Being a German, but living with English, French and Canadian flat mates in London I noticed again how different Christmas traditions are - even across Christian countries in the northern hemisphere. At the end of November or early December the "Adventszeit" starts in Germany. Actually the last 4 weeks before Christmas are the beginning of the Western liturgical year and called "Advent" in most Christian churches, but in the UK nobody really uses that word.
It is when you start seeing "Adventskraenze" in the average German family - no matter if they are religious or not. It is a wreath of branches from different fir trees or conifers. They have 4 candles one for each week of Advent. In the first week you can light one candle (like on the picture), in the second week two, then three and form the 4th Sunday in Advent and all the time through christmas you will light all four candles. If you take care you can see the same thing in Anglican churches and some churches in the US.
The other event that is very important to German families is "Nikolaus". It is apparently the origin for the American
Santa Claus, though by now very different and it is not on the 24th. Children will clean their shoes on the 5th of December and leave them over night in front of the door. By the 6th Saint Nikolaus will have brought some chocolate, nuts and oranges or even bigger presents. Like with Santa Claus, it's hard to catch him and its mostly is the parents who have to do his job.
At school or in clubs in December you'll find parents dressed up as Nikolaus and "Knecht Ruprecht". They visit the children and read from their books all the good and bad things that the kids have done in that year. The "good kids" will get praise and presents from Nikolaus and the bad ones will be birched – nowadays rather symbolical – by Knecht Ruprecht.
If you don't live at the same place like your grandparents or parents, "Adventspäckchen" are also very common. It is parcels with goodies, sweets, socks or other small presents. I got one from my parents, thanks a lot! You can see the parcel and me singing a christmas carol as part of our contest. If you also got christmas cards or parcels record your thank you message and upload it, you might win a camera. If you want to sing in German, go here to look up some original Christmas carol texts (there is the melodies as well).
Finally, a decorated christmas tree can also be found in living rooms of most German families, probably the strongest commonality to US and UK. Enjoy Christmas time with your family! And show your parents how to use MyHeritage, so you can easily keep them updated with some photos in the new year.
Adventskranz Image courtesy Noema