Come Explore and Learn with us: Travel, Adventure, Classic Cars, Life, Health, Recipes, and Tips

December 21, 2022

Naughty or Nice - Memories of Advent Season in Northern Germany

As a youngster growing up in Northern Germany, the pre-Christmas time or the Advent season was so exciting.  The word Advent stems from the Latin word “adventus” and translates to “coming, or arrival”.  It is a time of anticipated waiting and preparation for the celebration of the arrival of the Christ Child and Christmas.  

Advent Calendar

For us children, the advent season would really start with a purposeful visit from my Grandmother in the last week of November.  During this visit, my Grandmother, who my parents lovingly nicknamed “Bonbon Oma” (Candy Grandma), would give each of us children our own Advent calendar.  It was to help us count down the days until Santa Claus would come to visit us on Christmas Eve.  

The method, or madness, behind this kind of calendar, is as follows.  The calendar, like the one pictured below, has little doors marked with numbers 1 through 24.  These numbers were scattered throughout the picture, so you had to hunt to identify the proper numbered door.  Behind each numbered door on the calendar was a delicious little chocolate treat. 

Starting on December 1, a child would carefully pry open door number 1, and discover the treat and its picture behind it.  For instance, behind door number 1 you might find a piece of chocolate shaped like a drum.  Once the chocolate was removed, you would discover a picture of a drum behind it.  Of course, after enjoying the treat, you would leave door number 1 open.  The next day, on December 2, you would try to find door number 2.  This door might reveal a little chocolate angel, with the picture of an angel behind it.  This continued daily, until December 24, when all the doors were opened.  That is the magic day when Santa Claus would come to visit us!

Bonbon Oma cautioned us, though, to only open one door on each day!  She also warned us to behave and not cheat, because Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus (der Weihnachtsmann) would be watching us.  Both would know if we cheated or were naughty.  We were told that Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus kept a list of all the naughty and nice children and that only the nice children would receive any treats and gifts.

Once all the doors were opened, and each chocolate had been enjoyed, my mother would turn the advent calendar over.  With a pair of scissors, she would carefully cut the cardboard backing to create a fold-out stand.  She would then stand up the calendar and place it on the window sill.  The daylight would shine through each of the opened doors, illuminating the picture behind each door.  And at night, she would place a lit candle behind the calendar.  Oh, it was so beautiful, with all the lit-up windows, ready to announce the arrival of Santa Claus!  

A word of caution, though, not to try this before all the chocolates are enjoyed, as not to melt the chocolates!

Nikolaustag or Saint Nicholas Day (December 6) 

On December 5th, we kids were busy for most of the day polishing our shoes. It was a big production:  all the shoes of the household would end up with a perfect cleaning and polish.  Before going to bed, we would leave a pair of spit-shined and polished shoes in front of our bedroom door.  You see, if you were a good child, Saint Nicholas would stop by overnight and fill them with treats.  Of course, if you were naughty, his assistant Knecht Ruprecht would leave a “Rute” (a rod for spanking, or actually some twigs tied together).  Talk about instilling fear into a young child!

The next morning on December 6, we would slowly open our bedroom door with much anticipation to see, what Saint Nicholas had left in our shoes.  What excitement!  Our shoes would be filled and overflowing with Christmas cookies and chocolates, but also apples, oranges, mandarins, walnuts, and hazelnuts.  

One year, my older brother got greedy.  He figured that Saint Nicholas would leave him more than my baby brother and me if he simply would put out his largest pair of footwear.  So, in the night, he climbed out of bed and switched out his polished shoes for his big rain boots.  To his dismay the next morning, he found out the hard way, that Bonbon Oma was right: Saint Nicholas sees everything!  Rather than being filled with treats, a “Rute” tied up with a beautiful red ribbon that held a note saying “for a naughty boy” was sticking out of his rain boots.

Oh, did he cry!  My baby brother and I felt really bad for him.  To console him and cheer him up, we decided to share our loot with him.  I suppose this benevolent gesture was also for insurance. We wanted to make sure, that Saint Nicholas would see our good deed, and tell Santa Claus so that our name should be on the list of the good kids!

Have you noticed, that Western Christian countries have different ways of celebrating Saint Nicholas Day?  To learn more about the Saint Nicholas Day traditions (or the Feast of Saint Nicholas), please click here.

I also find it interesting that in Mexico, children will receive treats in their shoes on Epiphany, January 6, with the Three Wise Men bringing the gifts. My friend Baja Charlie shared these traditions, to read more about it, please click here. 

Adventskranz (Advent wreath)

Another Northern German custom we observed was to make a wreath out of fresh pine branches for the festive season.  We would tie the pine branches together with thin wire to create the wreath.  Then we would decorate it with red ribbons, pine cones, and 4 red candles.  The wreath would be a centerpiece on our living room table and fill the air with a Christmas aroma.  

Each Advent Sunday evening, (these are the four Sundays before Christmas), our family would gather around the living room table and we would light a new candle.  On the first Advent Sunday one candle would be lit, on the second Advent Sunday two would be lit, and so on.  After the lighting of the candle or candles, our family would sing Christmas carols.  We children would practice reciting poems of the season.  Then we would snack on the delicious Christmas cookies Mom had baked and enjoy some of the treats that Saint Nicholas had left us, like apples, oranges, mandarins, walnuts, and hazelnuts.  And our parents would tell us children about the Christmas story and meaning of Christmas.

Christmas Eve (December 24)

We children could hardly wait for Santa Claus (der Weihnachtsmann) to come and visit on Christmas Eve.  In the late afternoon, my mother would insist that we go to bed for an afternoon nap.  If we did not sleep, Santa would not stop by our house.  

While we were upstairs napping, our house would fill with guests.  My grandparents, aunts, and uncles would arrive with the Christmas tree. All of the adults would then decorate the Christmas tree in the living room.  

Unlike in the United States, where many people already purchase and decorate their Christmas tree for Thanksgiving, ours did not appear until Christmas Eve.  We children were told, that the Christ Child had brought it.  Our tree was decorated with all sorts of tiny handmade Christmas ornaments and lots of little Christmas angels.  

A large star adorned the top of the tree.  Single strands of tinsel (or as we knew it as Lametta) would be draped over the branches, to reflect the light of the candles.  Yes, candles.  Back then, we had real candles on our tree.

When everything was set up, my mother would come upstairs to wake us up.  We children would get dressed in our finest Sunday clothes.  As we came down the stairs, we were surprised and excited to see all the relatives!  All of a sudden, there was a loud knock on the door.  Grandma told my older brother to help out and see who was at the door.

My older brother went to the front door and opened it.  Through the open door, I could see Santa Claus with his sled with a huge burlap sack filled with presents wrapped in colorful paper.  Next, I heard a blood-curdling scream.  Then saw my brother dart past me, and hide under the kitchen table that had been draped with a festive table cloth.  What was going on?  

Just then, through the open door came Santa Claus, wearing a red suit with white trim.  Over his one shoulder, he carried the large burlap sack overflowing with presents.  In the other hand, he carried a big book.  I figured it was the very same book Bonbon Oma that told us about.  It certainly would contain the names of all the good and the naughty children.  

Santa asked me my name and whether I learned my Christmas poem by heart.  He asked me to recite it now.  Here was my favorite poem:

Denkt euch, ich habe das Christkind gesehen!
Es kam aus dem Walde, das Mützchen voll Schnee,

mit rotgefrorenem Näschen.
Die kleinen Hände taten ihm weh,

denn es trug einen Sack, der war gar schwer,
schleppte und polterte hinter ihm her.

Was drin war, möchtet ihr wissen?
Ihre Naseweise, ihr Schelmenpack -

denkt ihr, er wäre offen der Sack?
Zugebunden bis oben hin!

Doch war gewiss etwas Schönes drin!
Es roch so nach Äpfeln und Nüssen!

It translates as: 

Imagine, I saw the Christ Child!
It came from the forest, its little cap covered with snow,

with a red-frozen tiny nose.
His little hands were hurting him

because he was carrying a sack, that was quite heavy,
dragging and rumbling behind him.

What was inside, you want to know?
You nosey ones, you rascals -

do you think, the sack was open?
Tied up all the way to the top!

But certainly something beautiful was inside it!
It smelled like apples and nuts!

As I recited my poem to him, he leafed through the big book and found my name.  “Yes, you were a good little girl.  I see here, that you even shared your Saint Nicholas treats with your naughty brother.” Then he handed me a big, beautifully wrapped package, and told me to go ahead and open it.  As I unwrapped my present, my eyes grew wide open: it contained the most beautiful doll I had ever seen.  "Thank you, Weihnachtsmann! " 

My brother had heard Santa’s “naughty boy” comment, and could not be coaxed out from under the kitchen table.  Meanwhile, I hugged Santa Claus and thanked him.  “But what about my older brother?”  I asked, “he’s been much better and nicer to me since he received the Rute.  Did you bring him something?”  - - “I did, but I need to have him recite his poem too.”

My brother still could not be coaxed out from under the table.  Between sobs and tears, he recited his poem, though, and this is what we heard:

Lieber, guter Weihnachtsmann,
zieh die langen Stiefel an,
kämme deinen weißen Bart,
mach' dich auf die Weihnachtsfahrt.

Komm' doch auch in unser Haus,

packe die Geschenke aus.

Ach, erst das Sprüchlein wolltest du?

Ja, ich kann es, hör mal zu:

Lieber, guter Weihnachtsmann,

guck mich nicht so böse an.
Stecke deine Rute ein,
will auch immer artig sein!

Here is the translation:

Dear, kind Santa Claus,
put on your long boots,
comb your white beard,
get ready for the Christmas trip.

Come to our house too,
Unpack the presents.
Oh, you wanted the little poem first?
Yes, I know one, listen:

Dear, kind Santa Claus,
don't look at me so angry.
Put your rod back
I will always be good!

Santa seemed satisfied and left my brother’s present under the Christmas tree to discover later.

In the meantime, my 2-year-old baby brother was crawling on the floor towards Santa Claus.  He kept pointing and saying: “big boots, big boots!”  From his vantage point, that’s really all he could see of Santa Claus.  “Big boots, big boots!” – this was not exactly a Christmas poem, but to the amusement of the adults, it was sufficient to result in him getting a present too from Santa.

Santa then handed out presents to everyone else, although I was puzzled, why the adults did not have to recite a poem.  Next, we all sang Christmas carols and the adults enjoyed drinking a toast of Champagne with Santa.  He said farewell all too soon, as he had to make deliveries to other children in the neighborhood.

The evening ended with a family feast of Christmas goose stuffed with apples, red cabbage, gravy, and potatoes, followed by Christmas Stollen, Lebkuchen, and Christmas cookies.

Some Differences in Christmas Celebrations: Northern Germany versus North America

Unlike in the United States, where Christmas trees are typically put up and decorated on Thanksgiving, or shortly thereafter, and then taken down after Christmas or latest by New Year's Eve, in Northern Germany our decorated Christmas tree remained in the living room until at least the end of January.  If you look at it, I suppose the tree remained up for about the same number of days, just shifted by a month.  

Another difference in celebrating Christmas, North American children are told that Santa Claus comes from the North Pole on the night of December 24 with his sleigh pulled by reindeer as they magically fly across the sky.  He would park his sleigh on your roof, and then magically slide down your chimney to leave the presents for the children.  Children would awaken on Christmas Day, December 25, and open their presents in the morning.  

In Northern Germany, Santa Claus walks through the woods, pulling the sleigh himself, and then comes to the front door of your house to deliver the presents.  And you had better be prepared to recite a poem to Santa!

One more difference is that American children hang a special Christmas stocking with their name on it on the fireplace.  Santa fills it with candies and small gifts when he arrives during the night of December 24.  The Northern German equivalent is the December 6 Saint Nicholas Day custom of treats in your shoes.


May you have a blessed Advent and Festive Season this year!


Please feel free to leave a comment below to share your family's holiday traditions.


I invite you to subscribe to my blog by completing the "CONTACT US" form and entering "subscribe" in the message body. Feel free to refer your family, friends, and associates to my blog.  You may leave me your comments in the comment section.  However, any comments that contain links to other websites or are abusive will not be posted.

Thank you.


  1. Dear up and away, it was so touching to see how you were explaining our customs to the world. Thank you!

  2. Thank you, Claudia in Hamburg, for your sweet note. Sharing our customs is the best way to open the lines of communication with strangers and create building blocks for lasting friendships.

  3. Thanks for sharing the German holiday traditions you grew up with. I love the Christmas season and it was so interesting to read the differences between how its celebrated in North America and Germany. Sounds like you had a wonderful childhood :)

  4. Thank you, Stephanie. What child, and adult, does not love Christmas? Good memories!

  5. Great job, Tov and very interesting. I do question the part about you being a good girl though. 😉 I grew up in the States with Dutch traditions from my mother's side. Before any gifts were allowed to be opened, we all needed to sing a specific song in Dutch thanking Santa for bringing us gifts. This tradition still continues every year and every generation. Merry Christmas and big hugs.❤💚 Pam

  6. Thank you, Pam, for your sweet note. Although our origins are so different, I marvel once more at the similarities of our families' customs. No matter what differences or similarities we share, the bond of our friendship keeps growing. Merry Christmas, big hugs and sending you and your family love, peace and blessings.

  7. It amazes me the similarities and differences we take with us in tradition and where it stems from. I'm not very old, but I can remember a time where my Uncle Joe, would insist we clean this tasseled carpet and make sure each end was straight, then clean out our shoes. I thought it always weird, and he never explained. I think it stemmed from his time as a youth and passing that tradition on to us.

    1. Oh yes, those tasseled carpet ends! You just brought back memories. Every time we came to visit my grandmother, she ordered us kids get down on our hands and knees and with a special "carpet rake", we had to tidy up and straighten those carpet ends. Her explanation to us little ones was that she did not want the guests who arrived later think she was a poor housekeeper.

  8. I am delighted to receive your comments. As a courtesy, I am republishing them, however, in accordance with the policies of this site the unauthorized imbedded links have been deleted.
    Thank you.

    From "Waqas", location unknown:
    “Wow i can say that this is another great article as expected of this blog. Bookmarked this site...”


Please note, that comments with embedded links will not be approved for posting.