Christmas is a wonderful time to teach your children about different countries and cultures. Children love discovering how their counterparts in other parts of the world celebrate the holidays. These crafts and activities are a fun way to teach them about popular Christmas customs that originated in Germany.
Countdown to Christmas Calendar
Help build the excitement of the season by creating a countdown to Christmas calendar with your children. Traditional German countdown calendars are made with a thick piece of cardboard that has numbered doors cut into it. Creating this type of calendar would be too complicated for children. Instead, have them decorate 25 small boxes or envelopes. Fill each with a small treat. Starting on December 1, your child can open a box or envelope to reveal the treat. See the Resources section for more information on making countdown calendars.
Children in southern Germany do not receive Christmas Eve visits from Santa Claus. Instead, Sankt Nikolaus--the legendary bishop--visits them on December 6, filling their shoes with small treats and candy. There are many fun crafts you could do with your children using the Sankt Nikolaus theme. The St. Nicholas Center website has ideas and patterns for making St. Nicholas figures out of paper, cardboard tubes, clay pots and apples. It also includes instructions for turning a foil-covered chocolate Santa Claus into Sankt Nikolaus. Check out the website's recipe section for directions on how to make a Sankt Nikolaus boot with bread dough and candy. This is a traditional treat given to children on December 6.
Inspired by the Grimm Brothers’ tale of Hansel and Gretel, German bakeries began making and decorating fancy gingerbread houses in the early 1800s. Today’s children are equally fascinated by these delectable cookie houses and will eagerly volunteer to help with the decorating. Whip up your favorite gingerbread recipe, cut it into slabs, then bake it. Glue the pieces together with royal frosting. Decorate with gum drops, candy canes, cookies, licorice, crushed hard candy, jelly beans and shredded coconut. The Resources section lists a website that gives detailed directions for making a traditional German gingerbread house. If you don’t have time for mixing, baking and assembling, check your grocery store, craft store or baking store for pre-baked, assembled houses that only need to be decorated.
The tradition of decorating evergreen trees for Christmas first originated in Germany in the sixteenth century. Help your children learn about this tradition by having them decorate a tabletop evergreen tree. Explain that the first Christmas trees were decorated with edible objects like oranges, apples and gingerbread. Give them marzipan to make tiny replicas of these items for their tree. Explain that later, trees were illuminated by candles and topped with the Weihnacht (Christmas) Angel. Have them make their own Weihnacht Angel with foil. Finally, embellish the tree with birthday candles. However, remind them the candles are for decoration only and should never be lit. For added fun, learn the German lyrics for “O Tannenbaum” and sing them around your miniature German Christmas tree.