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Christmas in Germany: a time for giving presents and helping others

In Germany, Christmas is the festival of love – and of presents, which is why Christmas means big business, too. But it is also the time for generous donations and committed relief actions.

In Germany, Christmas is the most important festival of the year. Preparations begin many weeks before; people bake Christmas pastries and biscuits and decorate their houses and apartments with fir-branches and candles. But not everyone is in a position to celebrate Christmas: Some are ill or alone, don’t have a place to live or rely on help. To make sure that these people can enjoy Christmas, too, many volunteers and professionals get involved in countless relief actions all over Germany. 

German Christmas markets

Nuremberg’s Christkindlmarkt and the Striezelmarkt in Dresden are the big names, but there are many other Christmas markets in Germany that are worth a visit.


Christmas is a time for contemplation

When the days grow shorter and darker and the weather gets colder, it is the time for people to move closer together: Meeting friends for late breakfasts, taking a walk with the family on Advent Sundays, all wrapped up warmly, having a snowball fight in the first snow followed by Christmas biscuits and hot chocolate – all these things make it especially enjoyable to spend time with friends and family before Christmas.

Christmas is the festival of love and it reminds us that we should be there for others, too. For Christians, it is the time to reflect on their religious roots. But even people who don’t consider themselves as religious often see Christmas as a time for contemplation on what truly counts in life.

Christmas is the festival of presents and spending money

Everyone wants to bring joy to their loved ones, and that is why huge amounts of money are spent on presents, Christmas decorations and feasts.

But there is a downside: Every year, around 30 million Christmas trees are felled, ten million geese slaughtered, millions of tons of waste created, and vast quantities of energy used up for Christmas lighting and Christmas roasts. Christmas has become a vast battle of consumerism.

Which means that Christmas is also a time for big business: For 2017, the German Retail Association expects a Christmas turnover of 94.5 billion Euro.

Christmas is a time for donations

Not everyone is in a position to celebrate Christmas. In Germany, too, there are more and more people in need of help. And the number of those who have no place to live has risen to record levels in 2017.

But the population’s willingness to help is also enormous: Especially in the run-up to Christmas, many people remember how fortunate they are. And they show solidarity with those who are not so well off – in Germany and in the rest of the world. That is why December is the most important month for donations: In 2016, the German people donated a total of 1.2 billion Euro. This is a new record.

Relief actions all over Germany

Giving money is not everything. Attention and caring are equally important. In many German cities, there are relief actions for people in need at Christmas.

One example is in Berlin:  At one of the city’s most beautiful hotels, homeless and needy people are entertained before Christmas. There is roast goose, music is played, and everybody gets a Christmas present – warm clothes, a sleeping bag or whatever else you might need if you have very little money or live on the street. German musician Frank Zander and his family have been organising this Christmas party for more than 20 years. And it’s a big celebration: Each year, 3,000 guests are invited.

In the town of Lindau on Lake Constance, a group of musical talents takes the Christmas message to people who can no longer provide for themselves: During the Advent period, students from the local music school visit a senior citizens’ residence. They play traditional Christmas songs like “Oh Tannenbaum” or “Alle Jahre wieder” and bring hours of delight to the people who live there.

In Bonn, there is a small-scale private initiative that helps those who live on the street or are poor. Once a month, they provide a hot lunch for destitute people. On the morning of Christmas Eve, the “Helfenden Helfer” (Helping helpers) provide an extra treat for the needy: clothes, shoes, soap, tissues and a chocolate Santa for everyone. The presents were donated by the city’s population as part of a special Christmas collection.

The Berlin “Kinderschutzengel” (Guardian angels for children) look after those who are in special need of a smile: For children, not being home for Christmas can be especially hard. That is why volunteers visit the children’s ward of the Helios Klinikum in Zehlendorf to hand out presents and make the little patients laugh.

Christmas worldwide

Christmas is not only celebrated in Germany, but in many places all over the world. But how do people in Peru, India or Thailand go about their celebrations?

Fairly traded Christmas decorations of the ecumenical Christmas action “Weihnachten weltweit” (Christmas worldwide) create a connection with far-away countries and give children an opportunity to do something to help people there. For example, a small family business in Lurin (Peru) produces Christmas stars made from recycled cardboard. Beside these simple stars from Peru, there are also shining baubles from India or unique angels from Thailand.

In Germany, these fair-trade Christmas decorations are often painted or decorated with ornamental gems by elementary school children. The children are told exciting stories about where the stars, baubles and angels come from, how they are made, how children of their age live in different countries and how they celebrate Christmas. And for the families in South America or Asia, selling these decorations is a useful source of income which they might use to give their children a good education.

This video explains the relief action “Weihnachten weltweit”, which children are invited to join in with (in German only).

Aid via the internet

The internet provides another simple way of doing good: You can, for example, buy school materials on an online portal to give them to pupils from poor families. This service is provided by the donations-site Betterplace.org, among others. Here, everyone can find a relief action that they think worthwhile: Aid organisations present their projects on the platform and give users an opportunity to donate for specific actions. Betterplace.org passes on donations to aid projects in all parts of the world. 

So, Christmas really is the festival of love

So, Christmas really has everything: beauty and contemplation, excess and thoughtlessness, but above all friendliness and humanity. And so, Christmas is a festival of love after all.

How do you celebrate Christmas? Are there special relief actions for the festival of love in your country, too? What could we do at Christmas to make our fellow human beings happy? Tell us about your experiences in the Community group “Christmas and New Year around the world”

Community group

Author: Sabine Giehle

December 2017

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