Christian Höferle came to the United States with his family of six and a 6 1/2 years ago. After coming to the States, Christian said the family “adapted to many American traditions (but) Christmas we kept German.”
Höferle began his Christmas traditions in Bavaria in southeast Germany.
“My experience may be typical, but in other ways not typical,” he said of his Christmas childhood memories.
His family did not have a lot of time to prepare for the holiday because they were small business owners. He remembers going to the center of town on Christmas Eve to get one of the last remaining trees. However, Höferle explained that most German families begin decorating around Dec. 20. The Christmas tree then stays up until Jan. 6.
Now that Höferle has a family of his own, he and his wife, Brigitta, who is from southwest Germany, choose a different theme for their tree each year.
“We try to do what pleases the eye,” says Christian.
Christian said he and his family are not traditionalists when it comes to their Christmas tree. A more traditional German Christmas tree would have shapes made from straw, wooden toy ornaments and tinsel.
In the predominately Catholic town where Christian grew up Advent was also widely celebrated. Advent starts on Dec. 1. Families celebrate by giving children Advent calendars with little windows to be opened each day until Christmas Eve. The windows reveal small presents or candy.
“My wife usually does that (makes Advent calendars) for our children,” Christian said.
He said families also have an Advent wreath with four candles. One candle is lit each Sunday before Christmas.
In Germany, Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve. Christian said his celebration consists of a frugal family dinner— reminding them of what little Mary and Joseph had on the night Jesus was born — unwrapping presents and attending Christmas Eve mass at 11 p.m. or midnight. The church is decorated with candles.
Today, Christian enjoys the family togetherness of Christmas. They celebrate on Christmas Eve just as he did growing up. The family reads the Christmas story, eats and unwraps presents. Sometimes the members of the family who play instruments play Christmas music.
Although what children want for Christmas changes from year to year, many traditions in Germany have stayed the same, such as St. Nick’s Day.
“They still do it the way I experienced it as a child,” Christian said.
On the night of Dec. 5, children place a boot outside their door for St. Nick to fill. Christian emphasized the importance of the boot being clean.
“Its usually accompanied by explaining who St. Nikolaus was,” Christian said.
The next morning the boot children find their boot filled with small gifts, such as tangerines or nuts.
This is another tradition Christian has continued with his daughters, Amélie and Anna.
“I hope they will do it (Celebrate St. Nick’s Day) with their kids if they have them,” Christian said.
For Christian, traditions are about showing children how their parents celebrated. However, St. Nick is not the same as Santa Claus, though both characters stem from the same bishop and later Saint of the Catholic church, according to Christian.
“Christmas has nothing to do with Santa Claus in Germany,” Christian said.
Santa Claus is more of a British figure, according to Christian. However, Christian said the influence of popular American decorations is making the Santa Claus image more prevalent
The Höferle family has also kept their German tradition of baking Christmas cookies. Christian said his wife makes the dough and then gives the girls cookie cutters to shape the treats. Although Christian was unsure of the American name for this type of cookie, he said it has a lot of butter in it. Another popular Christmas treat in Germany is gingerbread.
“My grandmother makes probably the best cookies on the planet,” Christian said commenting that he misses them now that he has moved away.
Cookies are not the only thing Christian misses about Christmas in Germany. He also misses the Christmas market. This market offers something for every age as well as a way to spend time together. To keep warm, adults drink Glühwein (mulled wine) and eat gingerbread. Children also enjoy eating gingerbread at the Christmas markets. Christian said he would like to see a Christmas market in Chattanooga or Cleveland.
“It would be a good addition to local tradition,” Christian said.
Even those who are not of German ancestry may have celebrated Christmas with German influence and not even known it. For example, many traditional Christmas carols originated in Germany.