Culture and Traditions

German Holidays Celebrations and Traditions Culture  Culture Throughout Germany

German HolidaysOktoberfest - Brass Band
Although Germany observes the separation of church and state, religious holidays have become a part of German local culture. They are accepted and celebrated by the whole community. While many traditions are observed in smaller villages and town, some traditions pertaining to holidays such as Halloween, Christmas, and Oktoberfest are upheld by Germans throughout the country.

Here are some of the more popularly celebrated German holidays:
January *1st - Neujahr (New Year's Day)
*6th -Three Kings and Epiphany
     [date follows the Lunar Calendar]
Ostern (Easter)
     [date follows the Lunar Calendar]
May *1st - Erster Mai (May Day)
       - Tag der Arbeit (Labor Day)
     [16 days before 1st Sunday in October]
Erntedankfest (Thanksgiving) [1st Sunday in October]
*3rd - Tag der deutschen Einheit (Day of German Unity)
31st - Halloween
Advent [date follows the Lunar Calendar]
6th - Nikolaustag (St. Nicholas Day)
*24th - Heiligabend (Christmas Eve)
*25th - Weihnachten (Christmas Day)
*26th - Zweiter Weihnachtstag (Second Day of Christmas)
31st - Silvester (New Year's Eve)
(*) marks a public holiday
Cick for a More Complete List of German Holidays
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German Celebrations and Traditions
January: In the month of January, two main holidays are celebrated, Neujahr (New Year's Day, January 1st) and the Three Kings and Epiphany (January 6th). Neujahr is celebrated to bring in the new year in place of the old. Epiphany recalls the journey of the three wise men to Bethlehem to bring gifts to infant Jesus. On this day, children dress up as the three kings, wearing robes and singing carols, and go door-to-door collecting candy or money for charities.

February: Fasching begins November 11th and continues until Ash Wednesday. High Karneval season Karneval Costumesoccurs the week before the fasting and religious activities of Lent, generally from mid February to mid March. Although this period of time has Catholic heritage as being  time to celebrate life to the fullest before the religiously restrictive period of Lent, it is now celebrated throughout all of Germany.  Karneval is generally a crazy time for feasting, drinking, and merrymaking. Its is celebrated with costumes, parades, private parties, masked balls, and the election of the Prinz Karneval and his princess.

April: The three main days of the Easter, Ostern, celebration are Karfreitag (Good Friday), Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday. The Easter bunny originated from the meshing Christianity with the pre-Christian customs of honoring the spring goddess Eostre's whose chief symbols were a hare, marking fertility, and an egg representing creation. Throughout the Easter celebration, children hunt for colored eggs, eat chocolate Easter bunnies and marzipan, a sweet candy made from almond paste, and spend time with their families.

May: May first is a double holiday in Germany, celebrating both Erster Mai (May Day) and Tag der Arbeit (Labor Day). May Day celebrates spring's victory over winter. In smaller towns, a tall tree is placed the town center with its lower branches and bark removed. The tree is decorated  with figurines, ribbons, and garland. The people in the village gather in the town center for dancing, drinking, and socializing.

September: With over 6 million participants over the 16 day event, Oktoberfest has becomeOktoberfest - Fair the world's largest festival. Oktoberfest always occurs on a Saturday in September and ends the first Sunday in October. The annual celebration began in 1810 when the Crown Prince Ludwig wed Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildurghausen. The citizens of Munich were invited to join in the 16 day festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates marking the royal unification. Over time, the celebrations have turned from the traditional horse races to a more carnival atmosphere. Carousels, roller coasters, open-air concerts, parades, and cultural presentations mark the event, but the feast of  traditional foods and beer make Oktoberfest unique from other festivals. Throughout the festival, over 5 million liters of Wiesenbier beer brewed especially for the celebration and 200,00 pairs of pork sausages are consumed annually.

October: Erntedankfest (Thanksgiving), Tag der deutschen Einheit (Day of German Unity), and Halloween are the three main holidays in October. The German Thanksgiving occurs on the first Sunday in October. As a mostly rural celebration, Erntedankfest celebrates regional harvests with town parades, banquets, dances, and games. The 3rd of October marks the Day of German Unity when East and West Germany were officially unified in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Each year, a different German city hosts commemorative festivities. Halloween is celebrated internationally as October 31st. Children dress up in costume and go trick-or-treating.

November - December: The Christmas season in Germany is full of traditions. Advent is a four week long period celebrated throughout the month leading up to Christmas ChristmasMarket - SchlossplatzSunday. Children celebrate Advent with advent calendars, opening a door each day and receiving a chocolate.  Families commonly light candles on a their Advent wreaths (Adventskranz) each Advent Sunday to start the week. The first Advent Sunday marks the opening of Germany's famous open-air Christmas Markets found in nearly every village.
For children, one of the most exciting days in December is
Nikolaustag (St. Nicholas Day). On the eve of December 6th, German children leave their shoes out by the door or on the windowsill in hopes of St. Nikolaus filling them with presents. However, as tradition goes, St. Nikolaus’ mean helper will fill bad children's shoes with coal. Children receive presents again on Heiligabend (Christmas Eve), December 24th. Christkind (Christchild/Father Christmas) leaves presents under the Tannenbaum (Christmas tree) and light the candles on it.  The Christmas bell is rung to announce the arrival of Christmas, and children are allowed to open their gifts. The Christmas meal and main celebration take place on this day, rather than the 25th of December. On Weihnachten (Christmas Day), the 25th of December, Germans typically spend time at church and with their families. The 26th of December, Zweiter Weihnachtstag, is considered the second day of Christmas where people celebrate with their friends. Silvester or New Year's Eve caps off the month on December 31st. People have parties and stay up until midnight to bring in the new year with friends and fireworks.
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Culture Throughout Germany
German culture has progressed throughout time, losing some of its olderGerman Soccer Fans - Olympics less popular traditions and cultural aspects and adding those relevant to the younger generation or the large immigrant population.

Soccer, now something of a national obsession, is a vital part of the German culture today. "Fussball" is the most popular sport in Germany by far. While soccer is played by across the country by millions, Germans have great pride for their national team. Although they did lost to Brazil in the final 2002 World Cup, Germany has claimed three World Cup and is preparing to host the 2006 World Cup.

Immigrant customs and traditions have been integrated into many aspects ofBird's Wedding German culture. A significant example of this is the Sorbian tradition of the Bird's Wedding. This wedding ceremony celebrates the coming spring and the birds' thankfulness for being fed throughout winter. The night before the ceremony, children set out plates on their windowsill in hopes of birds bringing them sweets or presents. On January 15th, children in elementary schools and kindergartens dress up as various birds with one girl specially dressed as the magpie bride and a boy as the raven bridegroom. A wedding meal with dancing, singing, and celebration follows.

A schultuete, translated as a school cone, is give to children in Germany as they set off for their first day of school. These large decorated card board cones are usually given by parents or grandparents and filled with sweets, school supplies, and toys.
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German Federal Foreign Office.  2003.  “Facts About Germany.”  Retrieved October 23, 2004.

Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia.  2004.  "Germany, Federal Republic of."  Microsoft Corporations.  Retrieved November 6, 2004.

Robert Shea. 1997. "German and German-American Customs, Traditions, Origins of Holidays." Retrieved November 18, 2004.

Photos courtesy of the Associated Press via the Tulane Library

The purpose of this web site is to inform viewers about the status of children in Germany. This site was created by Julie Bernzweig, Christina Carpenter, Sarah Mayhall, and Lorena Quintana as part of a collaborative web project for the first year writing seminar Children & Society at Tulane University taught by Professor April Brayfield.

Updated December 9, 2004