Let’s start, of course, with the beginning of the year’s Festivals in Germany. On New Year Eve’s (Silvester or St-Sylvestre) or on New Year’s Day (Neujahr), Germans usually give each others small marzipan pigs, or cards with pigs, chimney sweeps, one pfennig coins, horse shoes, lady bugs or four-leaf clovers. All of whom are considered to bring good luck to the owner.
All of these might be made of plastic, candy, choclote, etc. and you’ll find them in most store where they sell food. They are particularly plentiful in train and bus stations’ store, which are also just about the only ones open on Holidays days.
On the 6th of January, Germans celebrate the festival of the Heilige Drei König (the three saint kings), the journey of the three Magi who came bringing gifts to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. It is a state holiday in a few Lands(states): Bavaria, Baden Württemberg and Sachsen-Anhalt. Most school children are still on vacation until after this day.
This is also the day when most people take down their Christmas tree and decorations. You might also see groups of Sternsinger (star singers), children dressed like the three Wise Men, carrying a star lantern on a stick. They go from door to door singing songs associate with festivals in Germany and collecting donations for Third World relief projects.
If they stop at your house they will write in white clak above the door something like: 20 C+M+B 10. The 20 and 10 are for the year (2010 in this case) and the letters stand for the Latin words: Christus mansionem benedictat (God bless this house).
It also happens that these letters stand for the initial of the three Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.
January is also the time of costume parties for one of the best festivals in Germany, i.e. the Karneval or Fasching, which ends with the beginning of Lent in February or March depending of the year.
Although there are no official state holidays in February, there are a few very well known festivals in Germany!
One of them is the Karneval! And don’t expect to do much business done during the six days before Ash Wednesday in some regions (Ash Wednesday date varies from year to your, as to Easter to which it is linked).
Spring Holidays and Festivals in Germany
If you travel in Germany in the Spring you might be surprised to find that there is a holiday somewhere almost every week.
One of these festivals in Germany, celebrated by German of the “Kurpfalz” and the area around it, such as the Neckar Valley, is held a few weeks before Easter and is the Sommertagszug that I freely translated here as “Summer Day Parade”.
This special event, the Sommertagszug, is celebrated about three weeks before Easter (the exact date may vary from one town to another due to local traditions), on the Laetare Sunday (Sonntag Laetare), also called Mid-Lent (Mittfasten, or in French, la mi-carême), in the south-west provinces of Germany. It is a Frühlingfest (a Spring party) to welcome summer and tell winter that its time has come and it must go away.
A Zug (train-parade) made of lots of kids costumed as little ducklings wearing yellow rain jacket and duck’s head as hats parades in town holding big Bretzels placed at the tip of sticks decorated with multicolour ribbons. Some of these big Bretzels have a cooked egg in the middle.
There is also, pulled along by some happy men and boys wearing costumes, a snowman standing on a dried up tree made of straw representing old winter. And further along, on a green tree decorated with vividly coloured eggs garlands, we can see a rooster and a crane representing spring and summer. During the parade, the kids are signing a song telling winter to go, that summer is here.
At the end of the parade, the winter tree and the snowman are burned in a big bonfire with everyone standing around it and happily singing that winter is dead, we have been delivered from death and “Strih, Strah, Stroh, Der Sommerdag is do” (summer day is here).
Also a few weeks before Easter, many towns hold Ostermarkt (Easter markets; a bit like the better known Christmas market). The shops in these markets sell beautifully decorated eggs, crafts and springtime ornaments of all sorts.
Of course, the chocolate bunnies and eggs also show up in stores soon after the the St-Nikolaus disappear. But be careful with these chocolates: many German Easter bunnies and eggs are filled with Schnapps or other liquor. Not exactly suitable for small children!
Another word of advice: Germans like their silence. So, the rule of “Do not disturb your neighbours” applies on Holidays and festivals in Germany as well as on Sundays. No loud music outside, no mowing of the lawn or washing the car by the side of the house.
Another festivals in Germany in Spring is the Christi Himmelfart (Ascension Day) and it is on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter.
Since the late 19th century, this has been a traditional day for men to go on outings with clubs or groups that they belong to. And because it is celebrated as the day that Jesus returned to his father in Heaven, it is also celebrated as Vatertag (Father’s day) in Germany.
As for Mother’s day, it is the same as in USA, on the second Sunday in May.
Still another holiday or festival, Pfingsten (Pentecost or also called Whitsun) falls on the seventh Sunday after Easter and is a real holiday in Bavaria (a very Catholic area of Germany) where the children have a two-week vacation from school for the Pentecost. In other regions of Germany, there might be shorter vacations or just the holiday itself.
The name itself, Pentecost, is from the Greek pentekoste, meaning the 50th day after Easter. It is the celebration of the ascent of the Holy Spirit onto the Apostles after Jesus ascension to Heaven 10 days before. It is also seen as the real day of the foundation of the Christian Church.
Fronleichnam (Corpus Christi Day), one of the other festivals in Germany, is the Thursday after Pentecost. It is to celebrate the Christian sacrament of the holy communion.
In many towns, people will have decorated their houses with fresh greens, flags and small outdoor altars. a procession led by the children who have received their first communion a few weeks earlier march through the streets. Joining the procession, is the priest who carried under a canopy the communion wafers which are placed in a highly decorated container. Sometimes, the church service is held outdoors.
Now, on the first of May, in addition to be the international Labour Day, in Germany it is also the day of the Maibaum (Maypoles) one of the well known festivals in Germany.
The customs vary from region to region but a few things stay about the same. The young men of the town get a tall tree and cut off all the branches except the very top one. Then the tree is decorated with paper steamers or painted and put up in the town center on April 30th. This is usually quite a spectacle and most town people will be there celebrating.
And now, the real fun begins: the tree has to be guarded all night otherwise the young men of a neighbouring villages might come and steal it! And that would be a great dishonour for the young men but also for the whole town! And so, what better excuse than to stay up all night partying!
There is another reason to be on the look out on April 30th: according to German legends, this is the night that the Hexen (the witches) gather in the Harz Mountains of central Germany. It is called Walpurgisnacht (Night of Walpurgis) or Hexenacht (the Night of the Witches).
In the Land of Thüringen on or around the Brocken, the highest mountain in the Harz, there is much activity on that evening.
In other areas of Germany, children might play pranks on their neighbours: putting soap in the windows, toilet paper in the trees, moving garbage bins in the middle of the road, etc. And they can blame it on the witches!
Resume of Spring Holidays and Festivals in Germany
Sommerstagzug, a few weeks before Easter, Holiday in some regions Palmensonntag (Palm Sunday) a week before Easter Sunday, (Sunday) Gründonnerstag (Thursday before Easter) not a Holiday
Karfreitag (Good Friday) German Holiday
Ostersonntag (Easter Sunday) (Sunday)
Ostermontag (Easter Monday) German Holiday
Tag der Arbeit (International Labour Day) German Holiday
Christi Himmelfahrt (Ascension Day) German Holiday
Vatertag (German Father’s Day) German Holiday
Muttertag (Mother’s day, same date as in USA) Not a Holiday
Pfingstsonntag (Pentecost Sunday)(Sunday)
Pfingstmontag (Pentecote Monday) German Holiday
Fronleichnam (Corpus Christi Day) German Holiday
As mentioned earlier, some of these festivals in Germany dates vary from year to year and from region to region, so better ask around in your area if it is a Holiday and when.
Summer festivals in Germany
Except for the 15th of August with the Maria Himmelfahrt (Mary’s Ascension Day) which is a holiday in Bavaria, there are no holidays in July, August and September in Germany.
This being said; there are many festivals in Germany and historical events to visit during these months.
Many towns, such as Hirschhorn, have a Medieval festival with a Medieval market and a Ritterspiele (a Ritter is a Knight) where knights perform in tournament!
One of the best known of these Medieval Tournament go on for several weekends in July in Kaltenberg near Munich.
The towns of Rothenburg and of Dinkelsbühl also have festivals and historical plays to commemorate their being spare from the destruction of the 30 years war.
Also, every 10 years, the Alpine town of Oberammergau puts on the most famous Passion Play. And many towns and villages have all kinds of parades and celebrations to celebrate their being 800, 900 or 1000 years old! There are usually plays and big communal parties that goes with it!
In brief, there is always so much happening, so many festivals in Germany in Summer, that the only way to get to know what if going on in your region is to talk to your neighbours or read the news!
The local German newspapers are very helpful for that: even if you read very little German, the titles and the pictures will tell you a lot.
October and November
October has two principal festivals in Germany:
the Erntedank, the German harvest festival (about the equivalent of Thanksgiving in North America) which is observed on the first Sunday of October with parades in some towns and with fruits of the harvest on display on the altar during church services.
And the Tag des deutschen Einheit (the day of the German Unity). This day is to celebrate the re-unification of East and West Germany to become again one country in 1990. It is the most recent holiday celebrated in Germany and it is held on the 3rd of October.
Another event which is not German and of which very few German children had heard of until a few years ago, is the Holloween with its Jack-O’-Lantern. But this is slowly changing as, with many Americans living on US military bases in Germany, German children have started seeing pumpkins and Halloween costumes.
Some of these children have even started going door to door for trick or treat.
But unless your neighbours know about Halloween, your kids might be quite disappointed: it is not a German custom, very few know about it, and they will not be ready for visitors on October 31st asking for trick or treat, which is Süsses oder es gibt Saures in German.
November in Germany is a month for solemn and reflective observances.
There are not many festivals in Germany and Holidays in this month.
In fact, there is only the First of November, Allerheiligen (All Saints day), that is a state holiday in Bavaria. And as this holiday is a Catholic one, it is not observed in most of the German states where the majority is protestant.
During that day, where it is celebrated, family graves are decorated with fall arrangements and there are many special church services to commemorate the saints who don’t have a special day in the church calendar and the Christian martyrs.
November second, Allerseelen (All Souls Day) is dedicated to the memory of those who have died. It is not per se a holiday, but a time of reflection on ones own life.
The Protestant Buss- und Bettag (repentance and prayer day) is always on a Wednesday in November. It is not a holiday in Bavaria (mostly Catholic), but some German children might have no school.
And the Sunday before this day is the Volkstrauertag (National Day of Mourning). It is dedicated to remembering victims of Nazi terror and the dead of the two World Wars. Memorial events take place at monuments and elsewhere.
Then, the Sunday after Volkstrauertag is known as Totensonntag (the Sunday of the dead). It is a Protestant tradition to visit the graves of their friends and family members. Because of the solemn nature of these observances, no street decorations or parades or festivals are allowed during these weekends and on Busstag. No loud music should be played outside either.
November 11th has two major festivals in Germany: It is the day of Saint-Martin, Bishop of Tours who died around 400 AD and was known for his kindness to the poor. In many restaurants, and in many German houses, you will see “Martinsganz” (Martin’s goose) on the menus in November. It is customery to eat goose at this time of the year to celebrate the Bishop of Tours.
The other event that is held in November has absolutely nothing to do with the solemnity of the Month. It is in fact the contrary. At exactly 11:11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month, the Karneval (or Mardi Gras) season starts officially.
Especially in the Rheinland (Bonn, Cologne and Mainz) you might run into people dressed in wild costumes on that day, and that day only in November.
In fact, except on this day, the 11 of November, you won’t hear anything again about Karneval or Fasching until after the Christmas season in mid-January. The Karneval, called Fasching in the southern part of Germany, reaches its climax in February with parades and costumed balls.
It is the season of Christmas and do Germans know how to celebrate it! Actually, this country seems to have be made for this holiday!
The season start on the first Sunday in December, which is the first Sunday of the Advent. It is also on that Sunday that most Weinachtmarkt (Xmas markets) open their doors, so to speak.
Most towns and villages have their own market and they are a real pleasure to visit. Even though streets and buildings might be decorated at this point in the season, most Germans wait until Christmas Eve to put up their tree. To learn more about this wonderful holiday, click on Christmas.
But before Christmas eve, another event happens: The visit of St-Nikolaus on the eve of the 6th of December. The children put out their shoes close to their bed and hope to find small gifts in them in the morning. To learn more about St-Nik, click on it!
It is important to note that, even though it varies form region to region, most stores close around noon on the 24th of December and do NOT reopen before the 27th as the 25th and the 26th are legal holidays for the whole of Germany and which are spent with family and friends.
Another unusual aspect of Christmas season in Germany is the baking of cookies: most women don’t cook cookies during the year except for Christmas. But then, there will be cookies galore: most women will bake dozens of fancy small cookies of many kinds a week or more before the holidays.