Christmas is, without a doubt, the most enchanting time of year.
There’s something so comforting about it.
Curling up under a warm blanket with a piping hot drink.
Looking at a lit Christmas tree in the corner of the room.
Maybe there’s some Christmas music playing in the background, and the scent of fresh baked cookies is wafting in from the kitchen.
It’s enough to soften the scroogiest Scrooge and warm the grinchiest Grinch.
That being said, I come from California, so I’ve never really known anything other than a relatively mild, temperate Christmas. A white Christmas is something I only ever dreamed of until I moved to Germany. Seeing the decorations and the blankets of snow is something I’ll never forget.
Germans take most things pretty seriously, and Christmas is no exception. They’re the reason we have Christmas trees, Kris Kringle and Christmas markets, among countless other traditions. If you’re serious about learning German, this is something you should take seriously, too!
So before we get into the phrases, I’d like to get you in the spirit of the season and give you an idea of what a German Christmas is like.
Christmas in Germany and the Christkindlesmarkt
One of the most important Christmas traditions in Germany is the Christmas market.
I live in Nuremberg, and if you know anything about the city, you probably know that it was the site of the Nazi rally grounds and the Nuremberg Trials. What you likely didn’t know, however, is that it’s also home to the largest Christkindlesmarkt, or Christmas market, in Germany!
The Franconia region of Germany (which includes Nuremberg) is steeped in history, and the whole vibe of the city changes as soon as the Christkindlesmarkt opens. The air feels crisper, the city is a little livelier and the people all the more cheerful.
At the Hauptmarkt, or market center, you’ll be able to chow down on a drei im Weckla, which is Fränkisch, or Franconian (a regional dialect), for three roasted Nuremberg-style bratwursts in a bun, served with your choice of ketchup or Senf, which means mustard. The smell of the sausages cuts through the air and is enough to make your mouth water.
Franconia is also home to Lebkuchen, which is a cousin of gingerbread that’s been manufactured in the area for centuries. In Nuremberg and the surrounding areas, Lebkuchen is typically available year-round, and they take it pretty seriously–so seriously that the government regulates it.
You’ll probably want something to drink to wash down all of the food you’ll be eating. Luckily for you, stands on practically every corner of the Christkindlesmarkt peddle hot (and boozy) drinks, which are especially good for Germany’s cold winters. So grab a mug of Glühwein, Glögg (types of mulled wine) or Eierpunsch, or as we like to call it, eggnog, and embrace the holiday spirit!
In addition to food and drinks, you’ll also see many stalls and merchants selling Kunsthandwerke, or artisan crafts, ranging from jewelry to intricate wood carvings. Artists come from all over the world to sell their artwork at the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt, so to be able to see it all firsthand is something special.
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Even if you don’t get a chance to visit the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt, you at least have a better idea of what to expect from your local Christmas market (and you’ve got some important holiday food vocabulary). Now let’s learn some German Christmas phrases!
15 German Christmas Phrases for a Holly, Jolly, Gingerbready Christmas
Start with season’s greetings
Let’s start with some typical Christmas greetings:
Frohe/Fröhliche Weihnachten — Merry Christmas
Ein Frohes Fest!/Schöne Feiertage! — Happy holidays!
Alles Gute zum Neuen Jahr — Best wishes for the new year
You’d use these phrases the exact same way you would in English, for example when you’re passing a person in the street or welcoming someone into your home. You can also use them as parting phrases as well as when you’re at the Christmas markets.
Spread joy to the world
Christmas is also a time to take a step back and reflect on our blessings in life, so here are a few phrases to help you out with that:
Frieden auf Erden — Peace on Earth
Weihnachtszeit ist Erinnerungszeit — Christmas is a time to remember
Mögen sich all deine Wünsche erfüllen — May all your wishes come true
Ich möchte dir einen lieben Nikolausgrüß überreichen — I wish to give you a loving Nicholas greeting
Celebrating Sankt Nikolaus Tag, or Saint Nicholas Day, is much more common in southern Germany than it is in the north, in part due to the fact that the south is more religious.
On the eve of Sankt Nikolaus Tag, children leave their shoes outside their door, where they’ll receive treats if they’ve been good and a twig or coal if they haven’t. This is also where the legend of the Krampus, a horned creature who kidnaps naughty children in his sack, comes from.
Make a list and checking it twice
While we’re on the topic of treats and giving gifts, here are some phrases in case you want to give your German friends a present:
Was wünschst dir zu Weihnachten? Ich wünsche mir zu Weihnachten… — What do you want for Christmas? I want … for Christmas
Ich habe ein Geschenk für dich/Danke für das Geschenk — I have a gift for you/Thank you for the gift
Germans complete their gift exchange on Christmas Eve, rather than on Christmas Day. Other things that German families may do to celebrate on Christmas Eve include a holiday dinner, decorating the Christmas tree and attending Mass.
Give your heart to someone special
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without family and friends, so here are a few ways to tell the important people in your life how much they matter:
Du machst Weihnachten festlicher — You make Christmas merrier
Ich habe dich lieb/Ich liebe dich — I love you
There’s a pretty significant difference between ich habe dich lieb and ich liebe dich. They both translate to “I love you,” but ich habe dich lieb is more familial love, whereas ich liebe dich is more romantic.
Finally, how else better to show some love than:
Küssen sich unter dem Mistelzweig — Kissing under the mistletoe
Send out Christmas cards
So you have some basic phrases above, but sometimes they just aren’t enough. Here are some longer (and prettier) German phrases in case you want to send someone a personal Christmas greeting:
An Weihnachten werden Wünsche wahr! Darum wünsche ich dir Glück, Gesundheit, Zufriedenheit und ein erfolgreiches neues Jahr — On Christmas, wishes come true! I wish you happiness, health, satisfaction and a successful New Year!
Ich wünsche dir/euch frohe Festtage, Zeit zur Entspannung, und viele Lichtblicke im kommenden Jahr. — I wish you happy holidays, time to relax and many highlights in the coming year!
Das größte Geschenk zum Weihnachtsfest tragen wir bereits in unseren Herzen! Liebe und Mitgefühl sind unbezahlbar und unser größtes Gut. Wir wünschen dir und deiner Familie liebevolle und friedliche Weihnachten! — The greatest Christmas gift is already in our hearts! Love and compassion are priceless and our greatest good. We wish you and your family a lovely and happy Christmas!
Sending Christmas cards is a common practice in Germany, and you can use this website to look for other messages for your Christmas cards. You can then personalize and ship those cards using services such as Postable.
Stuff your stocking with some extra German Christmas vocabulary
Here are some extra words that you’re likely to encounter in a German-speaking country during Christmas time:
das Christkindl — the Christ child (this is where Kris Kringle comes from)
der Christbaum/Tannenbaum/Weihnachtsbaum — Christmas tree
der Heiligabend — Christmas Eve
der Kranz — wreath
das Weihnachtslied — Christmas carol
der Weihnachtsmann — Santa
die Weisen — Three wise men
There you have it, twelve phrases (and some extra goodies) that will help you enjoy a German Christmas!
Enjoy the season and we wish you ein Frohes Fest!