German Holidays and Celebrations

Many American holidays have their roots in German celebrations

Frankfurt, Germany
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The German holiday calendar has several in common with other parts of Europe and the United States, including Christmas and New Years. But there are several notable holidays that are uniquely German throughout the year. 

Here is a month-by-month look at some of the major holidays celebrated in Germany. 

Januar (January) Neujahr (New Year's Day) 

Germans mark the New Year with celebrations and fireworks and feasts. Feuerzangenbowle is a popular traditional German New Year's drink. Its main ingredients are red wine, rum, oranges, lemons, cinnamon, and cloves.

Germans traditionally send New Year's cards to tell family and friends about events in their lives during the past year.

Februar (February) Mariä Lichtmess (Groundhog Day)

The American tradition of Groundhog Day has its roots in the German religious holiday Mariä Lichtmess, also known as Candlemas. Beginning in the 1840s, German immigrants to Pennsylvania had observed the tradition of a hedgehog predicting the end of winter. They adapted the groundhog as replacement meteorologist since there were no hedgehogs in the part of Pennsylvania where they settled.

Fastnacht/Karneval (Carnival/Mardi Gras)

The date varies, but the German version of Mardi Gras, the last opportunity to celebrate before the Lenten season, goes by many names: Fastnacht, Fasching, Fasnacht, Fasnet, or Karneval. 

A highlight of the main highlight, the Rosenmontag, is the so-called Weiberfastnacht or Fat Thursday, celebrated on the Thursday before Karneval. 

The Rosenmontag is the main celebration day of Karneval, which features parades, and ceremonies to drive out any evil spirits. 

April: Ostern (Easter)

The Germanic celebration of Ostern features the same fertility and spring-related icons—eggs, rabbits, flowers—and many of the same Easter customs as other Western versions. The three major German-speaking countries (Austria, Germany, and Switzerland) are predominantly Christian. The art of decorating hollowed-out eggs is an Austrian and German tradition. A little bit to the east, in Poland, Easter is a way more relevant holiday than in Germany

May: May Day

The first day in May is a national holiday in Germany, Austria, and most of Europe. International Workers' Day is observed in many countries on May 1.

Other German customs in May celebrate the arrival of spring. Walpurgis Night (Walpurgisnacht), the night before May Day, is similar to Halloween in that it has to do with supernatural spirits, and has pagan roots. It's marked with bonfires to drive away the last of winter and welcome the planting season. 

Juni (June): Vatertag (Father's Day) 

Father's Day in Germany began in the Middle Ages as a religious procession honoring God the father, on Ascension Day, which is after Easter. In modern-day Germany, Vatertag is closer to a boys' day out, with a pub tour than the more family-friendly American version of the holiday. 

Oktober (October): Oktoberfest

Even though it starts in September, the most German of holidays is called Oktoberfest. This holiday started in 1810 with the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. They held a big party near Munich, and it was so popular that it became an annual event, with beer, food, and entertainment. 


In German-speaking countries, Erntedankfest, or Thanksgiving, is celebrated on the first Sunday in October, which is usually also the first Sunday following Michaelistag or Michaelmas. It's primarily a religious holiday, but with dancing, food, music, and parades. The American Thanksgiving tradition of eating turkey has usurped the traditional meal of goose in recent years. 

November: Martinmas (Martinstag)

The Feast of Saint Martin, the Germanic Martinstag celebration, is sort of like a combination of Halloween and Thanksgiving. The legend of Saint Martin tells the story of the dividing of the cloak, when Martin, then a soldier in the Roman army, tore his cloak in two to share it with a freezing beggar at Amiens.

In the past, Martinstag was celebrated as the end of the harvest season, and in modern times has become the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season in German-speaking countries in Europe.

December (Dezsember): Weihnachten (Christmas)

Germany provided the roots of many of the American celebrations of Christmas, including Kris Kringle, which is a corruption of the German phrase for the Christ child: Christkindl. Eventually, the name became synonymous with Santa Claus. 

The Christmas tree is another German tradition that has become part of many Western celebrations, as is the idea of celebrating St. Nicholas (who's also become synonymous with Santa Claus and Father Christmas).

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Flippo, Hyde. "German Holidays and Celebrations." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Flippo, Hyde. (2023, April 5). German Holidays and Celebrations. Retrieved from Flippo, Hyde. "German Holidays and Celebrations." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).