6 American Holiday Traditions Borrowed from Germany

Do you hang a Christmas pickle on your tree? Is there a reward for the person who finds the pickle? Do you think that it is an old German tradition?

Well, unfortunately, the German Christmas pickle is not Christmas fact but holiday fiction. However, with German-Americans making up one of the largest ancestry groups in the U.S., there are many German traditions that Americans have adopted throughout the years.

The Goethe Institut has launched Wunderbar Together: A Year of German American Friendship that celebrates the close friendship between the countries while sharing German heritage and culture and highlighting a few of the beloved holiday traditions Americans know and love who have their roots in German Christmas celebrations.

Christmas Trees

German immigrants brought the tradition of the Christmas tree to the U.S. in the 19th century, according to the Goethe Institut. In addition to the tree, ornaments and tinsel also became popular adornments for the tree in Europe before gaining fame in the U.S. when American dime-store magnate, F.W. Woolworth began importing them.

Classic Christmas Carols

Americans love to sing “O Christmas Tree” and “Silent Night,” which Germans know better as “O Tannenbaum” and “Stille Nacht.” “Handel’s Messiah” was written in German but originates in neighboring Austria.

Advent Calendars

President Eisenhower brought widespread popularity to the Christmas tradition of advent calendars when a photo of him opening one with his grandchildren ran in papers, but in Germany, the tradition dates back to the ninth century.

Christmas Markets

The much-loved tradition of the Christmas market originates in Germany as well. The first documented Christmas markets (known as Christkindlmarkets in German) were found in Munich, Bautzen (1384) and Frankfurt during the 14th century.

Today, Christmas markets are found throughout Germany and in many U.S. cities such as Chicago, where German-American ancestry runs deep.

Santa Claus

Yes, modern-day Santa Claus has German ancestry. German-American political cartoonist Thomas Nast created the jolly, full-figured, man in a red suit and bearded in a series of drawings for Harper’s Weekly during the Civil War era.

Now, in Nast’s hometown of Landau in der Pfalz, the city’s annual Christmas market, “the Thomas-Nast-Nikolausmarkt,” is named in his honor.

Gingerbread Houses

Anyone who has traveled to Germany during the holiday season knows that Germany is awash in gingerbread at Christmastime. Gingerbread houses originated in Germany during the 16th century and became associated with Christmas. It gained further popularity with the tales from the Brothers Grimm, including Hansel and Gretel. The recipe didn’t land in the U.S. until the 19th century.

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