Christmas is Germany's most important holiday. Festivities begin on Advent Sunday, four weeks before December 25. St. Nicholas is said to visit during the night of December 5 and people awake on December 6 to find their shoes stuffed with nuts, fruit and chocolate. Seasonal markets are held in town squares throughout Advent. The most famous are in Nuremburg, Munich and Heidelberg. The big celebration with gift-giving is on December 24. The following two days are holidays, usually spent visiting friends and family.

The partying of Fastnacht (Carnival) precedes the self-restraint of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday. Ways of celebrating differ from region to region. The largest festival is held in Cologne. More than 7,000 people parade through the city, many on horseback, showering candy, popcorn and flowers onto the crowd.

Easter is both a religious celebration and a children's holiday, with a search for Easter eggs and gifts of chocolate.

Harvest is celebrated in August. In Koblenz, barges are loaded with fireworks and set off down the river for the "Rhine in Flames" celebration.

 Did you know?
The Christmas tree tradition is believed to have originated in Germany in the 17th century. German Christmas trees are often decorated with real candles.

Almost every town has a special festival. The most famous is Oktoberfest in Munich. This sixteen-day festival began as a wedding celebration to mark the marriage of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig in 1810. It has become a celebration of beer that draws people from all over the world. In addition to the traditional beer tents, there are performances by folklore groups and marching bands and a large amusement fair.

German families love to travel. More than half the population visit foreign countries every year. The word Wanderlust (desire to travel) is, after all, a German word.

Many celebrations reflect the country's strong musical tradition. Bach is celebrated in March in his birthplace at Eisenach, and Wagner is honoured in July in Bayreuth. Jazz festivals are held in Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Berlin.

January 1 New Year's Day
January 6 Epiphany (in certain regions)
March or April Good Friday, Easter Monday
May 1 May Day
April or May Ascension Day
April or May Pentecost
June Corpus Christi (in certain regions)
August 15 Assumption (in certain regions)
October 3 Day of German Unity
November 1 All Saints (in certain regions)
December 25, 26 Christmas Day, Boxing Day
August 15 The Assumption of the Virgin May