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“Merry Christmas” in German – Vocab and Traditions of a “Frohe Weihnachten”!


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Have you ever wondered how to say “Merry Christmas” in German? Do you have German-speaking friends you’d like to send happy wishes to? Or are you a curious German student?

Look no further – in this article, I’ll teach you how to say “Merry Christmas” in German and give you a variety of ways to wish someone happy holidays.

Bonus? I’ll tell you funny anecdotes about German winter holiday traditions.

How to Wish a Merry, Merry German Christmas

Two of the most common ways to wish someone a Merry Christmas in German are as follows:

  • Frohe Weihnachten!
  • Fröhliche Weihnachten!

But what do frohe and fröhliche mean, you may ask? While these two forms are similar in meaning, frohe is a bit more formal and somewhat less playful than fröhliche.

Fröhlich literally means “filled with joy,” “carefree happy,” “enjoyable” or “that brings joy.” It is an adjective related to froh, to which we add -e to agree with the neuter Weihnachten.

As my German friend says, “Why wish someone a frohe Weihnachten when, for just one syllable more, you can wish them a fröhliche Weihnachten?” This is to say that the fröhlich greeting is a bit more intimate and friendly – but you are free to choose whichever of the two you wish!

Weihnachten – What Does the German Word for Christmas Literally Mean?

The German word for Christmas, Weihnachten, comes from the Middle High German ze den wihen nahten, which means “in the consecrated, holy nights.”

If you pull the word apart, you can see two parts: Weih and Nacht. Whereas Weih gives the word its “consecrated, holy” meaning, Nacht is the German word for night.

Most commonly, Weihnachten is treated grammatically as a neuter single noun, usually without an article and often with the preposition zu:

  • Was willst du zu Weihnachten von mir? – “What do you want from me for Christmas?”

In some German-speaking places, notably parts of Switzerland and Austria, Weihnachten is treated as a plural noun:

  • Ich werde diese Weihnachten im Ausland verbringen. – “I’ll spend Christmas abroad.”

If all this talk of articles and grammar is getting you in a Bah Humbug mood, check out this article on German articles!

Other Ways to Wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in German

If you’re looking for other ways to wish someone happy holidays in German, just wait – there’s more!

We all know that language is a tool that we can manipulate to meet different needs. Even in this specific context, we can wish someone a happy holiday in a lot of different ways: we can be formal, we can be secular, or we can be super jolly!

If you want to wish a German a happy holiday season in a less directly religious way, you can use one of these:

Schöne Feiertage! Happy holidays!
Frohe Festtage! Happy holidays!
Frohe Feiertage! Happy holidays!

If you’d like to make a sentence, you can try this one:

  • Ich wünsche dir ein frohes Fest! – “I wish you happy holidays!”

Vocab Recap: German Christmas Vocabulary

das Weihnachten Christmas
Frohe/Fröhliche Weihnachten! Merry Christmas!
Schöne Feiertage! Happy holidays!
Frohe Festtage! Happy holidays!
Frohe Feiertage! Happy holidays!
Ich wünsche dir ein frohes Fest! I wish you a happy holiday!

Wishing a Happy New Year in German

When we talk about Christmastime, we often say “the holiday season” because the holiday often extends into New Year’s. People tend to group these days together as a time when people take time off from work and come together to meet with family and friends.

So sometimes, when we wish someone a Merry Christmas or happy holidays, we include a New Year’s greeting too. Here are some ways to wish someone a happy new year in German:

Alles Gute zum neuen Jahr! All well for the new year!
Einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr! A good start to the new year!
Prosit Neujahr! Happy new year!
Gesundheit, Glück und Erfolg! Health, luck, and success!
Ein glückliches neues Jahr! Happy new year!

Guten Rutsch is a very common New Year’s greeting in German, and it’s worth a closer look. Although the word Rutsch may look similar to the verb rutschen, which means “to slide,” it apparently does not come from this verb.

The exact origins of the phrase are, however, a bit controversial. Some linguists point to the Yiddish Rosch, coming from the Jewish festival Rosh Hashanah. Others believe it originates from the Old German Rutsch, which used to mean “journey.”

Vocab Recap: German New Year Wishes Vocabulary

Alles Gute zum neuen Jahr! Best wishes for the new year!
Einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr! (I wish you) a good start to the new year!
Prosit Neujahr! Happy new year!
Gesundheit, Glück und Erfolg! Health, luck, and success (for the new year)!
Ein glückliches neues Jahr! A happy new year!

Celebrating New Year’s Eve in the German World

Interestingly enough, New Year’s Eve is called Silvester in German. The origin of the name is due to Pope Silvester the 1st, who died on December 31st, 335.

When I arrived in Berlin sometime in the afternoon of January 1st, 2021, what I noticed most on the streets were the remains of firecrackers and posters announcing Silvester parties that took place while I was still in the air.

Talk about a visual way to memorize vocabulary!

If you end up celebrating Silvester with a German friend, you may end up finding some weird things in your wallet: some people believe that certain items, like ladybugs, four-leaf clovers, or special mushrooms in your Portemonnaie bring good luck for the new year!

Or you may eat a buffet, perhaps including some Swiss fondue to await the arrival of the new year, the neues Jahr. You may drink a sort of fruit punch, or a Bowle, with or without alcohol, or a simple elegant sparkling wine, Sekt in German. Perhaps you’ll set off some Böller that will light up the sky and, according to customs dating back to older Germanic tribes, scare the ghosts up above.

der Silvester New Year’s Eve
das Portemonnaie wallet
die Bowle (“w” here is not pronounced according to normal German pronunciation rules, where “w” sounds like an English “v”; since it is an English loanword, the “w” has approximately the same pronunciation as it does in English.) Fruit punch often served at New Year’s parties
der Sekt Sparkling wine
der Böller Firework

Visiting a Traditional Christmas Market

The German-speaking world is known for its charming Christmas markets, or Weihnachtsmärkte. While cities all over Germany, Switzerland, and Austria host their own markets, Nuremberg’s is one of the most famous. Said to be originating from 1628, it’s one of the oldest in Germany!

Although perhaps not quite as famous, Salzburg’s Christkindlmarktis also well worth the visit! It is rumored that the first “Holy Night, Silent Night” (Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht in German) was sung there in 1818.

Now imagine you’re in Nuremberg, surrounded by Christmas spirit – you may first grab a Glühwein, a special Christmas mulled wine, to warm yourself up in the cold. You can smell the fresh cinnamon and nuts coming from German Christmas delicacies, such as Lebkuchen (“gingerbread”) or Weihnachtsplätzchen, Christmas cookies decorated in all sorts of ways.

You stroll leisurely, admiring the stalls with their handmade soaps, sweaters and mittens, or maybe some wooden toys, Spielzeuge in the local language!

You may also see an interesting small wooden craft in the shape of a small man, pipe in hand, real smoke coming out of his wooden mouth: this is a Räuchermännchen, a little smoking man, another classic German Christmas decoration.

And you won’t believe what’s in the Feuerzangenbowle!

If you look and see someone with a big vat of red wine, pouring rum over a sugar cone then lighting it on fire, you may want to go over and try a cup of Feuerzangenbowle, or fire tong punch; but be careful, it‘s a bit potent, so you may want to stick to one cup!

(Check out this video to see what it looks like – it’s quite a spectacle!)

All above and around you, you’re surrounded by traditional Weihnachtsschmuck, Christmas decorations; the lighting above and the stalls themselves all show a jolly, fröhliche atmosphere.

der Weihnachtsmarkt Christmas market
der Glühwein Mulled wine
der Lebkuchen gingerbread
das Weihnachtsplätzchen Christmas cookie
der Spielzeug Toy
das Räuchermännchen Little smoking man (common Christmas decoration)
der Weihnachtsschmuck Christmas decoration

Celebrating Christmas With German Friends

During your visit to Germany, you might make some local friends who want to introduce you to their Christmas traditions. You might see an Adventskalender in their home, a calendar for which each day you open a little box to reveal a small picture, a little poem, or even a piece of chocolate to count down the days until Christmas.

They may encourage you to sing a Weihnachtslied with them, a Christmas song. Maybe you’ll be accompanying them to Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht like I mentioned above, or perhaps you’ll be treated to a rendition of der kleine Trommler, Little Drummer Boy in English.

Baby es regnet doch, a German rendition of “Baby, it’s Cold Outside” (literally translated as “baby it’s raining though”) seems for some reason to be a little less Christmas-y in the German-speaking world.

You may see an Adventskranz on the wall, a special Christmas wreath typically with four candles. If you’re lucky, your hosts may ask you to help light one of the Kerzen, as Germans do on each Sunday in December to count down the weeks until the big day! Their wreath may be accompanied by a Nussknacker, or a nutcracker, another typical Christmas decoration.

And if you’re extra fortunate, you’ll be greeted on Christmas day with a weißes Weihnachten, a white Christmas with snow! You might announce to your friends, Es schneit, it’s snowing! After you bundle up with a jacket, a scarf, and a hat, you may go out to build a nice Schneemann or play with some Schneeflocke, snowflakes!

der Adventskalender Advent calendar
das Weihnachtslied Christmas song
Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht Silent night, holy night
Der kleine Trommler Little drummer boy
der Adventskranz Advent wreath
die Kerze candle
der Nussknacker nutcracker
Es schneit. It’s snowing.
der Schneemann snowman
die Schneeflocke snowflake

Conclusion

I hope that a bit of German Christmas magic will make your holiday season a bit more special this year.

If one day you want to experience the Christmas spirit in Deutschland or another German-speaking country, get your language skills up to par with this language learning method.

And if your New Year’s resolution turns out to be to improve your Deutsch, check out these ten hacks to get on the fast track to fluency!

Frohe Festtage!

author headshot

Matt Anderson

Teacher, Freelance Writer

Matthew has a degree in foreign languages and English. He writes freelance content in addition to novels and short stories. You can find his debut novel, Love in Doom and Secession, here

Speaks: English, Spanish, Chinese, German, Portuguese, Catalan, Japanese

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