Why Germans go shopping crazy for Christmas and how online retailers can take advantage.
Christmas in Germany is jam packed full of traditions and festivities. So many in fact that the country’s festive season lasts well over a month, from the beginning of December until the first week of January. Understanding what drives German consumers this time of year can mean an early Christmas gift for online retailers too.
From Christmas markets, to advent calendars, and Barbarazweig to the terrifying Krampus, Germany’s Christmas traditions are many and varied. Germans have a reputation for being organized, punctual and prepared for practically anything – and when it comes to Christmas, they need to be!
Christmas is obviously the peak season for e-commerce businesses across Europe, but those that really understand the unique traditions and festivities in each country can turn a happy Christmas into a very merry one. Use this list of German Christmas traditions to plan and organize your sales and marketing activities in the German market.
A month-long celebration
If you start your Christmas shopping in Germany on the first of December, then you’re going to disappoint your little ones. That’s because German children traditionally open the first door of their Advent calendars on the first day of Advent: December 1. Every day, during the countdown to Christmas, kids will find a sweet or toy packed in a cute little bag or hidden behind a paper door. Retailers have caught on to the tradition: when Lego first brought out its Lego Friend’s Advent calendar in 2012, it sold out within days. Nowadays, these kinds of gift calendars are even more popular than the traditional chocolate ones. The gifts come in all shapes and sizes and are not just for kids: from beer, to cosmetics, to kitchen spices, there are a huge variety on offer. And as many frugal Germans still like to 'do it themselves', they’re on a veritable shopping frenzy trying to find 24 Advent gifts in the run up to December.
As well as the calendar, German households also have to have an Advent wreath – or Adventskranz – ready for the first Advent Sunday – the first of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The wreaths, made of spruce branches, can be bought plain or ready decorated. Families come together to light each candle, while nibbling on their Weihnachtsteller – a plate of Christmas goodies such as chocolates, marzipan balls and vanilla biscuits, that’s kept stocked up throughout the festive season.
On December 4, it’s traditional in some parts of Germany to bring branches into the house to bloom over the Christmas season. On St. Barbara’s Day, people cut a small cherry branch and place it in water. While other flowering plants or trees such as apple, forsythia, plum, and lilac are also used, cherry is the most common. The Barbarazweig is kept in a warm room, and if all goes well, will bloom precisely on December 25, bringing good luck to the family for the year ahead.
In the Middle Ages, St. Nicholas brought gifts on December 6, which at the time was the only Christmas gift-giving day during the festive season. Nowadays, Germans typically exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, but the Nikolaustag tradition continues. On the night of December 5, children and adults clean their shoes and place them outside their front door. In the night, Nikolaus pays a visit. If they’ve been good their shoes will be filled with gifts, chocolates, sweets, and other goodies. If they’ve been bad they’ll only find sticks. The tradition comes from the feast day of Catholic Saint Nicholas, who may have been the original inspiration for Father Christmas. Whatever the background, German parents need to be to fill those shoes while their little ones are sleeping. But beware, in some parts of the country, Nikolaus doesn’t come alone …
In German folklore, St. Nicholas was accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht or Krampus. The ragged looking, devil-like creature, carried sticks to scare the children if they’d been bad. Although this tradition has faded out, traditional Krampus parades – or Krampusslauf – still take place in the German state of Bavaria as well as Austria and other parts of Eastern Europe, every year around December 5 or 6, and at various times throughout November and December. The scary looking creatures walk through the streets, banging drums and generally terrifying children, and adults!
Although they’re now popular around the world, no one does Christmas Markets quite like the Germans. These veritable winter wonderlands of Christmas quaintness are always packed to the brim with revelers throughout the Christmas season. From traditional, locally made arts and crafts, to all manner of clothes, books, toys and assorted Christmas baubles. And then there’s the food. Every town in Germany has some kind of traditional delicacy or drink, and at the Christmas Markets you can sample them all in abundance. From the last week in November till just before Christmas, Christmas markets one of the highlights of the German festive season.
Christmas Eve and the Christkind
Germans don’t celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day as they do in the US and the UK. The highlight of the German Christmas calendar is Christmas Eve. But it’s not a whole day of celebration. Most Germans go to work as usual in the morning, and the festivities get underway in the afternoon. Most families gather around the overflowing Weihnachtsteller and wait until dusk before ushering the children out of the room. A tinkling bell lets them know the Christkind has visited and when the children return they find a pile of presents under the tree. Martin Luther invented the Christkind for Protestants in the 16th Century, to de-emphasize the Catholic Saint Nicholas celebration on December 6. Nowadays the two traditions co-exist quite happily, but the Christkind tradition lives on in most parts of Germany whether Catholic or Protestant.
Months and months of shopping
It takes planning and organization to stay on top of the packed Christmas season in Germany. The question is: With so many gift-giving opportunities over the festive period, where are German’s buying all their presents?
More and more the answer is: online. Forrester‘s Online Crossborder Forecast, 2017 to 2022 (Europe), predicts that half of European online shoppers will regularly make purchases online and across borders by 2022. Between 50% and 60% of cross-border purchases in clothing and accessories, consumer electronics and luxury goods in the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, are already being bought from within Europe.
A Paypal survey found that Christmas was the second highest reason for Germans to shop online: 25% of respondents listed Christmas, while 64% said they didn’t need a special occasion to shop online. Seasonal sales and Black Friday followed at 15% and 9%, respectively.
And while UK shoppers are famous for their Christmas spending splurges, other European countries are catching up. Although British men will likely outspend their German counterparts by €166 on Christmas presents, German men will spend about 45% more than German women (€278 compared to €190).
Christmas is obviously the peak season for online retailers in countries that celebrate it. Knowing the intricacies of each country’s unique traditions can give you an edge in highly competitive, yet highly attractive markets like Germany. If you’re looking to sell your products in the German market, mark your calendars now, and take advantage of the gift-hunting crazy Germans shopping online in the run-up to Christmas.