Photo by Victoria Heath
Photo by Victoria Heath

Germany's awash in spring holidays

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

It’s a beautiful spring morning and you sit down at the wheel, braced for your morning commute. You pull out into what’s usually a congested road to find it almost eerily devoid of traffic. It’s then you realize that your German neighbors must be celebrating yet another holiday.

Even those who’ve been in the country a good few years can be forgiven for not having a handle on all these dates. These holidays, religious in nature, are what’s known as moveable feasts. They’re pinned down according to when Easter falls, which in itself is determined by the appearance of the first full moon on or after the spring equinox. The earliest possible date on which Easter can be celebrated is March 22 and the latest is April 25. As Easter falls late this year, so too are the holidays to come, which are as follows:

May 30: Christi Himmelfahrt/Ascension Day

This day is always celebrated 39 days after Easter Sunday, meaning it always falls on a Thursday. Its religious significance is that it marks Christ’s ascent into heaven following the days he spent on earth following his resurrection.

The date is also celebrated as Father’s Day, but this bears little likeness to the U.S. variation of such. According to old church custom, on the day Jesus returned to his father, men would traditionally gather and parade about town in their carts or carriages. Today’s version of the event sees men of all ages stuff wagons full of cold beer and other intoxicants and head out into the local park or forest to drink it in the company of other male buddies. As you might well imagine, the day is associated with drunken antics and accidents.

June 10: Pfingstmontag/Pentecost Monday

This holiday celebrated 51 days after Easter Sunday marks the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s apostles. As they were exhorted to go forth and spread the message of Christianity, the day is considered the birthday of the Christian church.

No hard and fast activity associated with Pentecost takes place nationwide. Depending on where you are, you may observe a Pfingstbaum, or Pentecost tree, made of three birch branches tied together and festooned with garlands. In rural regions, you might catch sight of an ox with decorations around its horns.

A Pentecost tradition that plays out locally for those in the KMC is that of the billy goat auction in Deidesheim, a charming village on the German Wine Road between Neustadt and Bad Duerkheim. The custom is based upon a centuries-old arrangement in which the residents of a nearby town could use Deidesheim’s forests for wood and pastureland in exchange for the provision of a billy goat. 

June 20: Fronleichnam/Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi, Latin for “Body of Christ” is celebrated 60 days after Easter Sunday, meaning it always falls on a Thursday. It celebrates the Eucharist or the transubstantiation, the Catholic belief that bread and wine blessed by a priest is transformed into the body and blood of Jesus.

Aside from catching sight of a religious procession, you’re not apt to bump into much in the way of traditional behavior. An exception to that is in the Black Forest town of Muehlenbach, nestled in the hills between Offenbach and Freiburg. From the early hours of the morning, teams of volunteers work to create a carpet made up of flower petals. Although only a few feet in width, the pretty floral creation stretches out over half a mile. 

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