A Traditional German Christmas in Bremen

Between working the majority of my winter break and how expensive plane tickets are, I knew a long time ago that I would be spending the holidays and my birthday away from family. As many of you may know from my last post, I was invited to stay with my friend Ivana and her family for Christmas. Ivana came to the US for an exchange back in high school and we’ve managed to stay in pretty good contact throughout the years. It was very nice of her and her family to invite me into their home and for the umpteenth time I want to say, thank you.

My Family’s Tradition

Christmas in Germany is a pretty big deal and celebrated much differently than how my family does it at home. Back in small town Washington, it is usually just my parents and me. We might open one small package on Christmas Eve (mine is traditionally pajamas that I wear that night and for Christmas Day) but otherwise, all of the festivities are contained to one day.

On the 25th, we usually wake up a bit later and have a special breakfast of either waffles with fruit and whipped cream, or biscuits and gravy. Once everyone is stuffed, we open our stockings and then move on to the presents under the tree. Once everyone has opened their presents, there’s usually some down time where we clean up, further inspect our gifts, call relatives, and watch some TV or a movie. We have an early dinner of prime rib and baked potatoes and some sort of pie for desert later on. It’s relatively simple but very much a tradition we all treasure.

Christmas at my parents a few years back.

Christmas Eve

I woke up at 3 am on Christmas Eve to catch the subway into the central train station. From there, I headed to Ivana’s with a quick stop in Hannover for some coffee. I arrived in Bremen at about 9 am but was still incredibly tired from my lack of sleep the last couple of nights. I slept a little bit on the trains but I was too worried about missing a connection to get any real rest.

I went straight to sleep after arriving at their house and meeting Britanee, an exchange student from Australia that Ivana’s parents hosted 6 years ago. I slept like a rock for about 3 hours when they woke me up for lunch. While I was asleep, they put up their Christmas tree complete with real candles (a tradition of theirs for Christmas Eve) and finished wrapping presents. After a typical brötchen lunch, Ivana, Britanee, Ivana’s father Torsten, and I played the German equivalent of Sorry for hours without declaring a winner.

My Christmas Eve started very early and across the country.

Before dinner, we exchanged presents. I was gifted some Swiss Miss “Marshmallow Lovers” hot chocolate, very warm house socks, a super soft blanket, and some assorted candies/chocolates. I absolutely love everything and if any of Ivana’s family ever sees this, thank you again!

We sat down for dinner where we ate Raclette (pronounced rack-let). I had never had it before and a quick Google search tells me that the dish is named after the cheese that is the star of the dish. Basically, the table is set with all sorts of ingredients and each person creates their own dish in a little skillet which is then topped with cheese. There’s a special skillet in the middle where people can fry ingredients on top but the real magic happens when you slide your skillet underneath where the warmer turns your cheese into a wonderful golden goo.

For the most part, we all dumped our finished skillets onto buttered toast to eat although that part isn’t necessary. Three to four skillets later and everyone was happily rubbing their full to bursting tummies. After munching on some chocolate and a bit of chatter at the table, we headed off to bed.

Christmas Day

We had a big breakfast on Christmas Day and after relaxing for a bit, headed off to eat delicious cake and drink coffee and champagne with the family of Ivana’s mother, Kerstin’s brother. After hours of chatter, we made our way to another family gathering nearby; this time with the family of Ivana’s father’s sister. Time flew by there and soon it was late and time to head back home. We crawled in bed relatively early, still full from cake and snacks.

A beautiful centerpiece at Ivana’s Uncle’s house. IG

Christmas Day #2

Little did I realize that there was actually one more day of Christmas to celebrate. I’m not sure if it has a better name but the German calendar in my app just calls it Weihnachtsfeiertag 2 (free day for Christmas number two). I managed to sleep in a bit and by the time I was presentable, most of the extended family had arrived for the big Christmas supper.

This early dinner was absolutely delicious (and very German). The star of the dish was Gruenkohl which is basically green cabbage that has been cooked down into mush. The Gruenkohl is served alone but mixed on the plate with the innards of a special sausage called, Bremer Pinkel. This combination is served with potatoes, ham, and a sausage called, Kochwurst.

We followed dinner with a bit of “medicinal” Bullenschluck. They say that if you are feeling full and bloated that a shot of this specific alcohol will make you feel all better. Britanee and I had never heard of this tradition so we only took the littlest of sips (like a third of a shot) and I’m so glad we did because it was terrible. A little bit of chocolate cured the taste of rubbing alcohol and wood from my mouth and soon it was time for a bit of vanilla ice cream topped with berry sauce and whipped cream for desert.

Ivana’s family’s beautiful Christmas tree. IG

We then made our way to the living room where everyone exchanged gifts with the grandparents who had come to visit. They were both so sweet to get me presents. Ivana’s paternal grandfather got me some chocolates and Ivana’s maternal grandmother got me some eggnog liquor chocolates, a collectors spoon with the Bremen logo on top, and a really nice bowl with scenes from Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten (The Town Musicians of Bremen) on it. (I’ll link you the full story here.)

After a couple more hours of chatter, we headed back to the table for coffee. This was accompanied by pumpkin and a type of hard, Christmas raisin bread called, Klaben. I ended up heading up stairs afterwards to call my family during which time, everyone downstairs headed home. I’m a bit bummed that I didn’t get to say goodbye to everyone and I’m especially bummed I didn’t get to say one last thank you to Oma for the bowl that I absolutely love. Oh well. We finished off the last night of Christmas with another round of Raclette and some chocolate.

Anyways, that was my very first Christmas in Germany. Much different from my traditions at home but I’m so grateful to have been taken in by such a wonderful family for the holidays. I don’t think that there was a single food I tried that I didn’t like.

Of course I miss my family but I hope they got along all right without me. We’ve been doing lots of Facetiming and phone calls to bridge the gap over the holidays. It’s not the same obviously but at the same time, it’s not the first holiday we’ve been apart for and it certainly won’t be the last.

Speaking of holidays, I will be spending the rest of the week in Bremen then I’ve got a ticket booked to Berlin to spend New Year with my host mom. After that, I have no clue. I have to be back in Frankfurt by mid January for work but I don’t know if I will want to (or have the money) to travel more after Berlin or just go home to relax a bit. Either way, those are my plans for now.

Once again, thank you so much to Ivana and her family. I hope everyone had a very happy holiday season and best wishes for the New Year!




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