Seasonal Holidays and Celebrations: German Celebrations


Figure 1.--This German family is enjoying the Christmas holiday, probably during the early 1930s. The boy, who is clearly pleased wih his gift, wears a sweater, very long short pants, and long stockings.

The standard holidays including New Year, Easter, and Christmas are important in Germany. German holiday celebrations have varied considerably as to the regime in power. During the NAZI era, Hitler's birthday was a major event during which 10 years old were inducted into the Hitler Youth. I assume that the Kaiser's birthday was celebrated during Imperial Germany. After World War II the Communists celebrations of May Day was a major event. Germany is best known for its Ocktober fest celebrations. The most important holiday for German children is Christmas.

New Year (January 1)

We have no information yet on how the Germans celebrate New Year.

Kaiser's Birthday (January 27)

Kaiser Wilhelm II was born on January 27. After his accession as kaiser in 1881, I believe that this became a major holiday in Germany, celebrated much like the Queen's birthday in Britain. It would have been not only a personal honor to the kaiser, but be celebrated as a kind of natinal day with patriotic evengts. We have, however little actual information on how it was actually celebrated in Germany. I note that it was a big event in the Kaiser's Dutch refuge at Doorn with many dignitaries coming to visit. So I assume he made a major national event out of it when he was kaiser. It would be in keeping with his character. Of course after he abdicated in 1918, it was no longer a national holiday. Hopefully some of our German readers can provide some insights on how it was celebrated.

Easter (March/April)

We do not know a great deal about German Easter celebrations. We notice a huge number of family Christmas snapshots, but relatively few Easter snapshots. The main day in German Easter celebrations is Easter Sunday (Ostersonntag). After Church in the morning the children search for chocolate eggs. They were of course hidden by the Osterhase (Easter bunny). We notice children with very large eggs. I assume that they were chocolate eggs. We also notice chocolate easter bunnies. I'm not sure if the children color eggs like American children. Nor do I know if Waster baskets were common. Germany has both a Catholic and Protestant population. There are of course denominational differences in how Easter was celebrated. I am not sure if the denominational differences affected how the children celebrated the holiday. For lunch relatives come and in the afternoon there is cake and coffee.

Hitler's Birthday (April 20)

German holiday celebrations have varied considerably as to the regime in power.During the NAZI era, Hitler's birthday was a major event during which 10 years old were inducted into the Hitler Youth. While Hitler is now reviled in Germany, for the 12 yeas of NAZI rule, his birthday was one of the most important national events. I assume that the Kaiser's birthday was celebrated during Imperial Germany. The NAZIs made Hitler's birthday one of the most important holidays between 1933 and 1945, although celebrations were understandably linmited in 1945. Reich Propaganda Minister Goebbels gave a major speech each year on the eve of the event. NAZI Party branches throughout Germany were expected to organize local celevrations. A party monthly publication Die neue Gemeinschaft published material to provide guidance to local officials on how to orgabize this and other celebrations. Thousands of meetings held throughout the Reich to celebrate the event. Hitler's 1945 birthday was especially infamous. He emerged from his bunker, greeted some very young Hitler Youth boys, patting some on the cheek with his trembling hand, and then disappeared for the last time into his bunker. The boys returned to fighting the Russians for their Führer and most were killed in the next few days before Hitler committed suicide and the military surrendered to the Russians.

May Day (May 1)

May Day is an internation celebratin honoring labor. In Germany it is commonly referred to as Tag der Arbeit. European countries began celebrating May ay in the late 19th century. The International Workers' Congress in Paris designated May Day as a public holiday in 1889. Trade unions and Socialist political parties promoted May Day as a public holiday, but Kaiser Wilhelm II never approved. The Government did not designate May Day as a holiday until after World War I. Socialist partes dominated the new Weimar Republic that replaced the Kaiser following the War. The National Assembly declared May Day a public holiday (1919). I had thought that Hitler made May Day an official holiday, at the same time he suppresssed free trade unions. So I do not yet have full details on the history of May Day in Germany. Celebrations in Germany are observed by holding meetings, marches and public oratory. It is mostly organized by trade unions. After World War II the Communists celebrations of May Day was a major event. This was one of the Comminist festivals for which the Young Pioneers were used for parades. Nay Day comes in the Spring nd there are also May Day celebrations associated with Spring that have nothing to do with Labor Day celebrations. Some of these celebrations have ancient origins. Hopefully our German reders can tell us more about May Day celebrations.

First Day of School (September)

One of the most important events in the life of a German child was his first day of school. Jere German parents made it into a major event. It is a tradition on a child's first day of school in many countries to take a photograph. Sometimes this was done formally, but more common a snapshot was taken at home. The photographs show not only the child's clothing and in Germany the traditional gift cone or (" Zuckertute ") This tradition is less formal today, although children are much photographed than ever before. German boys often wore sailor suits to school on their first day as this was such a popular style for boys, especially younger boys. Many other styles were also worn. Commonly they were short pants outfits until long pants began to be more popular in the 1960s.

German Unity Day (October 3)

German Unity Day was established as the national day in 1990.

Octoberfest (October)

Germany is best known for its Ocktoberfest celebrations. Octoberfest seems to be highly regionalized in Germany. A German reader writes, "It seems to me that Lederhosen and Oktoberfest is mostly associated with Germany abroad. But that are traditional Bavarian habits. Here in the north I see no Lederhosen and Oktoberfest. When I see in TV American people celebrate a "German party" all I can think of is Bavaria.

Christmas (December 25)

The most important holiday for German children is Christmas. As in many other European countries, on the eve of December 6, children place a shoe or boot by the fireplace. During the night, St. Nicholas, the patron saint of chi ldren, hops from house to house carrying a book of sins in which all of the misdeeds of the children are written. If they have been good, he fills the shoe or boot with delicious holiday edibles. If they have not been good, their shoe is filled with twigs.

Festivals

One interesting topic associated with holidays are festivals. In addition to nationally celebrted holidays, cities and towns throughout Germany have their own local celebrations. these are all quite varied reflecting their local origins. Many occur during the Summer or Fall. Some of these celebrations date back to the medieval era. These are often costumed events. Others are of more recent origins. Most are not very well known, especially outside Germany. Hopefully our German readers will tell us about their local festivals.






HBC





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Created: December 3, 2002
Last updated: 7:07 PM 9/2/2006