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Religious Holidays in Germany
As mentioned in part 1 of this article, the importance of some religious holidays varies substantially from region to region. However, Easter and Christmas are essential religious holidays throughout Germany, although traditions may have been secularized to a vast degree.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the Christian Easter season. Schools are generally closed for two weeks around this time. This holiday goes back to the biblical story of Jesus entering the palm-strewn streets of Jerusalem on a donkey. Since palm trees are rather rare in Germany’s climate, many believers or traditionalists decorate their homes with branches of the pussy willow tree. The following Friday – Good Friday (“Karfreitag”) – is a public holiday in remembrance of the Crucifixion. On this day, strictly Catholic families used to hold a fast, and many Germans still prefer eating fish rather than meat on Good Friday.
Church services on the night from Holy Saturday to Easter Sunday then symbolize the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In contrast to the religious Easter Vigil, one popular tradition on Easter Sunday might seem a little odd. Referring to pagan times when birds’ eggs and rabbits represented fertility and abundance, parents hide chocolate eggs and bunnies for their children to search for. The sweets might be hidden in the garden, under furniture, between toys, or on the shelves. In the weeks before Easter, you can also buy painted eggs in most German grocery shops. Also, families often enjoy preparing Easter decorations and painting eggs together.
Christmas season spans the entire month of December, starting with the first Sunday in Advent. But shopping centers will put up Christmas decorations in November and sell Christmas supplies as early as October. Apples, walnuts and advent wreaths made of evergreen branches are only a few symbols of a typical German holiday season. You can buy toys, textiles, Christmas tree ornaments, and candy at numerous cozy Christmas markets throughout December: Take a deep breath to savor the scent of roasted almonds, cinnamon apples, and sweetened hot red wine.
St. Nicholas Day, which used to have its own traditions, has now become a kind of pre-Christmas, so to speak. German children should clean their shoes the night before and place them in front of the door, to find them filled with sweets, fruits, and even little toys on the morning of December 6th.
Germans celebrate Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. On December 24th, they take a day off from work or only work until lunchtime. In the early evening, kids receive their presents, and religious families will go to church at midnight to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Christmas Day itself and December 26th are public holidays, which most people spend at home with their relatives.
If Christmas is supposed to be a quiet holiday for the whole family, New Year’s Eve is a loud and public festival. Be prepared for an excessive use of fireworks, especially in the big cities. Germans usually start buying rockets, firecrackers and noisemakers a few days before December 31st. On the last night of the year, most people will gather outside with their friends and start into the New Year by firing rockets and clinking glasses of sparkling wine.
However, the German festival which is the most famous abroad does not even get much attention outside Bavaria. The Oktoberfest places a strong emphasis on its regional tradition, regardless of its ever increasing popularity among international visitors. Originally, the Oktoberfest dates from the early 19th century, when Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig and his bride, Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, invited Munich’s commoners to a royal wedding for the very first time. This event has been repeated annually ever since.
Last but not least, Carnival celebrations now extend beyond Cologne and other cities near the Rhine, but are still largely ignored in Northern and Eastern Germany. In the cities of the Rhineland, Shrove Monday or “Rosenmontag”, seven weeks before Easter Monday, marks the highlight of the Carnival season. There are huge parades in Cologne, Mainz and various other cities, often used to satirize politicians and public figures, as well as large fancy-dress parties with candy for the children and alcohol for the adults.
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