The bitterly cold, long nights can only mean one thing—winter has come.
We can all feel it in one way or another.
Your nose starts running every time you’re outside.
You’ve noticed that the daylight seems to fade all too soon.
But you don’t need a heavy coat or wool sweater to feel the unique warmth and expectant atmosphere that can only be brought on by the final month of the year.
And we all know why that is: Christmas and New Year’s Eve are rapidly approaching, and it’s a perfect time to supplement your diligent German language study with some holiday cheer!
The month of December is quite a big deal for the country of Germany, and there are special words and phrases you’ll want to know in order to properly appreciate all the festivities.
So we’ve compiled a quick list of expressions used for the holidays that spruce up winter in Germany, and you’ll want to check them out whether you’re studying from the comfort of your home or lucky enough to join the festivities in person!
But first, you may be wondering—how exactly do Christmas and New Year’s work in Germany?
How Christmas and New Year’s Are Celebrated in Germany
Both holidays are widely celebrated in the country. Christmas in particular is one that’s celebrated with much anticipation. The days leading up to Christmas are filled with wholesome festivity with plenty of feasting, a close observation of Advent and shopping in der Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market).
When it comes to gift-giving days, there are two major dates of importance: December 6th, which is Saint Nicholas Day, and December 24th, Christmas Eve. The former is tailored more to eager children waiting for little goodies from Saint Nicholas (while some are wary of his demonic counterpart, der Krampus, who’s on the lookout for the naughty ones of the bunch).
December 24th is the more official date of present exchange for everyone. All along the way, there are the cozy things you all know are essential for a real Christmas, including lovely Christmas songs and heartwarming Christmas movies.
New Year’s Eve is called Silvester in German, in honor of Pope Silvester who died on the very last day of December. Like many other countries, Germany has its own traditional style of celebrating the holiday with different regions having their own flavor of celebration.
Typical foods to eat are Sauerkraut, fondue and lentil soup. There’s also the standard New Year’s champagne, die Bowle (German punch bowl) and der Sekt (German sparkling wine).
Interestingly, there’s also a good deal of attention paid to more oracular and luck-predicting activities. There’s plenty of superstition to be followed before the new year starts. Certain objects such as clovers, pigs and horseshoes are considered lucky, and you’ll find stores loaded with little charms molded into their shapes.
A very popular activity to determine your luck next year is das Bleigiessen (lead pouring), in which Germans melt a bit of tin or lead and cool the molten metal—depending on the shape the metal takes, one can predict their fortune.
When the clock strikes midnight, you’ll be treated with plenty of fireworks, champagne-drinking and a loud toast to the new year. As January 1st rolls on, things quiet down as tired party-goers get their well-deserved rest.
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10 German Sayings to Make Your Christmas and New Year Even Merrier
1. Komm, Herr Jesu; sei du unser Gast; und segne, was du uns beschert hast.
Meaning: Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest and bless what you have bestowed.
This is a common table prayer that’s usable for most meals this season. With Christmas oftentimes being celebrated in a religious manner, this is one saying you’ll most likely hear at the start of a Christmas feast. There are several variations of this prayer, but those can differ on an individual basis.
2. Gesundheit, Glück und Erfolg!
Meaning: Health, happiness and success!
A common saying when you want your well-wishing to be heartfelt and wholesome. This one is good to use at a social gathering of friends and family when you want to add a bit of genuine formality to your New Year’s blessing.
Prost is a general drinking toast that can be used in many contexts, whether you’re sipping wine at a warm and reflective Christmas gathering or drinking hearty beer at Oktoberfest. It’s quite mandatory for any kind of social drinking, so you’ll be hearing plenty of this if you’re invited to a holiday party supplied with drinks.
4. Zum Wohl
Meaning: To health
Another toast that’s appropriate and common in more formal situations, but still a good substitute for Prost. It does have a bit of an elegant ring to it and would fit nicely when the party’s drink of choice is a bit fancier than beer.
5. Prosit Neujahr!
Meaning: Here’s to the New Year!
Prosit is only a letter shy from the more colloquial Prost, but it falls on the formal and “higher-class” end of the spectrum. You probably won’t hear it often except when it’s part of a few well-known, established sayings, Prosit Neujahr being one of them. Remember that this saying is used right when the New Year starts, and not a good deal of time before or after it.
One of the best things about the winter holidays is the sense of warmth and happiness you feel when you’re indoors, safe from the cold weather and surrounded by good company and fun. Gemütlichkeit is a great way to describe that lovely, cozy moment of peace and acceptance.
It can be used as a complimentary remark when something gives off a unique feeling of comfort, whether you’re sitting in a room with people lazily chatting and sipping drinks, seeing the streets decorated to the brim with lovely winter decorations or giving a toast to family and friends.
You can say something like:
Die Weihnachtsfeiern immer strahlt Gemütlichkeit aus. (Christmas celebrations always radiate coziness.)
You can also use the adjective form gemütlich (which by itself means “cozy”) in many contexts. For example, you can say:
Ich bin in gemütlicher Runde. (I am in good/cozy company.)
7. Vorfreude ist die schönste Freude.
Meaning: Anticipation is the greatest joy.
A saying that can perfectly describe a good deal of the holiday sentiment, whether you’re waiting eagerly for Christmas presents or preparing for the incoming year. Nothing really beats that swell of emotion as the cold weather hits and the festive mood takes over your surroundings.
This expression can be used in conversation as a remark for what may come or simply a personal reminder you say to yourself while basking in the season’s warmth.
8. Ich wünsche dir/euch/Ihnen ein braves Christkind.
Meaning: I wish you a well-behaved Christ child.
This may sound a little strange to an English speaker’s ears, but to wish someone a “well-behaved Christ child” is to wish good fortune and gifts for another’s Christmas. Alternatively, a bad-behaved Christ child would bring about a pretty sour December 24th.
Das Christkind is the traditional holiday gift-giver in Germany and other nearby European countries. Historically, the Christkind was created by Protestant Martin Luther in the 16th-17th century as a counter to the Catholic-based Saint Nicholas and was an attempt to put the Christmas focus back on infant Jesus Christ as the appropriate bearer of presents on his birth date.
Over time, the interpretation of the Christkind changed from baby Jesus to a little blonde-haired (and more feminine) angel instead, although you’ll see visual representations of both beings for Christmas.
The angel’s role is much the same as jolly Saint Nick—on December 24th, the Christkind drops off presents near the Christmas tree for excited children to collect.
Saint Nicholas Day still keeps Saint Nick in the German Christmas picture. For the most part, however, greater emphasis is put on December 24th with the Christkind. Recently, there’s also been a kind of cultural debate on the rise of the more secular Santa Claus (also known as der Weihnachtsmann, literally “the Christmas man”) against the Christkind.
Some communities see the growing popularity of the jolly old man as a threat to beloved tradition.
9. Einen Guten Rutsch
Meaning: A good slide
This strange saying is a special New Year’s greeting used before the new year actually starts. Rutsch was a friendly way of saying “trip” or “travel,” although the long-used saying Guten Rutsch as a New Year’s greeting has unclear origins.
One theory suggests that the saying may be a corruption of Yiddish, but the verdict is still up in the air. You can say the more literal Gutes Neues Jahr instead to express a similar sentiment, but wishing someone a “good slide” into the new year is just as commonly used.
10. Das ist Schnee von gestern.
Meaning: That is snow from yesterday.
This is a saying that can be used in non-holiday contexts but works quite well for the end of the year. It can have two meanings; the first being more like “That’s old news” and the second akin to “That’s water under the bridge.”
The latter definition makes the saying a good expression to use at the start of a fresh new year to suggest one let bygones be bygones. For example:
Es tut mir leid für allen Ärger, die ich Ihnen dieses Jahr bereitet habe.
(I’m sorry for all the trouble that I caused you this year.)
Das ist doch Schnee von gestern!
(That’s water under the bridge!)
With these fun sayings, you’ll never be at a loss for words this holiday season. Whether you’ll be celebrating the holidays at home or (if you’re fortunate enough!) in Germany itself, we hope you find good use for these expressions.
Frohe Feiertage (Happy holidays)!