German Lessons


Christmas Eve Traditions in Germany

For the last weeks, many Germans have been visiting Christmas markets, opening the windows of their advent calendars, and celebrating Nikolaus. Tomorrow night is Christmas Eve, which is called der Heiligabend or der Heilige Abend in German. Let's look at some vocabulary associated with Christmas Eve traditions. 


Many families in Germany will have gotten a Christmas tree and decorated it in time for Christmas Eve. A Christmas tree can be referred to as der Tannenbaum (which is simply "the fir tree"), der Weihnachtsbaum, or der Christbaum.


Jetzt schmücken wir den Baum noch mit ein paar goldenen Kugeln.

Now we'll decorate the tree with a few golden balls.

Caption 57, Frohe Weihnachten - der Christbaum

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In Germany, it is traditional to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve rather than the next morning. The exchange of gifts is known as die Bescherung


Wie machen Sie das mit der Bescherung?

How do you do your gift exchange?

Caption 7, Weihnachtsinterviews - Diane in Karlsruhe

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Families may go to mass as part of their Christmas Eve tradition:


Meistens gehen wir auch vorher... vorher noch in die Kirche

Usually we also still go beforehand... to church beforehand.

Caption 37, Weihnachtsinterviews - Cettina in Linkenheim

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A traditional Christmas Eve meal in Germany is rather simple, consisting of either fish, or sausages with potato salad. The large Christmas feast is generally eaten on Christmas day. Throughout these days, there are also many sweets that are typically consumed. For more information on these, we would suggest watching the following video by Eva:


Nachdem ich euch ein typisches deutsches Weihnachtsessen gezeigt habe,

After I've shown you a typical German Christmas meal,

kommen wir nun zum Wichtigsten, nämlich den Weihnachtsnaschereien.

we now come to the most important [thing], namely, the Christmas goodies.

Captions 9-10, Weihnachtsessen - mit Eva

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Further Learning
For more holiday vocabulary, check out our recent blog post. There are a number of individual videos on Yabla German that will certainly get you into the Christmas spirit. Listen to a traditional Christmas song, see Krampus parade around at the Christmas market in Munich, and watch some Germans decorate a Christmas tree under water. Or watch one of our feature films, such as Ein Sack voll Gold or Weihnachtsmann gesucht, starring a young Christoph Waltz!

German: besonders, besonderes or Besonderes ... ?

German language beginners may easily get besonders, besonderes, and Besonderes confused, since they sound nearly the same and have only minor differences in spelling. Once you learn the grammar behind the different spellings, however, you should be able to easily distinguish the reasons for the spelling differences. 


The adverb besonders (and remember, adverbs modify adjectives as well as verbs), usually translated as "particularly" or "especially," is spelled in lower case (except at the beginning of a sentence) and without the third "e" before the "s."  It will only be used with this spelling as an adverb:

So was zum Beispiel läuft besonders gut.

Something like this, for instance, is going particularly well.

Caption 15, Auftrumpfen - Mit Kitsch und Protz

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The adjective besondere (only written with "-s" in its nominative neuter form) is usually translated as "special" or "particular." It is always written in lower case except when it is the first word in a sentence. It will, like all German adjectives, have different endings depending on whether it's in the nominative, dative, accusative, or genitive case, and depending on whether the noun it modifies is feminine, masculine or neuter, and singular or plural.

Here's an example of the adjective besondere in the singular genitive (feminine) case:

Einen Wettlauf der besonderen Art liefern sich der

A race of a special kind is being carried out by the 

britische Milliardär Richard Branson

British billionaire Richard Branson

und Hollywood-Regisseur James Cameron.

and Hollywood director James Cameron.

Captions 2-3, Expedition Marianengraben - Zum tiefsten Punkt der Erde

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The word Besonderes, always written capitalized and with the extra "e" before the last "s," is a nominalized adjective, which is an adjective that has been turned into a noun. Note that nominalized adjectives in German are not necessarily so in English! In German, it is usually preceded by either etwas or was (meaning "something" in this context) or the word nichts (meaning "nothing"). 

In vielen Familien ist es an Weihnachten Tradition,

In many families, it is a tradition at Christmas

dass es etwas Besonderes zum Essen gibt.

that there is something special to eat.

Captions 3-4, Weihnachtsessen - mit Eva

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Further Learning
To review: besonders is an adverb, besondere (with possible declensions ending with -r, -s, -n, -m) is an adjective, and Besonderes is a nominalized adjective. For more in-depth information on how German turns non-nouns into nouns, read this paper. Then visit Yabla German and search for examples of the above words as spoken in a real world context. 

Frohe Weihnachten!


Ich hoffe, euch hat's Spaß gemacht,

I hope it's been fun

und wünsche euch frohe Weihnachten!

and I wish you a merry Christmas!

Captions 71-72, Frohe Weihnachten - der Christbaum

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Beyond "merry Christmas" there are a number of other ways to give season's greetings as well, for instance your Christmas could be schön:


Dann wünsch' ich euch schöne Weihnachten.

In which case I wish you [plural] a wonderful Christmas.

Caption 84, Weihnachtsinterviews - Cettina in Linkenheim

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Let's not neglect the period before Christmas, which in German is the same word as in English:


Der Advent, das ist die Zeit vor Weihnachten.

Advent, that is the time before Christmas.

Caption 3, Weihnachtsmärkte - mit Eva

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And if we're going to make it through all the Christmas shopping, we'd better have some Stollen to see us through:


Das ist der Christstollen.

This is the Christstollen.

Der wird auch Weihnachtsstollen genannt.

It is also called Christmas stollen [fruit cake].

Captions 22-23, Weihnachtsessen - mit Eva

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If you don't have your Christmas tree yet, you might have to go diving for one!


Nasse Weihnachten:

Wet Christmas:

Der Tannenbaum steht fast vier Meter tief unter Wasser.

The Christmas tree stands nearly four meters deep under water.

Caption 1, Weihnachten geht baden - Tannenbaum unter Wasser

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Further Learning:

Do a search on Yabla German for typical Christmas words and get into the Christmas spirit while improving your German at the same time. Happy holidays!


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