Christmas in Germany is still a bit of a mystery to me and I'm going stateside in a few days so I won't be able to report on most of it first-hand, but I can tell you that the madness starts on the first day of Advent (December 2 this year), which is also when the Weihnachtsmaerkte (Christmas markets) get going. I'm currently in a bit of a German Christmas flurry as I have to soak it all up in less than a week (ie, buy meaningful, typical, and this year sustainable (the fam is doing a sustainable (except for the massive amount of airmiles on my and mein Freund's parts) Christmas) presents). I was pretty revved up for the Weihnachtsmaerkte. You always see such great photos in travel magazines...all winter wondery and overflowing with holiday cheer. In my experience, the Berlin version is more cold, grey, and drizzly than winter wondery, but it was still pretty cheerful. I managed to visit four markets this year so I have definitely had my share of cold toes and Gluhwein (literally, glowing wine, as in mulled wine): very important for the toes. The first market was at Domaene Dahlem in west Berlin and was possibly my favorite, if only because I got my share of Weihnachtsgans mit Gruenkohl und Kartofeln (Christmas goose with kale and potatoes) (and a bite of Hefekloesse mit Plaumenmus (yeasted dumpling with plumbutter!), pictured in the background). I also scored these delightful wooden animals ... very overdue baby gifts for some new tiny cousins I've acquired.
Another Christmas highlight was this insanely cute Advent calendar (Adventkalendars are huge here) that mein Freund made for me! I have a feeling Saint Nikolaus is going to really fill his (ugly German hiking) shoes this year! This is another German (and other Christian-y places, I think) tradition....Saint Nikolaus (think Santa in a pope hat) goes around and puts little treats in the shoes of good kids (and Freunds). From what I've read (thank you, Gridskipper), he has a not-so-nice acomplice, Knecht Rubrecht who deals with the naughty kids by leaving switches instead of treats. Like I said, I don't quite get this German Christmas thing (they also have two Christmases: the 25th and 26th even though the main celebration is on the 24th???). Not that I, equal opportunity celebrist that I am, fault anyone for too much celebrating ... we'll be having latkes (called Kartofelpuffer here and are not considered a Jewish food in the slightest, but are served year-round at street festivals and such) for our Hannukah dinner on the 4th.