What Holidays and Traditions are Celebrated in Germany?
Celebrating holidays and traditions in Germany
There are many different types of holidays and traditions celebrated in Germany, from religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter through to cultural celebrations such as Halloween and the Day of German Unity, as well as more general school holidays. Read our guide below so that you understand the meaning behind each tradition, as well as how and when they are celebrated.
When are School Holidays in Germany?
The German school year consists of two semesters, with a longer holiday over the summer and Christmas. The exact dates for the beginning and the end of school breaks are different from state-to-state and change every year to keep holiday traffic as low as possible. Generally, the school semesters are:
- Semester one: September to February
- Semester two: February to July.
When are the German Federal Public Holidays?
Germany observes several federal public holidays, each of which is outlined below. If a federal public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, it is moved to the first available weekday.
New Year’s Day (1 January)
New Year’s Day celebrates the beginning of the new calendar year. Generally, people attend large parties on the night of 31 December, ringing in the New Year at midnight.
Easter (March to April: First Sunday After the First Full Moon After the Vernal Equinox)
The period from Good Friday to Easter Monday is a public holiday in Germany. Christianity is the most followed religion in Germany and both Catholicism and protestant forms of Christianity have had a significant impact on the country’s history. The Easter period celebrates the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ, which proved that Jesus was the Son of God and savior of mankind.
Labor Day (1 May)
Germany, along with 80 other countries worldwide, celebrates International Worker’s Day or Labor Day. The day is a celebration of workers and worker’s rights. Parades are often held on the street throughout major cities and towns, and the day is used to voice the current griefs of workers.
Ascension Day (Date Fluctuates)
A Christian feast day that celebrates the ascension of Jesus Christ’s earthly body into heaven. However, with declining numbers of Germans practicing Christianity, it is becoming more and more secularized.
Whit Monday (Day After Pentecost as Determined by the Date of Easter)
A feast day that is celebrated the day after Pentecost, which celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the apostles. It is considered one of the three baptismal seasons and derives its name from the white that is often associated with baptism.
Day of German Unity (3 October)
This public holiday is one of the most important on the German calendar as it celebrates the reunification of Germany in 1990. There are enormous parades and celebrations in the streets as all of Germany comes together to celebrate peace and unity.
Christmas Day (25 December)
Just as in America, Christmas Day celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ and, as Christianity is the most widespread religion in Germany, it is the biggest holiday of the year. Most businesses are closed on Christmas Day and many on Christmas Eve as well.
Most people decorate their homes with Christmas lights and Christmas trees and children believe that Santa Claus will visit their home and bring them gifts, so long as they have been well-behaved. The key celebration for Christmas is actually held on Christmas Eve for most German families.
St Stephens Day
This day falls on the day after Christmas Day and it is held to recognize the first Christian martyr, Saint Stephen.
Other German Holidays and Festivals
In addition to federal public holidays, there are various other holidays, festivals and celebrations observed by the German population, each of which is outlined below.
Valentine’s Day (14 February)
Much the same as Valentine’s Day in America, this festival is celebrated in memory of St Valentine. Lovers exchange gifts and cards, often anonymously.
St Patrick’s Day (17 March)
Again, as in America, St Patrick’s Day celebrates Irish culture, remembering the Christian Saint Patrick, who is one of Ireland’s patron saints. On this day, people often wear green and head to an Irish pub to drink Guinness, listen to traditional music, and engage in the craic that is central to Irish culture.
Passover (14th Day of the First Month of the Jewish Year)
Passover is a Jewish tradition, which lasts for eight days and celebrates the survivals of the Jews in Egypt. The tradition is marked with ritual dinners called Seder. While Passover is not a federal public holiday, most Jewish companies close during this period.
Mother’s Day (Second Sunday in May)
Just like Mother’s Day in America, children of all ages use this day to show their appreciation for their mother, often buying presents and gifts.
Father’s Day (Ascension Day)
Once again, just like Father’s Day in America, children of all ages use this day to show their appreciation for their father, often buying presents and gifts. However, Germany is unique in that Father’s Day is always celebrated on the public holiday of Ascension Day. In some regions, Father’s Day is called Men’s Day or Gentlemen’s Day.
Halloween (31 October)
Halloween began in European cultures, which believe that on this day magic is at its most potent, with ghosts and spirits able to contact the physical world. Halloween was first celebrated to keep the evil spirits at bay.
Current celebrations are influenced by American traditions. On this festival, children dress up in their Favorite costume (often scary creatures like ghosts, vampires and witches or the latest movie character) and go ‘Trick or Treating’. At each house, children ask for lollies chocolate, and if they don’t receive any, then they threaten the occupants with a trick—usually something like egging their house.
Often, people decorate their homes, particularly with ‘Jack-O-Lanterns’, which are hollowed-out pumpkins with a candle inside.
All Saints Day (November 1)
A day dedicated to all Christian saints and an acknowledgment of the connection that exists between heaven and earth. People traditionally place candles and lanterns on the graves of loved ones. This day also signals the beginning of winter in the North of Sweden and the commencement of the alpine snow season. This day is a public holiday in the states of Baden-Wurttemberg, Bavaria, North-Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland Palatinate and Saarland.