December is one of the best months to travel to Germany. The country started many of the most beloved Christmas traditions and its many Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas markets), ice rinks, and delicious Christmas foods and sweets set the scene for a magical holiday.
Pack very warm clothes and enjoy Germany's holiday season with the best Christmas events and spectacular New Year's Eve celebration. Here are the best events and festivals in Germany in December.
German Christmas markets are a wonderful part of the holiday tradition. Almost every German city celebrates the season with a least one Christmas market (Berlin is home to at least 70 different Christmas market). Drink some glühwein while perusing handmade goods and feel the Christmas spirit.
German Weihnachtsmärkte usually start on the the last weekend of November and last at least until Christmas Day, and sometimes into early January.
When: last weekend of November - end of December/early January
Where: Throughout Germany
Since the 14th century, Hamburg celebrates DOM, one of the largest open-air fun fairs in the North of Germany. Bring the whole family for ferries wheels, roller coasters, concerts, and fireworks every Friday.
If you miss this winter version of the festival, there are two others during the rest of the year.
When: November 9th - December 9th, 2018
Where: Heiligengeistfeld, Hamburg
Christmas is a big deal in Germany. But all this Christmas mania is forgetting another important holiday, Hanukkah. This sacred Jewish holiday is known as the "Festival of Lights" and is especially poignant in Germany. The Jewish community is still just a fraction of the size it was prior to World War II, but its rebirth shows a growing vibrancy and assertiveness.
To commemorate the holiday in the capital of Germany, the largest menorah in Europe is lit in front of the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) on the first night of Hanukkah. There are a variety of society events, such as the Grand Hyatt Berlin's exclusive Hanukkah Ball. The website chabad.org can help you find events in your area.
When: December 2nd - 10th, 2018
Sankt Nikolaus (Saint Nicholas) is Santa Claus in Germany and rather than making an appearance on Christmas Eve, he comes during the night of December 5. He looks like what most Americans think of as Father Christmas with a big 'ole belly and jolly beard, but may also appear in the garb of a bishop.
Good little boys and girls clean their boots (or a special Nikolaus-stiefel / Nikolaus boot) in preparation and leave them outside their door. Old Saint Nick visits each house and leaves little gifts like oranges and nuts and (of course) some chocolates tucked into the shoes.
Naughty children get a stick (eine rute) in their boot, and possibly a visit from Knecht Ruprecht who shakes a bag of ashes at the bad kids. His Austrian counterpart of Krampus is a terrifying horned creature who will carry deserving children back to his lair. December 5th is also his night with Krampusnacht featuring dozens of Krampus on parade before presumably carrying off the children.
When: December 5th and 6th
If you have a sweet tooth, don't miss the largest chocolate festival in Germany. It is held in Tübingen, a traditional university town in the southwest of Germany and admission is free.
Visit the open-air market in the Old Town, which offers chocolate delicacies from around the world, and indulge in mouthwatering activities like chocolate-making classes, chocolate massages, tasting sessions, and chocolate art exhibitions.
When: December 5th to 9th, 2018
Dresden is the country's oldest Christmas Market and it celebrates Germany's famous Christmas fruitcake with a special Stollen Festival. Expect no less than the world's biggest Christmas cake, weighing over 4 tons and measuring 13 feet in length.
Before sampling a piece of the super-stollen filled with nuts, candied orange peel and spices, watch the traditional procession of hundreds of pastry chefs carrying the giant cake. And buy a smaller loaf to take home.
When: Saturday before the second Sunday of Advent
Where: Dresden's Christmas Market
The highlight of the German holiday season is Holy Eve on December 24th. Shops and offices close early that day (around noon or 2 pm), the Christmas tree at home is illuminated, presents are opened, and many people visit a Christmas mass. Some families wait for this day to do everything from buying the tree to decorating to presents.
December 25th and 26th are both federal holidays. German shops are closed, and families concentrate on the important things in life; visiting friends, relaxing, watching a Christmas movie, and eating hearty German food. Many Christmas markets are open on the 25th and that is a fun activity for this joyous day.
For the week between Christmas and New Years, things start to return back to normal but stay fairly quiet. Until New Years that is....
When: December 24th - 26th
New Year's Eve Party in Berlin
Silvester (New Year's Eve) in Germany is a fiery affair. Fireworks are suddenly on sale everywhere from the grocery store to roadside stands and small explosions lead up to the main event on the 31st. Watch "Dinner for One" and participate in all of the odd German New Years traditions, or join one of the many parties.
Berlin throws one of the biggest open-air parties in the world. Shake off the old year and celebrate Silvester German style at the Brandenburg Gate, the national symbol of Germany. You can celebrate all night long with music, dancing, and spectacular fireworks.
When: December 31
Where: Brandenburg Gate, Berlin