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October 31: Reformation Day and Halloween

Luther monument in Wittenberg, and the so-called Thesentür at the palace church (which is a memorial, not the original door)

October 31 is:
1. to the Protestant churches, Reformation Day;
2. to kids and those who like to party, and to shopkeepers, Halloween;
3. for the record: to the Catholic Church, the holiday of St Wolfgang, the patron saint of the diocese of Regensburg.

Reformation Day recalls the event that was later declared the beginning of the reformation: Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses against to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. He planned a disputation about that topic on the following day and publishing statements about the topic this way was common academic usage – the church door served as the university’s notice board. Luther had planned to reform, not divide the Roman Church but as we know things turned out differently. So this day became the birthday of Lutheran Protestantism.
Protestant churches with Lutheran or United background hold services on Reformation Day, usually in the evening. October 31 is a public holiday in the five Eastern federal states: Berlin-Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Sachsen, Sachsen-Anhalt and Thüringen. Only in 2017, October 31 is a holiday in the entire country due to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

Halloween is a recent import from beyond the pond. Shops contribute a lot to the popularity of this event for commercial reasons, just like Valentine’s Day. Decorations and costumes sell well. The young generation are the biggest fans: children for collecting sweets, teenagers and young adults for partying.
In recent years groups of masked children have been around at dusk begging for sweets like in America. The German threat is, “Süßes oder Saures” (“sweet or sour”) for “trick or treat”. However, not everyone will give out sweets or even answer the door (I don’t). This custom has no roots here and many people refuse to play.
To be honest, I don’t like it very much. There is an older tradition of giving out goodies for children on St Martin’s Day but for that, kids have to do something: dress up, do a parade, perform the songs and scenes. Then they receive treats in return for what they do, instead of greedy little monsters extorting sweets from people by threatening them with nasty tricks.

Posted by Kathrin_E 01:10 Archived in Germany Tagged history germany events holidays traditions customs Comments (0)

November 1: Allerheiligen – All Saints Day


All Saints is a Catholic holiday. It is a public holiday in those federal states that are historically and predominantly Catholic: Baden-Württemberg, Bayern, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Rheinland-Pfalz, Saarland. In these five states, but only in these, shops remain closed and public transport runs on Sunday schedule. Everywhere else November 1 is a normal workday. “Border hopping” for a shopping spree is popular among people who have the day off but live close to states that don’t.

By All Saints, the graves of Catholics have to be prepared for winter and decorated with an eternal light, a candle in a red transparent plastic can. Cemeteries are full of little red lights. These candles are protected from the weather by can and lid. They are designed to stay burning for several days in a row.

The following day is Allerseelen (All Souls), the Catholic commemoration of the dead (not a public holiday, though). Visiting the graves of one’s defunct dears is common.


Posted by Kathrin_E 01:12 Archived in Germany Tagged germany events holidays traditions customs Comments (0)

November 9: Fateful Date in German History

German postage stamp

If there is a day in the calendar that should be a national memorial day, it is November 9. In the 20th century, four events that made history happened on this date. Coincidence?

1918: End of World War II. Chancellor Max von Baden announces the resignation of Emperor Wilhelm II. Proclamation of the German Republic. Communist revolution.

1923: Hitler-Ludendorff-Putsch, the first, luckily unsuccessful attempt of the Nazis to seize power found a quick and bloody end in Munich.

1938: Pogrom Night, aka Crystal Night, although the latter name is not in use any more. All over Germany the Nazi mob destroyed synagogues and Jewish property and attacked Jewish people. The name Kristallnacht derives from the glass of broken shop windows in the streets. This was the beginning of a new, more severe stage in the persecution of Jews.

1989: During a press conference in East Berlin, SED Politbüro member Günter Schabowski announced the lifting of travel restrictions, in other words, the opening of the DDR’s borders for the country’s citizens. Later it turned out that he had messed up, but the movement was unstoppable. Masses of people immediately took the chance to visit the West. It was simply unbelievable.

German postage stamp

Posted by Kathrin_E 01:14 Archived in Germany Tagged history germany holidays Comments (0)

November 11: Martinstag - St Martin's Day

Statue of St Martin in the Church of St Martini (sic) in Braunschweig

St Martin of Tours is one of the most popular saints in the Roman Catholic Church. His holiday is November 11. It is 40 days before Christmas, and historically speaking, it marks the beginning of a Lenten period before Christmas (which is not observed any more,, instead Advent has become a festive season). St Martin’s Day used to be the date when the servants changed employer, taxes and debts were paid, etc. Like Carnival before the pre-Easter Lent it became a day of festivities and feasts. Roasted goose (Martinsgans) is a typical dish you’ll find on the menu of German restaurants in November. Bakeries offer seasonal pastries made of sweet dough with raisins, for example in the shape of geese (in Baden) or little men with a clay pipe (Rhineland).

In the Carnival regions along the Rhine, November 11 is the beginning of the “campaign”, the new Carnival season. 11 is the jester’s number, which also explains the preference of this date. At 11:11 a.m. sharp the carnival clubs start a ceremony in the main square of the city or town which involves the awakening of a personification of carnival, some funny speeches, and/or storming the town hall and arresting the mayor. Düsseldorf is especially famous for the “Awakening of Hoppeditz”.
However, the jesters return to their holes immediately after to prepare the season. Public carnival events only start in January.

German postage stamp

To small children, St Martin’s Day is connected with lantern parades organized by kindergartens, primary schools, and church communities. The kids carry paper lanterns, either self-made or bought from shops. The lanterns are carried with the help of a long stick. (In case you travel with small kids, the lanterns are available in the stationery department of all larger shops.)
In my times (oh I’m growing old) the lanterns were illuminated by real candles. Since you asked, yes now and then one caught fire, these things happen, though rarely. We learned to hold them steady and pay attention to them. (Dangerous? In case, all you had to do was drop it and the fire would die quickly on the wet November pavement. The flow of tears caused by the loss of one’s treasured lantern was harder to stop.) Nowadays the lanterns have little light bulbs and batteries and kiddies throw and sway them around carelessly like just another toy.

In some Catholic regions the parish communities even organize parades with St Martin on horseback. Children enact the best-known scene from the legend: St Martin cutting his coat in two to share it with a freezing half-naked beggar. They perform the traditional songs and receive goodies in return.

Posted by Kathrin_E 01:16 Archived in Germany Tagged germany events carnival holidays traditions customs Comments (0)

Volkstrauertag - Mourning the Victims of War

German postage stamp, 1965: 20th anniversary of flight and expulsion

Volkstrauertag, the day of mourning the victims of war and persecution, is celebrated on the second last Sunday of the church year, thus in mid November. It was introduced after World War I by the Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (German War Graves Commission), then on a date in spring. The Nazi regime turned it into a commemoration of heroes, as one can easily imagine. After World War II it was reestablished but with a different focus and on a different date.

This memorial day is not about glorifying "fallen heroes". It is a day of solemn remembrance of war, flight and expulsion, and a warning never to let this happen again.

German postage stamp, 1994: care for war cemeteries

Posted by Kathrin_E 01:23 Archived in Germany Tagged history germany holidays traditions Comments (0)

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