Lesson Notes

Unlock In-Depth Explanations & Exclusive Takeaways with Printable Lesson Notes

Unlock Lesson Notes and Transcripts for every single lesson. Sign Up for a Free Lifetime Account and Get 7 Days of Premium Access.

Or sign up using Facebook
Already a Member?

Lesson Transcript

Rebecca: Hi everyone, and welcome back to the All about German series! What are we going to be talking about today?
Widar: The Top Five Most Important Holidays in Germany!
Rebecca: Germany has a lot of interesting celebrations throughout the year, and today we are going to learn about five holidays that are near and dear to the hearts of German people.
Widar: Well, Germany knows sixteen public holidays, but we’re going to pick the big ones.
Rebecca: We’re going to go in reverse order though, which means we’ll start with number five.
Widar: Coming in at number five is "Labor Day," which is known as "Tag der Arbeit" in Germany.
Rebecca: Labor Day is an annual holiday celebrated all over the world that resulted from the labor union movement. On this day, people celebrate the economic and social achievements of workers.
Widar: In Germany, like in many other countries, the festivities happen on May 1st. The origins of Labor Day lie in the Eight-Hour Day Movement, which promoted eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight for rest.
Rebecca: Yeah. That’s how it should be, but in many countries, people work way longer than eight hours a day. So, Germany and its people can call themselves lucky.
Widar: In Germany, Labor Day was established as an official holiday in 1933 after the Nazi Party came into power. The goal of the festivities with extensive parades and shows was to symbolize the newfound unity between the state and the German people. Surprisingly however, just one day later, on May 2, 1933, all free unions were outlawed and destroyed in the period that followed.
Rebecca: Until today, Labor Day is celebrated in Germany, but doesn’t have the best reputation, especially in metropolitan areas. Especially in Berlin, Labor Day is accompanied by riots of masked autonomous groups, breaking shop windows, inflaming cars, and fighting the police.
Widar: Yes. While this is not happening in most districts of Berlin, there are a few streets around Kreuzberg where these folks riot. Storeowners nail up their stores for protection.
Rebecca: It’s kind of strange, because Germany is considered to be a moderate and safe country. Anyway, in smaller cities and rural areas, it’s a great day to honor the achievements of the workers, or just relax with family and friends, barbecue, and beer. Okay, what comes in at number four?
Widar: Number four is a very important holiday for Germany. It’s the "German Unity Day."
Rebecca: Which in German is called "Tag der deutschen Einheit."
Widar: It’s a national holiday since 1990 that is celebrated on October 3rd. On this day, Germans commemorate the anniversary of the German reunification in 1990.
Rebecca: So, the reunited Germany picked this day as their new national holiday. Did they have any alternative plans?
Widar: Oh yes, quite a lot. An alternative choice would have been the day the Berlin wall came down on November 9, 1989, which also coincided with the anniversary of the founding of the first German Republic, the Weimar Republic, which lasted from 1918 until Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933. But it’s a troubled date, because on November 9, 1938, the first large scale Nazi-led pogrom against Jews, known as Reichskristallnacht, happened. So they considered this day to be inappropriate and October 3 was chosen instead, the day of formal reunion.
Rebecca: So, Germany was split for forty years, which leaves me to think that East and West Germany, as they were called in those days, celebrated their own national holiday between 1949 and 1989.
Widar: You’re right. On June 17, West Germans commemorated the Workers’ Uprising of 1953 in East Germany. The revolt was crushed with Soviet aid and thus failed. More than one hundred workers died that day.
Rebecca: Yeah. That must have been troubled times. I remember that East Germany celebrated on October 7th, and they called this day the "Day of the Republic," celebrating the foundation of East Germany in 1949.
Widar: Okay. Now our listeners have heard quite a lot of facts and dates here. Let’s talk a bit about the celebrations on the German Unity Day.
Rebecca: Sure. Each year there’s a huge Citizens’ Festival happening on the Tag der deutschen Einheit. It’s an addition to the traditional celebrations in Berlin. Each year a different federal state organizes the Citizens’ Festival. This follows a strict circulation, and while Germany has sixteen federal states, each state will hold the festival every sixteen years.
Widar: Maybe one more note on this holiday. Maybe you remember that we’ve mentioned the Oktoberfest in our previous lesson when we talked about the City of Munich. This huge fair traditionally runs until the first Sunday in October, which now runs until October 3rd to include the commemoration of the German unification in the festivities.
Rebecca: Right. Let’s see what’s third on our list.
Widar: It’s "Ostern," or in English, "Easter." This holiday is actually a collection of two different holidays, and is considered to be one of the most important holidays of the year. There is no fixed date when Easter is happening, but there is one major rule, Easter falls on the first Sunday following the "Paschal Full Moon" ("the full moon on or after March 21st").
Rebecca: Yes. Ostern starts with "Karfreitag" ("Good Friday") and is followed by "Ostersonntag" ("Easter Sunday") and "Ostermontag" ("Easter Monday").
Widar: Karfreitag commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ and as thus, is an important Christian remembrance day in all known denominations, such as Catholic or Protestant. The holiday is observed on the Friday that precedes Easter Sunday.
Rebecca: Yeah. It is believed that Jesus Christ died on the crucifix around three pm in the year 33 AD. While there are no major celebrations on this day, it goes along with many observances.
Widar: If you have a chance to be in Germany during Easter, visit a church on Karfreitag. Many Christian communities hold special services on this day. This starts with prayers and vigil services and leads to special concerts in huge churches.
Rebecca: In Germany, which follows a strong Christian tradition, Karfreitag is a government holiday at the federal level. Businesses, the stock exchange, and most malls, stores, and shops are closed on this day. The German Catholic Church even treats Karfreitag as a fasting day. There is only one full meal, which is smaller than a regular one and usually contains fish, with the fish being the symbol for Jesus.
Widar: Well, that’s not all. Comedy theater performances and events that include public dancing are illegal on that day. Cinemas and television are not affected; though many TV channels might show religious material.
Rebecca: Germans seem to be very serious about Karfreitag.
Widar: Well, these restrictions are enforced unevenly and non-Christians have a much bigger lobby today than they had twenty years ago.
Rebecca: Okay, now let’s jump from Karfreitag to the Easter celebrations that are happening two days later.
Widar: The Christian tradition says that Jesus rose from the dead two days after he died on the crucifix. Everywhere in Germany, Christian communities celebrate together, worshipping his rise from the dead. Later, families get together in private on Easter Sunday and eat an Easter meal together. After the meal, many families like to go out together in the afternoon for a relaxing Easter walk. And the children search for colored Easter eggs that the "Osterhase" (the "Easter Bunny") has left for them.
Rebecca: Yes. This is a huge thing in Germany. I remember when I was a kid that we loved to search for the colored Easter eggs and chocolate eggs.
Widar: Our listeners might ask how worshipping Jesus and searching for colored eggs from the funny Easter Bunny fit together.
Rebecca: Right. Well, the answer to that question is simple, they don’t. Like many other Christian holidays, Easter has become commercialized and mixed with non-Christian traditions like the ones you’ve mentioned.
Widar: And if you look at this historically, the European tribes had their own traditions and pagan rituals. Christianity was brought to most of them later. So, the church decided to celebrate the resurrection of Christ together with an old pagan holiday on the same date.
Rebecca: Yeah, that explains why families first visit the church and listen to the story of Christ’s resurrection, and then come together and celebrate this holiday as Easter.
Widar: Another Easter tradition is the Easter Fire. It is very common in Bavaria, where many towns begin their celebration of Easter early in the morning. A fire is lit in an open area in town before sunrise. This symbolizes the triumph of life over death. People at the fire then light candles and proceed to church.
Rebecca: That’s quite impressive. Okay, now let’s think about summer. Are there any huge holidays happening in summer?
Widar: Well, not really, but school holidays happen to be six weeks in summer, between early July and late August, but the exact dates change every year. The schedule is made by each federal state. So, they try to start summer holidays one after the other for traffic reasons.
Rebecca: Okay, so now we’re down to number two on our list.
Widar: Number two is "New Year’s Eve," known as "Silvester." It is celebrated on the last day and night of the old year, December 31. That’s why it has a symbolic meaning. Silvester is even more important to the public then New Year’s Day.
Rebecca: Berlin hosts one of the largest Silvester celebrations in Europe. It’s attended by over one million people. The celebration takes place around the Brandenburg Gate, where everybody waits for the fireworks at midnight. I remember last year, on two huge stages, a lot of famous bands were playing rock and pop songs until the countdown at the turn of the year set in.
Widar: Yes. That was huge.
Rebecca: But what do all the people do that are not so lucky to watch this happening in the major cities like Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich?
Widar: They create their own fireworks. Germans have a reputation of spending large amounts of money on firecrackers and fireworks. It’s a huge market. The timeframe for selling firecrackers is very limited. Stores are just allowed to sell them during the few business days between Christmas and New Years Eve.
Rebecca: So, in every city, town, or village you will find people getting together, igniting fireworks and firecrackers. This usually starts in the afternoon of New Year’s Eve and lasts way beyond midnight.
Widar: Well, some people think it’s dangerous, and this might be true, but it’s also fun to do that.
Rebecca: If you throw the firecrackers a long distance off…otherwise, you might hurt yourself.
Widar: In many cultures, there are special New Year’s dishes that people traditionally prepare for the new year. While there is no such tradition in Germany, and people usually prepare their personal favorite dish, like lasagna, stuffed cabbage leaf, or roast ribs, there is a "pastry," traditionally prepared for New Year’s Eve, "Berliner Pfannkuchen!"
Rebecca: It’s a round-shaped cruller, made of dough, often topped with plain sugar or icing and filled with jam or plum jelly. Some people like to play a party game, where one cruller has to be filled with mustard instead of jam. The person that catches the one with mustard loses the game.
Rebecca: So, Silvester in Germany is a huge thing, also on TV, right?
Widar: It’s huge indeed. Each New Year’s Eve is broadcast on several German television stations, and a short English theatrical comedy is broadcast every year since 1972, titled "Dinner for One."
Widar: That’s right. Number one on our list is "Christmas," known as "Weihnachten."
Rebecca: The observance of Christmas in Germany begins with "Adventszeit" ("Advent time"), the period from Advent to Christmas. Advent starts with the first day of December. Many young children are given Advent calendars to count down the days until Christmas, which in Germany is celebrated for three days from December 24th to December 26th.
Widar: These calendars have little windows for each day of Advent. The kids open a new window every day and find little pieces of chocolate or other treats. These sweet calendars help them pass the days until Christmas.
Rebecca: Germans start to celebrate Christmas on a day called "Heiligabend" ("Christmas Eve"), the evening of December 24th. During this time, families get together for a Christmas dinner and exchange gifts by the "Weihnachtsbaum" (the "Christmas tree"). This ritual "gift exchange" is called "Bescherung." Along with it is "Santa Claus," who in Germany is called "Weihnachtsmann," who appears to bring Christmas presents to the children. But before Bescherung and dinner, many families go to church services in the afternoon or evening. Families with little children go to the shorter children’s services, where a "Krippenspiel" ("a nativity play") takes place.
Widar: Then in the evening, the family comes together at home. In some families, the whole family comes together. In others, Christmas Eve is celebrated only by the small family, whereas the whole family (with grandparents, uncles, aunts, and others) and friends come together on the 1st or 2nd Christmas Day, December 25th and 26th.
Rebecca: Okay. Here are some more insights on the "Christmas tree." The "Weihnachtsbaum" is usually put up by December 24th. It can be bought at special traders’ sites, but many Germans used to go into the forest to get one themselves. In the morning or during the church service in the afternoon, one of the adults prepares the tree at home with Christmas bulbs and tinsel, usually in the living room. It’s also common to turn on electric lights or decorative candles. Then the gifts are placed under the tree, or in case somebody plays Santa Claus, just the presents for the adults are placed there. When the family comes home, it’s time for singing Christmas carols and other winter songs or playing on guitars and pianos, before the "Bescherung" ("the exchange of presents").
Widar: Yeah. In my childhood, Bescherung was the most magical moment I can remember. We entered the living room, and only the Christmas tree was illuminated, so it was a special low-lit atmosphere. Then Santa Claus (usually an uncle, older brother, or neighbor) knocked at the door and brought the gifts.
Rebecca: The gifts are wrapped in colorful paper and the children unwrap them immediately, and then play with their new toys before dinnertime.
Widar: Many families also prepare colorful, decorated paper bags or carton plates for each member of the family, full of chocolates and sweets, which often have the shape of angels or Santa Claus.
Rebecca: What about traditional German Christmas dinner?
Widar: Oh, good. There’s a bunch of them. Traditionally, on Christmas Eve a simple meal is served in contrast to the big meals on the following Christmas days. Very popular Christmas meals are roast goose or chicken, and fondue with many types of meat and roast lamb.
Rebecca: Another, very famous cake is "Stollen." It’s a loaf shaped "fruit cake," powdered with icing sugar on the outside. The cake is usually made with chopped candied fruit, nuts, and spices.
Widar: It’s a traditional German cake, and usually just eaten during the Christmas season.
Rebecca: So with that, we’re concluding the five most important holidays in Germany.
Widar: We hope you have the chance to visit Germany during one of these holidays so that you can experience it for yourself!
Rebecca: Join us next time for more information on Germany at GermanPod101.com!
Widar: Remember, you can leave us a feedback on this lesson.
Rebecca: So if you have a question, or some feedback, please leave us a comment!
Widar: It's very easy to do. Just stop by GermanPod101.com,
Rebecca: click on Comment
Widar: Enter your comment and name
Rebecca: And that’s it!
Widar: No excuses. We're looking forward to hearing from you!
Rebecca: Thanks for listening.
Widar: Bis zum nächsten Mal!
Rebecca: See you next time!