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Calendar of traditions, festivals, and holidays in German-speaking countries

1 January

Neujahr (New Year’s Day) is always a public holiday and tends to be a quiet day when people are recovering from the Silvester celebrations.

6 January

Heilige Drei Könige Epiphany or Twelfth Night is a public holiday in Austria and some parts of southern Germany. In some areas, children dress up as the Three Kings and go from house to house to bless homes for the coming year and collect money for charity.

2 February

Mariä Lichtmess Candlemas is celebrated in the Catholic Church but is not a public holiday.

1 April

Erster April April Fool’s Day is the time to make an April fool of your family and friends (jdn. in den April schicken) or to play an April fool trick (Aprilscherz).

1 May

Erster Mai May Day is a public holiday in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It is celebrated by trade unions as Labour Day, often with rallies and demonstrations. Many people go on a family outing; in rural areas maypoles are put up in the villages.

3 October

Tag der deutschen Einheit Germany’s national holiday, the Day of German Unity, commemorates German reunification on 3 October 1990.

26 October

Nationalfeiertag Austria’s national holiday.

31 October

Reformationstag Reformation Day is a public holiday in some mainly Protestant parts of Germany and commemorates the Reformation.

1 November

Allerheiligen All Saints’ Day is a public holiday in Catholic parts of Germany and Austria.

2 November

Allerseelen All Souls’ Day is the day when Catholics remember their dead by visiting the cemeteries to pray and place wreaths, flowers, and candles on the graves. This is often done on 1 November as Allerseelen is not a public holiday.

11 November

Martinstag (St Martin’s Day) is not a public holiday, but in Catholic areas the charitable saint is commemorated with processions where children carry lanterns and sing songs. Traditional food includes the Martinsgans (roast goose) and Martinsbrezel (a soft pretzel).

6 December

Nikolaustag On the eve of St Nicholas’ Day, children put out their boots in the hope of finding presents and fruit, nuts, and sweets in the morning. St Nicholas is always depicted as looking much like Santa Claus or Father Christmas.

25 December

Weihnachten (Christmas) is a family event in Germany, and preparations begin with the Adventskranz, an Advent wreath with four candles. On each Sunday of Advent one more candle is lit. Christmas decorations are generally very traditional, with fir branches, candles and wooden Christmas figurines, which can be bought at the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market). Typical Christmas baking includes Stollen or Christstollen (a rich fruit bread), Lebkuchen (spicy honey biscuits), and lots of biscuits in the shape of stars, bells, etc. The decorated Christmas tree should only be seen by the children on Heiligabend (Christmas Eve), when presents are given out. The erster Weihnachtstag (Christmas Day) is a public holiday in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It tends to be a quiet day for family gatherings, often with a traditional lunch of goose or carp.The zweiter Weihnachtstag (Boxing Day) is also a public holiday; in Austria and Switzerland it is called Stephanstag (St Stephen’s Day).

31 December

Silvester New Year’s Eve is not a bank holiday, but firms and shops tend to close early. Many people celebrate with a party, or a meal with friends, toasting in the new year at midnight with Sekt (German sparkling wine), and watching fireworks.

Movable feasts


The day before Shrove Tuesday is not an official holiday but many people, especially in the Rhineland, get the day off to take part in the Karneval celebrations, including masked balls, fancy-dress parties, and parades. Almost every town has its own carnival prince and princess. The street parades in Düsseldorf, Cologne, Mainz, and other cities are attended by thousands of revellers wearing fancy dress and shown live on television.


Shrove Tuesday is the final day of Fasching (Carnival) in southern Germany, with processions and fancy-dress parties similar to Rosenmontag in the northwest. In the far south, ancient customs to drive out the winter with bells and drums survive.


Ash Wednesday marks the end of the carnival season and the beginning of Lent. It is celebrated in the Catholic Church but it is not a pubic holiday.


Good Friday is a public holiday and generally quiet. Catholics traditionally eat fish on this day.


Easter traditions include hiding Easter eggs (often dyed hardboiled eggs, or the chocolate variety) in the garden for the children, supposedly left by the Osterhase (Easter bunny). Ostermontag (Easter Monday) is also a public holiday.

Weißer Sonntag

(Sunday after Easter) In the Catholic Church, first communion is traditionally taken on this Sunday.


(second Sunday in May). On Mother’s Day, children of all ages give their mothers small gifts, cards, or flowers.

Christi Himmelfahrt

(40 days after Easter). Ascension Day is a public holiday in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. This is also Father’s Day, when fathers traditionally go out on day trips or pub crawls.


(Whitsun – seventh Sunday after Easter). As Pfingstmontag (Whit Monday) is a public holiday in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, Whitsun is a popular time to have a long weekend away.


(second Thursday after Whitsun). Corpus Christi is a public holiday in Austria and in parts of Germany and Switzerland. In Catholic areas, processions and open-air masses are held.


Harvest festival is not a legal holiday in Germany, but is celebrated with church services on the first Sunday in October in many rural areas. In Switzerland there is a harvest thanksgiving holiday in mid-September.

Buß- und Bettag

(third Wednesday in November). This day of ‘repentance and prayer’ is a public holiday only in some parts of Germany.


(second Sunday before the beginning of Advent). In Germany, this is a national day of mourning to commemorate the dead of both world wars, and the victims of the Nazis.


(last Sunday before the beginning of Advent). Protestants remember their dead on this day.


The four weeks leading up to Christmas, beginning with the 1. Adventssonntag (first Sunday in Advent), still have a special significance in Germany, even for people who are not religious.

Oxford University Press