While the german Christmas markets may be a global phenomenon today, with markets popping up in many different countries, there are two Christmas festival traditions that haven’t been so widely adopted and can only be found in Germany. These unique festivals showcase the meaning of many of our Christmas traditions and also teach the younger generations about Christmas. For any traveler to Germany, these festivals are a must-see.
Also known as Saint Nickolas day festival, this festival takes place not on Christmas day but rather on the 5th or 6th of December. The festival takes place all around Germany and in most Christmas markets. Unlike Santa Claus, Saint Nicolas is often seen dressed as a bishop, in a red robe with a long flowing beard. At Christmas markets, Saint Nicolas will parade the markets giving good children gifts while naughty children are given wooden sticks.
Children are given gifts as well as nuts and chocolates and Saint Nicolas meets with eager families. After all the gifts have been given out there is usually a parade of Saint Nicolas where everyone in town dons their best Saint Nick and Santa costumes and compete for the prize of best dressed.
These Saint Nick parades and gift-giving are great things to do before Christmas and there is often a lot of great food and yummy treat sold nearby.
While Saint Nicolas rewards good children, his companion Knecht Ruprecht will embarrass naughty children by shaking a bag of ashes over their heads. Parents are always on hand to tell Saint Nicolas whether their child has been good or bad and parents believe this is a great way to teach good behavior. The costumes of Knecht Ruprecht and Saint Nicholas are always beautifully decorated and often antique and carolers follow the pair as they tour the market.
While Saint Nicolas was much loved by children, traditionally Krampus would punish naughty children. Legend tells of how Krampus was a horned and scary man who scooped up naughty children or gave them coal. Today, Krampusnacht follows the legend a little more loosely and involves a parade of people who wear their best scary Krampus costumes. Falling on the same day as Nikolaustag and occurring all over Germany, Krampusnacht parades draw thousands of onlookers and participants. Unlike traditional Christmas parades, the purpose of Krampusnacht is to scare and thrill onlookers, reminding children that they should always behave. Tourists queue up to photograph the many different costume interpretations and the parade is quite amazing to watch.
The participants in the parade compete in a costume competition to see who has the scariest and most authentic costumes.
There are also special Krampusnacht markets where stalls sell costumes, food, spiced wine, and specialty Krampusnacht treats. Here children can get their faces painted, listen to a storyteller or watch special Krampusnacht plays while adults can enjoy live music. While Krampus Night is a little bit scarier for most kids they still love this holiday and are encouraged to dress up.