In Germany, the Christmas season begins with Advent. A wreath of evergreens with four red candles is placed in the house. One candle is lit on each Sunday before Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, 24th December, families go to church, then feast on a large dinner of roast goose or duck (stuffed with apples), “stollen” (Christmas bread) and marzipan candy. Prior to the evening feast, is the presentation of the tree. The Christmas tree, as we know it, originated in Germany. It has a mysterious magic for the young because they are not allowed to see it until Christmas Eve. While Father amuses children in another room, Mother brings out the Christmas tree and decorates it with apples, sweets, cookies, angels, tinsel and candles or lights. The presents are placed under the tree. When all is ready a bell is rung as a signal for the children to enter. Children believe that it’s Weihnachtsmann (Santa Claus) who brings them Christmas presents.
Christmas Eve is the main day when Germans exchange gifts with their families but on St. Nicholas’ Day (December 6th) “der Nikolaus” also brings some small gifts, such as sweets and chocolates, to the children. He comes in the night between the 5th and the 6th and puts the Christmas presents into the shoes of the children, who usually place them by their doors on the previous evening. In some regions of Germany, there is a character called “Knecht Ruprecht” who accompanies Nikolaus. He punishes the children who were bad and gives them a birch as a present.
At small work and school parties, secret gifts are often exchanged. A door is opened just wide enough for small gifts to be thrown into the room. The gifts are then passed around among the people until each person has the right one! It is thought to be bad luck to find out who sent each present.