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Friday, March 05, 2021
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In this annotated glossary, you’ll find vocabulary and facts related to the Christmas celebration and Christmas customs in German-speaking Europe and in North America!


adj. (adjective), adv. (adverb), , f. (feminine), lit. (literary), m. (masculine), n. (noun), pl. (plural), sl. (slang), v. (verb)


Advent, der Advent
Adventskalender, der (-) Advent calendar

An Advent Calendar

Advent (Latin for "arrival, coming") is the four-week period leading up to Christmas. In German-speaking countries and most of Europe the first Advent weekend is the traditional beginning of the Christmas season when open-air Christmas markets (Christkindlmärkte) appear in many cities, the most famous ones being those in Nuremberg and Vienna. Most stores and shops in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are open weekends and evenings during Advent. - In Austria the 's' is often dropped in Advent-words (as in Adventzeit or Adventkalender).

 Adventskranz, der Advent wreath
Adventszeit, die Advent season


Barbarazweig, der "Barbara branch/twig" - A pre-Christmas custom celebrated in Catholic regions on Dec. 4th.

Barbarazweig is a winter custom usually involving cherry tree twigs. It is celebrated in Catholic regions on Dec. 4th, the traditional feast day of St. Barbara (Barbaratag).

Basler Brunsli (pl.) Basel chocolate balls - A sweet confection made with chocolate, almonds, and hazelnut; a Swiss Christmas treat.
Baumkuchen, der Baumkuchen ("tree cake") is a layered cake whose interior resembles Christmas tree rings when cut.
die Beleuchtung, die lighting
  die Außenbeleuchtung outdoor lighting
Bescherung, die gift giving, exchange of presents

Bescherung - Two common German idioms are based on this word: (1) "Da haben wir die Bescherung." = "I told you so!"/"What did I tell you!" (2) "Das ist ja eine schöne Bescherung!" = "This is a fine mess!"

Bibel, die Bible
Bonbon, das/der (-s) candy, sweets


Chor, der choir, chorus
Christbaum, der Christmas tree

The first Christmas tree to decorate the inside of the White House was put up by US President Franklin Pierce in 1856. (German immigrants brought the custom to America.) In England Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert (1819-1861) of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, helped popularize the Christmas tree and other German Christmas customs.

Christkindl, das the Christkindl ("Christ child"), an angel-like figure with golden hair who brings gifts

The term "Kris Kringle" (for Santa) is a corruption of Christkindl. The word came into American English via the Pennsylvania Germans, whose neighbors misunderstood the German word for the bringer of gifts. With the passage of time, Santa Claus (from Dutch Sinterclaas) and Kris Kringle became synonymous. The Austrian town of Christkindl bei Steyr is a popular Christmas post office, an Austrian "North Pole."

Christkindlesmarkt, der (-märkte) Christmas market
Christmette, die/die Mitternachtsmette, die midnight mass
Christstollen, der Christmas bread/cake, fruit cake
C+M+B traditional blessing inscription over the entrance door of houses in German-speaking Europe representing the name of the Wise Men or Magi (Caspar, Melchior, Balthasar), usually with the year: "20+C+M+B+11" (sometimes "K+M+B" for Kaspar)


dekorieren to decorate
Dreikönigsfest, das Feast of the Three Kings (Wise Men, Jan. 6), Epiphany
Dreikönigstag, der Epiphany (Jan. 6), Feast of the Three Kings (Wise Men)

January 6, the end of the "12 days of Christmas" and the traditional date of the arrival of the Magi, or Wise Men ("Three Kings" - "Drei Könige") at the manger, is also the date for Christmas in the Eastern Orthodox Church and an important Christmas observance in Spain and Latin America (Los Reyes Magos).

Dresdner Weihnachtsstollen Dresden Christmas [fruit] bread/loaf


Eierlikör, der eggnog (Eierlikör is similar to, but not the same as eggnog)
Eis, das ice
Eis-Lametta, das icicle (tinsel)
Eislaufen, das ice skating
Eiszapfen, der (-) icicle(s)
Engel, der (-) angel
erklingen/klingeln to ring (bells)


Flitter, der/Lametta, das tinsel
Freut euch! Freue dich! Rejoice!
Friede auf Erden! Peace on Earth!
Fröhliche Weihnachten!, Frohe Weihnachten! Merry Christmas! Happy Christmas!


Gebäck, das baked goods, pastry
Geburt Christi, die birth of Christ, the nativity
Geschenk, das (-e) gift, present

Caution! The German word das Gift means "poison." If you are mailing a present to German Europe, you may wish to mark it with the German word Geschenk, in addition to "gift."

Girlande, die (-n) garland
Glaskugel, die (-n) glass ball (ornament)
Glocke, die bell
Glöckchen, das little bell
Glühwein, der ("glow wine") hot mulled, spiced wine
Gurke, die cucumber
  saure Gurke pickle


Heiland, der/Retter, der (the) Savior
Heiligabend, der Christmas Eve
Heiligen Drei Könige, die/Weisen, die The (Three) Wise Men, Three Kings, Magi
heilig (adj.) holy
Hirt, der (-en) shepherd


Jesus, der (YEA-zoos) Jesus
Jesulein, das Baby Jesus


Kamin, der fireplace
Karpfen, der (-) carp

Carp is a traditional Christmas or New Year's delicacy in many parts of Germany.

Kekse, Kipferln, Plätzchen (pl.) cookies
Kerze, die (-n) candle(s)
  elektrische Kerzen electric candles, Christmas lights

Candles, with their light and warmth, have long been used in winter celebrations as symbols of the sun in the dark of winter. The Christians later adopted candles as their own symbol of the "Light of the World." Candles also play an important role in the eight-day Jewish "Festival of Lights" Hanukkah celebration.

Kipferl, das (-n) Kipferl - An Austrian Christmas cookie. See: vanilla crescents Vanillekipferln
Kletzenbrot, das fruit bread, Christmas bread (an Alpine rye bread containing dried pears, Kletzen, and various spices)
klingeln/erklingen to ring (bells)
König, der (-e) king(s)
  Heiligen Drei Könige, die/Weisen, die The Three Kings (The Wise Men)
Krampus, der Krampus - See "Ruprecht" below.
Kranz, der wreath
Krippe, die the manger, créche, nativity
Krippenbild, das the nativity (scene)
Kripplein, das the manger, créche, nativity


Lametta, das/Flitter, der tinsel
Lampe, die lamp, light (bulb)
Lebkuchen, der gingerbread
Licht, das light
Lichter, die (pl.) lights


Maria und Joseph Mary and Joseph
Marzipan, das marzipan (almond paste candy)
Mitternachtsmette, die/Christmette, die midnight mass
Mistel, die mistletoe
Myrrhe, die myrrh


Nast, Thomas - Nast is the German-American cartoonist who gave the US and the world its traditional image of Santa Claus.
Nikolaus, der (Saint) Nicholas
Nikolaustag, der St. Nicholas Day, Feast of St. Nicholas (Dec. 6)

In Austria and Catholic regions of Germany, children put shoes outside their door on the night of Dec. 5, so that Saint Nicholas (dressed like a bishop) can leave presents in them for the morning of Dec. 6.

Nickel, der Nickel (name) - See "Ruprecht" below and "Nikolaus."
Nuss, die (Nüsse) nut
Nussknacker, der (-) nutcracker


Orgel, die church organ, pipe organ


Plätzchen, das (-) cookie
Poinsettie, die/Weihnachtsstern, der poinsettia

Poinsettia is named for J.R. Poinsett (1779-1851), US ambassador to Mexico, who popularized the flower. In German it is also called "Christmas star."

Prosit Neujahr! Happy New Year!


das Rentier (-e) reindeer
 Ruprecht, der Ruprecht (name); also known by other names (see below)

Ruprecht is a demonic figure who used to accompany St. Nicholas to punish bad children with his Rute (switch); based on mythical winter figures going back to pagan times. He is rarely seen today – or changed into a "good" Ruprecht. Also known as: Hans Muff, Knecht Ruprecht, Krampus, or Nickel. In some parts of Germany, Ruprecht is good - just another Weihnachtsmann, and Krampus is the bad guy.

Retter, der/Heiland, der (the) Savior
die Rute rod, switch (see "Ruprecht" above)


Sankt Nikolaus, der Saint Nicholas (not Santa Claus)

Saint Nicholas is not Santa Claus or the American "Saint Nick." Dec. 6, the Feast of St. Nicholas, is the day upon which the original Bishop Nicholas of Myra (today in Turkey) is commemorated – and is the date of his death in the year 343. He was later granted sainthood. The German Sankt Nikolaus, dressed as a bishop, brings gifts on that day. (Also see "Ruprecht" above.)
   According to legend, it was also Bishop Nicholas who gave us the Christmas tradition of hanging stockings by the fireplace. The kindly bishop is said to have thrown bags of gold for the poor down the chimney. The bags landed in stockings that had been hung by the fire to dry. This Saint Nicholas legend may also partly explain the American custom of Santa coming down the chimney with his bag of gifts.

saure Gurke pickle
  Gurke, die cucumber
Schaf, das (-e) sheep
Schäfer, der (-) shepherd
Schleife, die bow (ribbon)
Schlitten, der (-) sled, sleigh, toboggan
Schlittschuh, der (-e) ice skate
Schlittschuhlaufen, das ice skating
Schmuck, der/Verzierung, die decorations, ornamentation, ornaments (tree, etc.)
  Weihnachtsschmuck, der Christmas decoration(s)
schmücken/verzieren/dekorieren to decorate
Schnee, der snow
Schneeball, der snowball
Schneeflocke, die snowflake
Schneemann, der snowman
schneien to snow
  Es schneit. It's snowing.
Schnee- snow (in compounds) schneeig (adj.) snowy
schneebedeckt (adj.) snow-covered
Schornstein, der chimney
singen sing
Spielzeug, das (-e) toy
Stall, der stable, stall
Stechpalme, die holly

In pagan times, holly was believed to have magical powers that kept evil spirits away. The Christians later made it a symbol of Christ's crown of thorns. According to legend, the holly berries were originally white, but turned red from Christ's blood.

Stern, der (-e) star(s)
Sternsinger, der (-) "star singer" - Dressed as the Magi/Wise Men/Three Kings, Sternsinger make their rounds during Advent and/or Epiphany, singing carols to raise money for Catholic missions all over the world.
Stille Nacht "Silent Night"

The world's most popular Christmas carol was created almost 200 years ago in Austria by Franz Gruber (music) and Joseph Mohr (text), and first performed by them with guitar accompaniment in Oberndorf bei Salzburg on Christmas Eve of 1818.

 Striezel, der (dial.) Christmas bread/cake, fruit cake
der Striezelmarkt name of the Christmas market in Dresden, one of Germany's oldest markets
Stollen, der, Christstollen, der, Striezel, der (dial.) Christmas bread/cake, fruit cake
Strohstern, der (-e) straw star (traditional Christmas decoration made of straw)
Süssigkeiten, die (pl.) candy, sweets


Tannenbaum, der (-bäume) fir tree
Tannenzweig, der (-e) fir/pine branch

Originally, most German Christmas trees were fir trees (Tannenbäume). Over the years, as the percentage of fir trees in German forests dropped, spruce trees (Fichtenbäume) became more prevalent. But today the word Tannenbaum is still synonymous with "Christmas tree."


Vanillekipferl, das (-n) vanilla crescent (cookies)

The Austrian/Bavarian pastry called Vanillekipferln or just Kipferln are small sweet baked crescents covered with powdered vanilla sugar. Traditionally served around Christmas, Kipferln also come in nut (Nuss), almond (Mandeln) and other varieties.

Verzierung, die/Schmuck, der decorations, ornaments, ornamentation (tree, etc.)


Weihnachten, das (sing., pl.) Christmas
Fröhliche Weihnachten! - Frohe Weihnachten! Merry Christmas! - Happy Christmas!
Weihnachtsbaum, der Christmas tree
Weihnachtsfest, das Christmas festival, Christmas
weihnachten (impers. verb)
  Es weihnachtet. It's Christmas. - Christmas is coming.
Weihnachtskarte, die (-n) Christmas card
Weihnachtslied, das (-er) carol, Christmas carol
Weihnachtsmann, der Father Christmas, Santa Claus

In the 16th century, led by Martin Luther, the Protestants introduced "Father Christmas" to replace Saint Nicholas and to avoid the Catholic saints. In the Protestant parts of Germany and Switzerland, Saint Nicholas became der Weihnachtsmann ("Christmas Man"). In the US he came to be known as Santa Claus, while in England children look forward to a visit from Father Christmas. In some regions of Germany, the Christmas gift-bringer is das Christkindl, an angel-like figure with golden hair.

Weihnachtsmarkt, der (-märkte) Christmas market
Weihnachtspyramide, die (-n) Christmas pyramid

Originally from the Erzgebirge region of Germany, the wood or rope pyramid was the "poor man's Christmas tree." Today it is a popular Christmas decoration in many parts of Germany, usually made with candles and bells that ring as the heat from the candles turns a wooden rotor at the top.

 Weihnachtsschmuck, der Christmas decoration(s)
Weihnachtsstern, der poinsettia
Weihrauch, der frankincense
Weisen, die/Heiligen Drei Könige, die The (Three) Wise Men, the Magi
Wiege, die cradle, créche
Winter, der winter


Zimtstern, der (-e) cinnamon star - A star-shaped, cinnamon-flavored Christmas cookie
Zucker, der sugar; candy (in compounds)