The festivities begin on the forth Sunday before Christmas, or the first day of Advent. Families set up Advent wreathes (Adventskränze) , traditionally with four candles, one of which is lit each Sunday before Christmas, counting down the weeks. Christmas / Advent markets (Christkindlmärkte / Weihnachtsmärkte) traditionally start at this time and shops stay open later.
On the eve of 6th December, St Nicholas’ Day (Nikolaus), children put their shoes or boots (Nikolaus-Stiefel) by the fireplace or outside their bedroom door. If they have been good, their Nikolaus-Stiefel will be full of edible treats in the morning, but if they’ve been bad they will only receive a tree branch (Rute).
On Christmas Eve (Heiligabend), the Christmas tree (Weihnachtsbaum / Christbaum / Tannenbaum) is revealed. Children eagerly look forward to seeing it as they are not allowed to do so before then. German Christmas trees are decorated in a similar way to those in the UK and USA with tinsel (Lametta), lights (Lichter), candles (Kerzen), and edible decorations such as nuts, apples and sweets. Presents (Geschenke) are put under the trees and plates piled with fruit (Obst), nuts (Nüsse), marzipan (Marzipan), chocolate (Schokolade) and home-made seasonal biscuits (Weihnachtsgebäck) and laid out. When the children hear a bell, the can go in to see the tree.
Families sing Christmas carols (Weihnachtslieder) and open presents, and everyone wishes one another Merry Christmas (Fröhliche Weihnachten / Frohe Weinachten / Frohes Fest). Some people go to midnight Mass (Christmette), where there will traditionally be a display of the crib in the stable (Krippe) and a re-enactment of the story of Christmas (Krippenspiel).
Christmas Eve is a time for feasting. The traditional dish eaten on Christmas day is roast goose (Gänsebraten / Weihnachtsgans) stuffed with apples (Äpfel) and prunes (Backpflaumen) or chestnuts (Esskastanien) with dumplings (Knödel) and red cabbage (Rotkohl). Also popular is carp (Karpfen / Weihnachtskarpfen). In some regions the Christmas feast takes place on Christmas day (der erste Weihnachtsfeiertag) and simple dishes are served on Christmas eve, such as stew (Eintopf) or sausages (Würstchen) with potato salad (Kartoffelsalat).
For dessert there various kinds of sweet bread, such as Christstollen (long loaves of sweet bread with nuts, raisins and dried fruit), Lebkuchen (spiced ginger bread, normally chocolate covered), Marzipan and Dresden Stollen (a type of moist bread filled with fruit).
On 26th December (der zweite Weihnachtsfeiertag), a holiday in Germany, people generally visit family and friends.