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5 unique German winter traditions

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From lighting a punch drink on fire to people in evil-looking beast costumes running the streets, here are five unique winter traditions celebrated across Germany.

Feuerzangenbowle - Fire tongs punch

One of the most interesting hot drinks that Germans enjoy is the Feuerzangenbowle.

The key ingredients are red wine, cinnamon sticks, oranges and lemons, but the fascination with the drink comes in its preparation.

After the ingredients are mixed together, Young Germany states that a sugar cone or loaf, known as a Zuckerhut, is placed on top and doused in rum. The sugar is then lit on fire, creating a spectacular blue flame as the caramelized sugar drips into the wine mixture.

Weihnachtsmärkte - Christmas Markets

Christmas markets pop up in every major German city and many small towns during December.

Temperatures that average 2-6 C (35-43 F) in December do not deter Germans from venturing out to the markets and shop from the vendors that line streets and town squares.

A Christmas pyramid stands tall in Alexanderplatz, Berlin. (Photo/Rachel Schilling)

Dresden boasts the title of Germany's unofficial Christmas capital with the nation's oldest Christmas market, known as Dresden Striezelmarkt. Running from 24 November to 24 December, the city's official website states that 2016 marks the 582nd year of the festival.

The main attraction of Dresden Striezelmarkt is the largest Christmas pyramid in the world, standing at 14.62 meters (nearly 48 feet) tall.

The pyramid is similar to a wooden carousel with several levels of hand-painted figurines depicting Christmas or folk motifs, according to Young Germany. There are also wooden figures that hold candles, the rising heat of which twirls a propellor at the top.

This year, the Dresden Pyramid Festival will be held during the market on 10 December. The festival features the telling of the pyramid's history, a singing contest and a Christmas concert.

Nikolaustag - St. Nicholas Day

Youngsters looking forward to gifts during the holidays do not have to wait until Christmas in the Catholic regions of Germany. Good boys and girls, instead, are eager on the morning of 6 December and await the arrival of St. Nicholas, who resembles a bishop and carries a staff.

Children leave letters to St. Nicholas on a plate or in their shoes the evening of 5 December, according to the St. Nicholas Center. Food, such as carrots, is also left for his white horse or donkey.

Saint Nicholas, right, and his companion Krampus participate in a parade in 24 November 2001 photo. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson, file)

The plates or shoes are either left outside, under a bed, beside a radiator or on a windowsill then filled with treats or small gifts by St. Nicholas during the night - similar to the Santa Claus tradition. Naughty children may find potatoes, coal or twigs.

In some communities, St. Nicholas makes a personal appearance and asks the children if they have been good. The evil-looking Krampus accompanies St. Nicholas on these visits and carries a switch to scare children into being good.

Krampuslauf - Krampus Run

The tradition of scaring children into behaving is taken beyond one dark-haired beast with horns and fangs visiting homes in some communities. Instead, droves of people dressed as Krampus take to the streets during Krampuslauf, known as the Krampus Run.

A Krampus mask (Photo/Rachel Schilling)

This year, the Munich Christmas Market will hold two Krampus runs with 300 people in costumes expected during one.

The cost of one costume can range from 1800 to 2500 euros (roughly $1,900 to $2,650 USD). A mask alone can weigh 10 kg (22 pounds), according to the city of Munich's official website.

Epiphanie/Dreikönigsfest - Epiphany

A public holiday in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Saxony-Anhalt, Epiphany is celebrated annually on 6 January. The date marks the finale of the 12 days of Christmas and commemorates the journey of the Three Wise Men.

Folklore states that if winter fails to arrive by Epiphany, it will not occur that year, according to Germany Public Holidays.

Epiphany is the time when traditional "C+M+B" house-blessing ceremonies are performed with an inscription on or above a door.

Epiphany 2016 was observed with this inscription. (Photo/Lisa Bahr)

The inscription separates the year with crosses and the letters C, M, B. The three letters traditionally stand for Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar-the Three Wise Men. German-Way.com lists the Latin phrase, "Christus mansionem benedicat," which translates to "Christ bless this house," as another explanation for the choice of letters.

Commonly, chalk blessed by a local Catholic priest is used for the inscription. Some people substitute the first cross for a star to represent the star of Bethlehem.

Inscriptions are either done by families or Sternsingers (Star Singers) as they carol around neighborhoods and raise money for charities. Star Singers are generally boys and girls in groups of four with three dressed as the Wise Men and one carrying a star.