Many Americans have German ties, and this European culture has influenced several aspects of American life. In fact, more than 16 percent of Americans have ancestors from Deutschland who started settlements in California, Texas, Pennsylvania and many states in the Midwest. The popular baseball snacks of hot dogs, pretzels and beer came from the German culture, and there are many other German traditions that Americans have adopted as their own.
Christmas and Easter are the most famous Christian holidays, and many common traditions and rituals came from Germany.
According to German Originality's Christmas page, the following are German traditions:
- Advent Calendars: The popular calendars that count down the days until Christmas originated in Germany. The paper calendars that feature treats, such as chocolate candies, behind the small doors were first printed in Germany in 1908.
- Christmas Trees: In Germany, the Christmas tree isn't decorated until Christmas Eve. This Christmas tradition originated in Germany as part of the Yule celebrations. Traditional tree decorations included candy, apples, nuts, angels, candles, cookies and tinsel.
- Gingerbread Houses: Gingerbread makers established their own trade guild in Nuremberg in 1643, and this famous Christmas treat made its first holiday appearance in 1893. Gingerbread houses became part of German Christmas traditions after one was featured in the famous Grimm Brothers' story of Hansel and Gretel. German families create gingerbread houses, complete with frosting and gumdrops, every December.
- Christmas Carols: Some of the most popular Christmas carols sung every year have German roots. For example, "O Christmas Tree" (otherwise known as "O Tannenbaum") was written in 1799.
These Easter traditions also have German roots:
- Easter comes from the pagan holiday, vernal equinox, or Spring Equinox. The original celebration occurred in Germany around March 21 each year, and it was to honor Ostara, the pagan goddess of spring, or Eostre. That's where "Easter" got its name.
- The Easter bunny also has pagan roots. According to German legend, Ostara saved a frozen bird by turning it into a rabbit. This special rabbit could lay eggs, because it once was a bird, hence the Easter bunny. This popular Easter animal symbol is first mentioned in 16th century German writings, and candy bunnies and eggs were first introduced in the 1800s.
Oktoberfest is one of the most popular German traditions worldwide. This beer-drinking holiday began in October of 1810 at the Bavarian wedding of Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The royal couple broke the rules by inviting commoners to the wedding party, which was comprised of five days of eating, drinking and celebrating. It evolved over the years and is now a 16-day festival held each year in Munich. Oktoberfest features a wide variety of German beers and sausages, with more than 6 million visitors in attendance. If you can't make it to the Motherland, you can find a stateside Oktoberfest festival in many major U.S. cities.
Germans have many unique wedding traditions and customs.
When baby girls are born in Germany, several trees are planted. When the girl grows up and gets engaged, they sell the trees and use the money for her dowry.
Traditional German weddings last for several days. They start with a civil ceremony attended by close friends and family members. The next day features an evening party for all friends and acquaintances. At these large parties, guests break old dishes and the newlyweds sweep them up together. This tradition is meant to symbolize that nothing will break in their house or relationship. On the third day, the religious wedding ceremony is held at a church, and it is followed by the official wedding reception. When the couple leaves the church, they throw coins to the children in attendance.
Traditional German Foods
Many Germans celebrate with traditional German dishes and foods. Some well-known German foods are perfect for picnics, including German potato salad, which is served warm in Southern Germany featuring bacon, sugar and white wine vinegar and cold in Northern Germany featuring a creamy base of mayonnaise. Burn off popular German sausages including bratwurst, currywurst, bockwurst and leberwurst with some picnic games before indulging in even more German specialties.
At the dinner table, sauerkraut, a pickled cabbage, is a typical side dish, while weiner schnitzel, a thin, fried veal filet, is often a featured main course. Traditional German desserts include black forest cake, stollen (a sweet yeast bread filled with nuts and fruit) and marzipan, a popular Christmas delicacy made from ground almonds and sugar.
If you want to honor your German heritage, incorporate some of these traditions into your next holiday. You can also celebrate your ancestry by simply enjoying a high-quality German beer on any given day. Be sure to use the German toast, "Prost" when you lift your glass!