On the evening of December 5th, St. Nicholas Day, German children leave their shoes or boots outside the front door. That night, Santa Claus, Nikolaus, visits and fills them with chocolates, oranges and nuts if they’ve been good. His servant, Knecht Ruprech, leaves bundles of twigs in the shoes if the children have been naughty and are listed in his ‘black book’.
In some parts of the country, it’s believed the Christ Child sends a messenger on Christmas Eve, das Christkind, an angel in a white robe and crown, bearing gifts. There is also a figure called der Weihnachtsmann, Christmas Eve Man, who looks like Santa Claus and also brings presents.
It’s traditional for parents to lock up a room before Christmas. In earlier times on Christmas Eve, they would wake their children at midnight and take them into the room, where the children were delighted to find the tree lit up with presents waiting for them underneath it. There were also fruit, nuts, marzipan, chocolate and biscuits to eat. In some homes, this event was made even more magical by ringing a bell as a signal for the children to enter the room. Carols were sung, the Christmas story was read and the children opened their presents.
Nowadays, most German families attend mass at 4:00 p.m. and then return home at 6:00 p.m. to eat, read the Christmas story and then open their presents.