Germans have a fun turn of phrase for the period between Christmas and New Year’s — zwischen den Jahren — or in English “between the years.” So, what happens zwischen den Jahren you ask? Nothing. Just kidding…well, kind of just kidding.
Although only slightly bigger than New Mexico and smaller than Montana, Germany feels surprisingly vast and diverse (culture wise, at least). In our travels, we landed in a small town in the German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen (or in English “North Rhine-Westphalia”). When it comes to the time between Christmas and New Year’s, small towns have the least to offer, especially during the pandemic.
Christmas works differently in Germany. While in the U.S., we typically find many stores and businesses still open on “Christmas Eve,” albeit it running on reduced hours, much is already closed in small-town Germany. On the 24th, we went to, perhaps, the nicest café on the main street and were surprised to find that all tables were booked (but they allowed us to slide into a currently unoccupied table). We learned that the café would close midday and then it would be closed for not only the 25th of December, but also the 26th. This is a big contrast to the U.S., where the 26th is an important shopping day. For many Germans, Christmas (as a national holiday) works as follows:
- December 24th – Heiligabend – Christmas Eve. Businesses/ stores are closed or close mid-day. In the evening, many Germans attend a Christmas church service, return home and open presents. This gift-giving ritual in German is known as die Bescherung.
- December 25th – Erster Weihnachtstag – First Christmas. Most everything is closed in small-town Germany. In the small town that we visited, only the small gas station convenience store, a food takeout window, and a hotel restaurant remained opened for limited hours..
- December 26th – Zweiter Weihnachtstag – Second Christmas. Germany has two days of Christmas for some reason. Many stores remain closed on this day in small towns, but it seems like there is less celebration on the 26th.
I cannot stress to you enough how quiet it is zwishchen den Jahren especially in small towns. I was surprised to find more than one grocery store that stayed closed from midday on the 24th until December 31st (for Americans, this seems a bit extreme!). I’m getting coupons for Christmas-day massage specials in my email from Boston, but you won’t find that here in Deutschland!
Berlin and other bigger cities operate more normally zwishchen den Jahren, which is good news if you plan on celebrating the holidays in Germany. But still, it’s good to look ahead for closures and check out the store hours in-person or over the phone as Google maps is not a reliable source in these instances.
More on Berlin and other German cities to come in future posts!
Ich wünsche dir ein frohes neues Jahr! I wish you a happy new year!