangenbowle or a Punch Bowl. This is a traditional German alcoholic drink where a rum-soaked sugarloaf is set on fire, allowing it to drip into mulled wine (e.g. red wine, oranges, lemons, cinnamon and cloves). Feuerzangenbowle is also the name of a very popular film from 1944. A recent tradition is Raclette, an electric grill which is used to melt individual portions of cheese on small trays (or use a grilling area on top) and each person adds their preferred combination of seasonings, vegetables and meats. Another option is cheese fondue. Raclette and fondue are both Swiss inventions which have been gratefully taken-up.
Fireworks: Fireworks used to be seen only during Bonfire or Guy Fawkes Night but this is beginning to change with fireworks being let out at the stroke of midnight. The fireworks are thought to drive away evil spirits. Feuerwerke: The absolute highlight of the New Year’s Eve celebrations is the fireworks display at midnight. Almost every household comes out, no matter how cold, to let off fireworks, bangers and generally burn through a lot of money. It cannot be described; it has to be experienced.
Other traditions: Parts of England: at midnight, people open the back door (to let the old year out) and ask the first dark haired man to be seen to come through the front door carrying salt, coal and bread. The following year everyone will have enough to eat (bread), enough money (salt) and be warm enough (coal).Hogmanay: the celebration is derived from a kind of oat cake that was traditionally given to children on New Year’s Eve. Hogmanay can last a day or longer! There is also a tradition of “first footing” is observed. The first person to set foot in a home affects the fortunes of everyone who lives there. Strangers are thought to bring good luck.Nos Galan: the Welsh also let out the old year and bring in the new but if the first visitor is a woman and a man opens the door it is considered bad luck. The same applies if the first man to cross the threshold is a red head. Bleigießen: Bleigießen (pouring lead into cold water) involves telling fortunes by the shapes made by the molten lead.The 90th Birthday or Dinner for One: Many choose to spend “Silvester” at home watching “Dinner for One” on TV. This is a short black and white comedy sketch from the 1920s has become the number 1 New Year’s tradition in Germany. Although it was recorded in English, with British actors and has attained cult status in Germany (and elsewhere), it is largely unknown in English speaking countries. New Year’s Eve without watching Dinner for One is simply not done.
New Year’s Resolutions: New Year’s resolutions are part and parcel of the new year process. They are basically things that people have resolved to do to make their lives better or different, the most common being to lose weight, to drink less, to stop smoking, etc. Neujahrsvorsätzen: As in Britain, this is an established tradition in Germany.
Happy New Year! Frohes Neues Jahr / einen “Guten Rutsch”!

Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.anglodeutsch.eu

Christmas Traditions in Britain and Germany

Christmas traditions are among the things which make life worthwhile. However, although we may not realise it, there are big similarities, as well as contrasts, even among Christian countries such as Germany and Britain. Countries “borrow” from each other and traditions evolve over time.

We December, the Festive Season is in full flow and Christmas is just around the corner, so I have compiled an overview of the main Christmas traditions in Britain and Germany. I have written this post in the form of a table to illustrate the similarities and contrasts.

I am a bit surprised by the outcome. I always knew that there were many similarities but I have now realised just how much Britain has borrowed from Germany. However, each country has its own traditions, which is a wonderful thing. I enjoy Christmas and New Year regardless of which country I am celebrating in!



Advent Calendar: Advent marks the start of the Christmas season. Advent calendars allow a day by day count-down to Christmas day and are usually for children. They are usually made of cardboard and have 24 small windows or flaps, one of which is opened on each day leading up to Christmas. Although advent calendars are known, it is not much of a tradition to buy them and use them in Britain, though this may yet change in the future (see Christmas Tree below). Adventskalendar: Advent calendars are a Germany invention and are a tradition which is very much part and parcel of Christmas. It was originally designed to involve children in the festivities leading up to Christmas. All households have advent calendars in the form of cards, books and surprise boxes with numbered windows containing pictures, chocolates, toys, etc. It is not unusual children to have several advent calendars, which they open one window per day. Adults often make their own advent calendars made of little sacks and fill them with themes such as teas, chocolates, etc. All German households have them.
Advent Wreath: The advent wreath is traditionally a circle to symbolise eternal life. It is usually in the form of four red candles and sometimes a fifth, central candle is lit on Christmas day. The advent wreath is known but rarely used in Britain. AdventskranzEach household makes its own advent wreath using a ring of fir branches or buys one. The first candle is lit on the first Advent (the Sunday closest to 30th of November or St Andrew’s day) and the last candle is lit on the fourth Sunday. All German households have them.
Saint Nicholas’ Day: This is the day when Saint Nicolas comes and provides a small present for children that have been good during the year. This wonderful tradition, for children small and large, is not a tradition in Britain. I predict that this will change in the next 5-10 years. Nikolaustag: Nicholaustag is always on the 6th of December and every child cleans their shoes/boots (real ones) place them by their door during the previous evening. Der Nikolaus brings small gifts, such as sweets, chocolates and perhaps a small toy. It is a wonderful way to kick off the Festive Season and breaks up the long wait until the 24/25 of December. German households typically follow this tradition, children or no.
Christmas Tree: This is the essential decoration in all homes. The tree is usually an artificial one and they can be remarkably similar to the real thing, but obviously much easier to take out, decorate and pack-away to be reused the following year. The decorations are usually in the form of colourful fairy lights, tinsel and baubles or ornaments. The look is to make them bright, colourful and diverse. Christmas trees became popular in 1841 when Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband, a German) brought a Christmas tree over from Germany. The tradition of decorating Christmas Trees became established. The Royal Family was photographed around the tree and voila, a new Christmas tradition was established in Britain. Christmas trees are taken down on the 5th of January. The large Christmas tree on Trafalgar Square is an annual gift from the people of Oslo. Tannenbaum: Christmas Trees are extremely important in German culture and are thought to have been first used during the Middle Ages. They are almost always real fir / spruce trees and great care is taken to select a nicely shaped tree. It is often put-up and decorated on Christmas Eve, though some start earlier. They are often decorated with tinsel, glass baubles, straw ornaments and sweets. Fairly lights are almost always white. Candles are often added and lit but watched over because of the risk of fire. Families often read the Bible and/or sing Christmas songs such as “O Tannenbaum” and “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night). The presents are usually placed around the tree. The Tannenbaum is taken down either on New Year’s Day or on January 6th (Three Kings’ Day).
Christmas Cards: Sending and receiving Christmas Cards is and remains a key element of Christmas in the digital age. People make the effort to send cards (traditional ones such as nativity scenes, Christmas trees, etc. or funny ones such as Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer) to friends and family. Households typically receive a large number of cards which form a key part of the Christmas decorations, usually on the walls. Weihnachtskarten: These are not very popular in Germany, though they are exchanged, for example in the business context. Unlike Britain, it is not unusual not to have cards on display in the home.
Home decorations: In addition to Christmas cards, there will often be colourful decorations, which people hang in their homes about two weeks before Christmas. The decorations are usually made of paper or foil, often in the form of long garlands or strings, bells, etc. The predominant colours used are red (symbolising blood shed by Jesus), gold (one of the gifts to Jesus from the wise men) and green (evergreens or eternal life). British homes become much colourful and cheerful overnight. Innendekoration: Germans tend to decorate their homes in a less colourful manner. The predominant colour is while (symbolising purity and peace), though this is slowly changing. The main form is in the shape of Christmas triangles (Adventsbogen), which are often visible on more or less every available window of the home. Nativity scenes, hand-carved wooden nutcrackers (Nussknacker), pyramids (Weihnachtspyramiden) and other carved and painted smokers, arches, angels, etc. are much in evidence.
Exterior decorations: The trend is towards the American style external decorations with multi-coloured fairy lights and displays. Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe are also sometimes used to decorate homes or public buildings. The nationally famous external decorations are the Christmas lights in Oxford Street, London. Außendekoration: In Germany the emphasis remains very much on homogeneous white fairy lights on trees, roofs, car ports, etc. In addition to strings, there are often fairy light nets around trees and shapes (reindeer, Father Christmas, etc.). The external decorations are increasingly more colourful over time.
Nativity play: Almost all primary schools a nativity play which is the story of Mary and Joseph as well as baby Jesus’ birth in a stable, where he was visited by the Shepherds and Wise Men. All the parts are played by the children in front of proud parents. KrippenspielThis is usually performed at Church during the services, but also in Kindergartens and Primary Schools.
Carol Singing: Caroling, singing carols (songs about the birth of Jesus such as Silent Night, O Come all ye Faithful, etc.) in public places is a long-standing customs going back to the Middle Ages. In the past, the poor collected money from singing carols. People still go caroling from 21 December until Christmas morning to collect money but these days it is for all sorts of good causes. Sternsinger: The tradition of Sternsinger dates back to the 16th century but has now become a fundraising custom. The participants are youngsters dressed in costumes resembling the Three Kings that visited the baby Jesus, with one carrying a star. The Star Singers go from home to home on January 6 (Epiphany) singing carols and soliciting donations for charities.
Christmas Market: Christmas markets were very popular until Oliver Cromwell banned the celebration of Christmas and the fashion died out. There has been no tradition of Christmas markets until recent years but they are rapidly growing in popularity in many cities. Weihnachtsmarkt: Christmas would simply not be Christmas without the Weihnachtsmärkte. They date back the 14th Century and that people bought decorations, candles and toys. As soon as Advent begins, Christmas markets spring up everywhere like wild mushrooms in settlements small and large. The streets and squares are bustling with activity as adults and children listen to music, drink beer or hot mulled wine (Glühwein) or eat gingerbread hearts, sugar-roasted almonds, crepes, cookies, stollen and all sorts of sweet things. Christmas tree decorations, seasonal items and handicrafts are also available.
Christmas Eve This is the time when Father Christmas (Santa) comes, so children are usually very excited. They may leave mince pies (see below) and brandy for him and a carrot for the reindeer. They hang-up large Christmas stockings or pillowcases, so that Father Christmas can fill them with presents, but only if they have been good, of course. As in Germany, many attend midnight mass. HeiligabendChristmas Eve is a workday but businesses close early for the celebration of what is the most important day of the Advent in Germany. After the traditional Christmas meal (see below), families sing Christmas carols and exchange gifts, with children the focal point. German families, including less regular church-goers attend mass. The main service traditionally takes at midnight but it is not unusual for it to be earlier. Frohe Weihnachten!
Christmas Day: This is the day when the presents are opened in Britain. When the children wake-up, they rush for their Christmas stockings or pillowcases, which hopefully were filled by Father Christmas. Normally they unwrap the presents before breakfast. Merry Christmas! Erster WeihnachtsfeiertagThis is the day to celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth. Over time, it has evolved into a family-oriented celebration when shops are closed and people visit the extended family.
Queen’s Christmas Message: A key feature of Christmas is the Queen’s Christmas Message to the country at 15:00. The Christmas Message is broadcast on radio, television and YouTube. It is widely anticipated and many families ensure that they listen to the Queen’s Christmas Message. Weihnachtsansprache, Neujahrsansprache: There are two equivalents in Germany, though not particularly popular. The first is the Christmas Speech by the German President and the second the New Year’s Speech by the German Chancellor. Neither is so established a tradition as the Queen’s Christmas Message.
Christmas Meal: The main meal is eaten at lunchtime/early afternoon on Christmas Day. It is nowadays roast turkey (previously roast beef or goose), and ‘all the trimmings’ such as carrots, peas and Brussel sprouts, stuffing and sometimes bacon and sausages, together with cranberry sauce and bread sauce. Weihnachtsessen: In Germany the typical Christmas meal is carp or Frankfurters with potato salad. It can also be goose, duck or some other roast accompanied by traditional fare such as apple and sausage stuffing, red cabbage and potato dumplings.
Christmas Crackers: Christmas Crackers are extremely popular part of Christmas meals and are ubiquitous on Christmas Day. It is basically a colourfully decorated paper tube, which is twisted at both ends. Two people pull on each end of the cracker until it pops. It typically contains a paper crown, a token gift and a joke. Everyone willingly wears the paper crown as part of the Christmas meal. Weihnachtsknallbonbons: There is no equivalent in Germany.
Christmas cake, pudding and mince piesChristmas pudding is a steamed brown pudding with raisins, nuts and cherries. It traditionally contained a “six pence” or a silver coin which brings good fortune to the lucky finder. Brandy may be poured over it and set alight. Mince pies are an important part of Christmas. They are small pies filled with minced fruit (e.g. raisins, cherries, citrus peel but certainly not meat!) nuts and spices (e.g. nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon). Christmas cake is a rich fruit cake covered with marzipan and icing. These are rarely baked at home as part of the preparations for Christmas. Christstollen, Kipferle, Lebkuchen, etc.: Baking is a key part of Christmas, with children also involved both at school and at home. Germans often bake beautifully decorated cookies (Plätzchen). Stollen, a fruited yeast bread, is the oldest and most famous Christmas treat but there are many others. Gingerbread is baked without yeast and is sweetened with honey and spices are added. Lebkuchen also takes the form of the edible witch’s houses (Hexenhaus), also known as Hansel and Gretel’s house (from Grimm’s fairy tale). They are often made from scratch and beautifully decorated.
Boxing Day: Boxing Day is celebrated on the day after Christmas (26 December) and it is a public holiday. It is called Boxing Day because churches placed an ‘Alms Box’ on Christmas Day for gifts for the poor. These Alms boxes were opened the day after Christmas, hence Boxing Day. Sport is increasingly to the forefront on Boxing day. Zweiter WeihnachtsfeiertagThe second Christmas day, as it is known in Germany, and is typically a quieter time. It is a day for peaceful contemplation, testing out the new toys and gadgets, reading all the new books, etc. and basically relaxing.

Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.anglodeutsch.eu

Launch of the AngloDeutsch™ Blog

New AngloDeutsch™ Blog Launched

Today, the AngloDeutsch™ Blog was launched. The main reason is that Britain and Germany are countries that are absolutely critical to the future of Europe and the European Union. Yet, there is currently a gap in terms of comparing and contrasting the two countries in terms of various dimensions, such as economics, housing, health, etc. within the overarching context of the EU.

It was not always so. In the same year that Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973, the Anglo German Foundation (AGF) was established in recognition of the fact that the Germany and Britain could learn a good deal from each other, not least to improve mutual knowledge between the two countries and deepen understanding of modern society and its problems. The AGF undertook policy-oriented comparative research on the Britain, Germany and what is now the European Union (EU). It was valuable to compare and contrast countries that were not only the two largest in the EU, which also exhibit rather different social, political and economic traditions. They are two of the largest EU trading and exporting nations, the people respect each other and, despite the differences, or perhaps because of them, they can learn from each other’s ways of doing things.

In 2009 the Trustees decided to abolish the AGF, the main argument being: “… other organisations at both national and European levels are now carrying this work forward, and the need for a specific institution for this purpose is no longer so compelling.” (Anglo-German Foundation for the Study of Industrial Society,p.3).

British and German Comparisons Growing in Importance

I disagree with this conclusion. Some 40 years on, the reality is that the need for comparative analysis and discussion in relation to Britain, Germany and EU is greater than ever before and it is far from obvious which other institutions are carrying this work forward. I believe that the last Trustees of the AGF would probably be astounded at how dramatically things have evolved since their decision to end the institution.

A number of momentous developments are affecting the socio-economic dynamic in Europe:

  • The recession that started in 2009 has morphed into full-blown global financial and economic crises. The sovereign debt and the commercial banking crisis drag on and the prospect of deflation still looms large in Europe and elsewhere.
  • The Euro and the significant political and financial reform efforts connected with ensuring that it is kept alive has resulted in enormous fissures arising between Britain, Germany and the EU countries. These tensions are, if anything, increasing over time.
  • The political strains of keeping the Euro (and thus the EU) together, not least through various forms of austerity, have taken a massive toll on the credibility of the EU as well as the level of cooperation and trust between nation states, not least the German-British-French axis. This applies doubly so to the so-called „PIIGS“ (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) and the north Europeans, especially Germany, Holland, Austria, Finland, etc.
  • The UK and DE play a critical role in the future of the EU. Germany has become the undisputed albeit reluctant European hegemon, though the jury is still out as to how long this status will last. The decisions and even ruminations of Europe’s preeminent politician, Angela Merkel, reverberate throughout the EU. The same cannot be said of David Cameron (and still less François Hollande) to the same extent. Still, the UK’s role in EU, influential though diminished, remains critical to the future of the EU (independent Sterling, monetary and fiscal policy, insistence on EU reform and devolving powers to the nation state, challenge to the freedom of movement principle, possible in/out referendum on whether to remain in the EU in 2017, etc.).

These stresses and strains are part and parcel of what has become a full-blown crisis of the legitimacy of the “European Project”, as understood since it was formed in 1951 by the Treaty of Rome. A process whose ambition was to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible”  (The Shuman Declaration, 9 May 1950) was not and could never have anything short of an economic, social and political project, even if the discourse was principally economic.

This ambition was not merely a Franco-German idea. Immediately after WWII Sir Winston Churchill was one of the first to call for a “United States of Europe” (“We must build a kind of United States of Europe. In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living. ” 1946, p.1). The ambitions of the European Project have always been understood in its wider sense by its founder members, not least Germany, because of its particular historical specificities.  However, this ambition was and remains almost entirely an economic or trade issue in pragmatic Britain.

Longstanding concerns about the legitimacy of the EU, the steady erosion of the powers of the nation state (contrary to the principle of „subsidiarity“), the implications of principle of freedom of movement and indeed of the limits to the notion of „ever closer union“ in the EU have been forced to the foreground by the Euro crisis. These issues must be debated and tackled to maintain legitimacy with the people as well as the governments of all 28 EU nation states.

Britain and Germany at the leading edge of the EU

In this context, the British and German electorates have a critical role to play in the future of their respective countries, as well as that of the “European project”. They are at the nexus of the most important debates connected with the great issues confronting Europe, not least:

  • The future of the Euro and the EU (e.g. EU reform and in/out referendum in 2017).
  • The advent of anti-EU / Euro parties (e.g. the Ukip and AfD).
  • The solutions to the recession / depression, austerity and falling standards of living.
  • The debates on the future of housing, education, poverty, migration, health, ageing, etc.
  • But also the more fun things in life, such as sport and traditions such as Christmas.

Through the AngloDeutsch™ Blog, launched today, focuses mainly but not exclusively on Britain, Germany and the EU, it is hoped that a contribution can be made not only to better understanding in general but also to possible economic and social policy solutions and recommendations. This would be in keeping with the tradition of the now defunct AGF, even if the focus of a blog cannot be on rigorous academic research per se.

Focusing on the British and German perspectives has gained in salience. The target group of this blog is not the academic community, interest groups or indeed the politicians, though it is hoped that they too will get involved and/or be influenced by the AngloDeutsch™ Blog. The target group is anyone who has enough humility to be willing to learn about alternative ways of doing things, discuss different views and maybe implement some of the ideas, taking into consideration the uniqueness and specificity of every nation, region and locality. This aim is illustrated in the Box below.

The AngloDeutsch™ Blog aims to contribute to the policy process in Britain, Germany and the EU more generally by raising comparative economic, social and political issues and by stimulating an exchange of knowledge, views and experience between informed citizens in the two countries, as well as the EU.


To kick off the blog, the first few themes covered by the AngloDeutsch™ Blog will include the following:

  • The immigration debate.
  • Christmas traditions (since the blog is launched in December).
  • The housing crisis.
  • The future of the EU.

Other themes will follow as the blog evolves.

Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.anglodeutsch.eu