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Photo: KölnTourismus GmbH / Dieter Jacob

Christmas in Cologne and around the world

Christmas polarizes: some love it, some dread it. Drinking mulled wine, baking cookies, playing Secret Santa… Christmas enthusiasts in our country celebrate a myriad of customs and traditions. Without them, Christmas simply wouldn’t be Christmas. But how do international students experience the Christmas season in Cologne, what do German students love about the holiday season and what kinds of experiences have they made abroad?

A collection of personal impressions

It’s Christmas again – especially in Cologne
Mulled wine booth at a Cologne Christmas Market Photo: Heimat der Heinzel / Thilo Schmülgen

Nino Burdiladze is from Georgia. She is doing her doctorate in law at the University of Cologne. It is her third year here and she loves the city’s Christmas markets. “The best thing for me during the Christmas season is mulled wine and hot waffles. Just the wine’s scent of oranges and cinnamon makes me feel the joy of Christmas. There’s nothing better…” Besides her research, Nino heads the UoC’s Georgian student university group ‘Aisi’ (sunrise). One thing she does not like is the growing commercialization of Christmas: “The fact that in Germany Christmas paraphernalia starts to hit the shops already in September robs the holiday season of its charm,” she thinks.

Christmas Market in front of the Cologne Cathedral Photo: KölnTourismus GmbH / Dieter Jacobi

Jana Mewe is doing her doctorate at the Institute of German Language and Literature I. She is a self-professed Christmas freak: “In Cologne, what I look forward to most is the Christmas markets. There are so many themes: fairy tales on Rudolfplatz, angels at Neumarkt, handicrafts and children’s toys at Heumarkt and Alter Markt. And there are so many alternative Christmas markets, or the one at the harbor, where I found a surprising delicacy last year: mulled beer – which does not taste like beer at all. Everyone can find something to suit his or her taste. ” Jana, who is originally from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, loves everything about the holiday season – except Christmas parties and visits to Christmas markets for the only purpose to get drunk. “For me, that has nothing to do with Christmas.”

Bernadette Liessem, who studies at the Faculty of Management, Economics and Social Sciences, also loves the Christmas season. She has a very plausible explanation for that: “I grew up in a region of Germany in which Christmas traditions play a really big role: in Saxony, where Christmas pyramids, incense smokers and candle arches are produced. Maybe that explains my affection for Advent and Christmas decorations.”

Blue and white Christmas in France, church choirs in Ireland and contemplation in Georgia
Christmas decoration in Paris Photo: Bernadette Liessem

Bernadette and Jana have also made different experiences of how Christmas is celebrated in other countries. “I realized for the first time during my exchange semester abroad how German the whole tradition of baking Christmas cookies is. My fellow students in France were a bit baffled when I invited them to bake cookies with me. But in the end they loved it,” Bernadette remembers. “Especially in Paris, I noticed that the French do not associate the colors red, gold and green with Christmas, but rather blue and white. For me, that’s not festive at all.”

Festive illumination in Belfast Photo: Jana Mewe

During her semester abroad, Jana was able to get an impression of the holiday season in Belfast: “It was definitely different from what we do in Germany. Christmas is celebrated almost exclusively in religious terms there. Of course that means going to church a lot. I went along for the experience of it, and I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the concerts. The ‘Continental Market’ in Belfast, which also has a German tent, was a bit strange. The music that was played there did not have a lot to do with Christmas. It was more of the German Mallorca holiday hit type, and you could buy bratwurst. Next to it was a small booth selling ‘German’ mulled wine, but I was disappointed because the cups were just ordinary ones – without any decorations,” Jana remembers. 

Nino also noticed cultural differences: “In Georgia, whose Christian traditions go back to the fourth century, Christmas is a big celebration. But the tradition is different from the European one. It is more contemplative and religious. That aspect has faded a bit in Europe due to the whole commercialization.” Still, Nino enjoys the Christmas season here in Cologne: “It’s possible to have a really nice time wherever you are,” she concludes.