written by Kerstin Cable
Light in The Dark
November is a month we often overlooked between the golden days of October and the golden lights of Christmas. But in Germany, this month does not disappoint. See how international and national occasions are observed in the following article:
Halloween and Remembering The Dead in Germany
In America, costumes and pumpkins come out on 31 October for Hallowe’en, a festival of ghosts and spooky things. At the start of November, Mexico marks its famous *Day of the Dead* celebrations, lasting a full three days. When the days get shorter and the nights get darker, Germany also takes a few moments to remember those that have passed.
Of course, the influence of American culture and commerce hasn’t gone unnoticed. These days, children in big cities might ask for *Süßes oder Saures* (something sweet or something sour, an adaptation of Trick or Treating) and you’ll definitely see the pumpkin theme in bigger department stores.
Even though the German-speaking world doesn’t have a traditional Hallowe’en, its origins are echoed in *Allerheiligen* and *Allerseelen* (All Saints and All Souls). These two Christian holidays mark the deceased. It is traditional to visit the graves of late relatives and light a candle for them.
Dedicating the month to those that have died continues in the tradition of *Volkstrauertag*, the national day of grieving. Just like international versions of Remembrance Day, the Germans take this day to remember those that have fallen in the wars. There is a minute’s silence held in the *Bundestag*, the German parliament.
Religious Holidays in November
Germany’s public holiday structure shows the influence of its different Christian denominations. In the predominantly catholic South, the *Bundesländer* are given a public holiday on 1 November for *Allerheiligen*.
This is different in the East, an area with a protestant majority. The five Eastern *Bundesländer* Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Sachsen (Saxony), Sachsen-Anhalt and Thüringen observe *Reformationstag* instead. This celebration coincides with Hallowe’en on 31 October and marks the occasion of [Martin Luther] publishing his influential 95 theses on a church door in Wittenberg, Sachsen-Anhalt. This act ended up leading to the formation of the Protestant Church of Germany. The Protestant version of All Souls is *Totensonntag*, held on the last Sunday before Advent starts.
11. November at 11 o’clock: A Quick Moment of Carnival
All that doom and gloom can only be lightened up with a bit of foreshadowing to carnival season. With precise German timekeeping, the *Faschingszeit* begins “am 11.11. um 11 Uhr 11” (on 11/11 at 11:11). Germany’s carnival clubs consider the number 11 the craziest of the numbers. The reason is not confirmed, though some speculate this is because it stands between 10 (commandments) and 12 (apostles). Either way, there cannot be much talk of any kind of “season” with this one. German carnival enthusiasts may spend the day storming town halls and spreading joyful mischief, but carnival quickly returns behind the scenes until February when the real fun kicks off.
St Martin’s Day is Celebrated with Lanterns and Bonfires
If you are British, you know that 5 November is a day for bonfires and celebrations in the dark. But did you know that Germany has a bonfire and lantern tradition of its own to offer?
*Martinstag*, the day of St Martin, celebrated around 11 November, is dedicated to St Martin of Tours. He was a rich and generous knight who was riding along on his horse one wintry night as he came across a beggar by the side of the road. Seeing the poor man freezing, Martin cut his own coat into two pieces and shared it with the poor.
The generous knight eventually became a monk and a bishop, recognised by the church for his modesty and generosity. You can practice your German and watch his story in this cute video by WDR. Today, children craft lanterns and go on a walk to a bonfire site, singing songs about lanterns and St Martin.
The easiest song to learn is “Laterne, Laterne”, with its three lines of lyrics:
*Sonne, Mond und Sterne*
*Brenne auf mein Licht, Brenne auf mein Licht*
*Aber nur meine liebe Laterne nicht!*
(Lantern, Sun, Moon and Stars. Burn up my light, but not my precious lantern!)
No matter how you choose to spend your November this year, with this many celebrations and occasions we guarantee that your month more to offer than expected.