Festivals and celebrations in the German speaking world

Hallo allerseits heute sprechen wir ein bisschen über Volksfeste die im deutschsprachigen Raum gefeiert werden.

Austria has a huge amount and variety of festivals and celebrations – much more than the UK. This partly due to the fact that it is a highly religious country with thousands of years of history and tradition, some of which is shares with other German speaking countries, and some of which is entirely its own. Furthermore, as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the Bundesländer of Austria each have their own identity and therefore also their own festivals and traditions, adding to the national ones in each individual region. Nevertheless, German speaking countries have many traditions in common.

A few of the main national festivals in Germany, Austria and Switzerland include; the moveable feasts including the Easter celebrations – Palmsonntag, Karfreitag, Ostern, Ostermontag and Ascension day (Christi Himmelfahrt), Fasching during lent season (called Karneval in Germany), Ash Wednesday (Aschermittwoch) and Corpus Christi (Fronleichnam). All of these are religious festivals celebrating the resurrection and ascension of Christ. Having once been part of the holy roman empire, and situated just about Italy – the home of Catholicism, Austria has been strongly catholic since the 10th century. Today 73.6% of the population identify as catholic. Catholicism is also widely popular in Switzerland and the southern regions of Germany. Northern Germany is more Protestant and Atheistic (non-believing).

Further religious holidays celebrated across the German speaking world of course include Christmas eve, Christmas, boxing day and New Year – Heiligabend, Weihnachtstag, zweiter Weihnachtstag, Silvester. The tradition of Christmas finds its roots in Germany after all. However these occasions are celebrated quite differently to the UK. For example; on Heiligabend in Austria (24th December) the Christkind pays a visit, and rings a bell when your gifts have been delivered. The Christkind is not the same as Father Christmas, and it also enters houses through the window rather than the chimney. The 24th of December is the more celebrated day in German speaking countries, rather than the 25th. The national holidays in December are also all extremely family orientated; but one exception is Silvester or New Year’s, which is widely celebrated with friends or family. In Germany there is a traditional showing of ‘Dinner for One’, a British comedy film shown in English every year. Of course there are also fireworks, notably over the Brandenburg Gate but of course in all town and cities across Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The traditional meal on Silvester is Raclette or Fondue, both based around the idea of melted cheese (sehr lecker!).

There are also other celebrations leading up to Christmas which all German speaking countries take part in. These include Advent and Nikolaustag. Advent involves marking the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas. Nikolaustag, celebrated on the night of the 5th December, is an occasion where children receive gifts in their shoes and boots (usually chocolate and mandarins) from the Saint Nikolaus.

A notable Alpine tradition which lives on in Austria during the Christmas period are the Krampusläufe. These involve people dressing up as devil-like creatures, running through populated areas hitting people with whips (made out of either wood or horse hair). This originally Pagan tradition is supposed to scare away evil spirits. When Catholicism took over as the main religion in Austria and southern parts of Germany Krampus was adopted into the Nikolaus tradition, posing as his evil opposite, to make it easier for the people to adapt to the new faith at the time. However, a lot of Pagan traditions still live on in some form or other in the German speaking world. Particularly within the Alps, because in the past these regions were partially geographically isolated by their mountains, meaning the ban on Paganism was much harder to enforce on these proud and traditional peoples.

Many other non-religious or partially religious events are also celebrated, including Karneval in Germany (finding its home in Cologne) and Oktoberfest, which actually starts in September, (finding its home in Munich). Both Karneval and Oktoberfest essentially consist of days long drinking, partying and dressing up. The drinking culture in German speaking countries is based around beer, and rather than clubbing even the younger Germans and Austrians will sit at tables drinking and talking until the early hours on their nights off (Feiertage).

All these festivals and celebrations are days off or bank holidays in their countries. Sundays are very much considered a day of rest and all the shops are closed and people stay at home relaxing. Working hours are also restricted and almost all shops close before 8pm, and Fridays are half days. Some businesses also have Ruhetage; particular days off for their business or shop, or particular half days or certain days which they are open for certain transactions. For example the Rathaus in Innsbruck only allows appointments for entry into the country from Monday to Wednesday up until 12pm. This can make life difficult for those who aren’t used to it but you soon learn to plan your life around these normalities.

Germans and Austrians also have the tradition of celebrating name days as well as birthdays, when you might receive small gifts from your family. This tradition goes back to the idea that originally most people’s names were taken from the bible, and each saint had a specific date dedicated to them.

Alles in allem feiern die Deutschen und die Österreicher sehr oft, fast jede zweite Woche gibt es etwas zu feiern, meistens mit viel Alkohol. Es gibt auch traditionelle Kleidung die man zum Karneval oder Oktoberfest oder auch alltäglichen Anlässen trägt. Die bekanntesten sind Dirndln und Lederhosen, und die Einwohner Deutschlands und Österreichs sind sehr stolz auf sie, genug dass sie dem auf zu Hochzeiten und Kindtaufen tragen. Diese Klamotten unterschieden sich von Region zu Region, zum Beispiel um die traditionelle Kleidung Bregenzerwald in Österreich zu kaufen muss man ein Bregenzer oder Bregenzerin sein. Zum Schluss sind Volksfeste ein große Teil des Lebens in den deutschsprachigen Länder, und deswegen ein Teil der nationalen Identität.


Danke und bis zum nächsten Mal,


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