Traditionalists have been arguing for years about whether or not they should celebrate Halloween in Germany. In fact, a recent poll shows that 48% of Germans over the age of 35 feel that it displaces German Culture, and many more Germans feel that it is too commercial. But, most Germans under 35 have embraced the celebration with open arms, and that means it’s probably here to stay. So, why DO they celebrate Halloween in Germany? How did it get started? And how do they celebrate? As for whether this thousand year old celebration displaces German Culture… you decide.
German Pumpkin Patch!
Do they celebrate Halloween in Germany
A Little Halloween History First
Halloween is an ancient holiday with Celtic and Roman origins. Samhain, traditionally, around Oct 31, celebrates the end of the harvest season in Celtic tradition. Feralia was a day in late October when the Romans honored the dead. The Romans occupied Celtic territory for 400 years, so most likely, there was a co-mingling of traditions. In 609 AD, Pope Boniface IV established All Martyrs Day. Eventually, the name was changed to All Souls Day, and set on November 1st. Christianity found it’s way to Celtic lands in the 9th century, and by 1000 AD, All Souls Day was an official celebration, celebrated with bonfires and costumes (to chase bad spirits). The night before All Souls Day was called All-hallowmas or Alholowmesse… All Hallows Eve… and then Halloween.
(Now… some people confuse Walpurgisnacht, a night of Witches, with Halloween. Walpurgisnacht celebrates the END of Winter…Read more HERE–>Walpurgisnacht)
Halloween traveled across the ocean to America. Carving vegetables (like Pumpkins), wearing costumes to confuse spirits, and playing games like Bobbing for Apples came along. By the 1950s, civic leaders finally succeeded in making Halloween more about kids, trick or treating, and community or family parties, and less about mischief. Once Halloween had been distilled by American Culture, the celebration made it’s way back to Europe and Germany by way of Soldiers, exchange Students and Hollywood films. I remember my cousins being completely fascinated with my stories about dressing up in costumes and going door to door for Trick or Treats. Funny how jealous they were, considering that just 2 weeks after our Halloween, they would go door to door themselves for St Martin’s Tag. So, what changed? How did Halloween become a thing in Germany?
Halloween In Germany
In August, 1991, the first Gulf War started. Then Chancellor Helmut Kohl pledged that Germany would pay a fair share of war costs, and provide increased military aid. In addition, the German Government cancelled the Fasching Celebrations. This was a devastating blow, especially to the costume industry. Public relations consultant for the German Toy and Novelty Retailers Association, Dieter Tschorn, decided that they would have to make up for the losses somehow, and Halloween was chosen. Marketing kicked into high gear, and by 1994 the Special Carnival Group (Fachgruppe Karneval) of the German Association for the Toy Industry (Deutscher Verband der Spielwarenindustrie, DVSI) had managed to make Halloween part of popular culture, and a huge boost to the German economy. In fact, today, Halloween is 3rd only to Christmas and Easter in sales with over 30 million Euros a year spent on sweets, costumes and decorations.
Celebrating Halloween in Germany- “Süßes oder Saures!”
Unless you live in a big city or on an American Military base, you probably won’t see many kids Trick or Treating. Kids will say “Süßes oder Saures!” (Sweet or Sour) if they ring your bell. Halloween tends to be more a day of Halloween themed parties. In fact, a quick look at the news-racks and bookstores will show you that German magazines are already loaded with great recipes and ideas for making your Halloween cookies, ghoulish treats and scary snacks. And Halloween Idea books are almost as popular there as here in the US.
People have also started carving pumpkins or putting up pumpkin displays. But only a few houses go all out to decorate with fake spider webs and tombstones.
Halloween Bumps Up Against Other German Celebrations
Because there are so many other holidays and celebrations this time of year, Halloween really has to elbow its way in!
October 31st is Reformation Day in Germany. On this day Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. Five of Germany’s states, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia consider this day a public holiday, which means banks, post offices and many shops are closed.
St Martin’s Day falls on November 11th. Traditionally, children with march through the town carrying home made lanterns. Since they also go door to door collecting treats, it might be too much for the locals to hand out candy for Halloween on top of that. This is why Halloween Parties are more common than Trick or Treating.
Since Fasching/Karneval, and the accompanying silliness starts on November 11, Halloween Costumes in Germany tend to be more on the scary side. Halloween is a time for frights, and not sweet little pumpkins.
Germany Halloween is More Scary than Sweet
One of the biggest events takes place at Burg Frankenstein near Darmstadt. Actors dressed as ghosts and monsters wander around the candlelit castle frightening guests, and scary soundtrack adds to the ambiance. This free event has gotten more popular every year. Tickets are required!
The Movie Park Horror Fest near Essen transforms an ordinary Theme Park into the scene of everyone’s worst nightmare… Zombies and creepy scary monsters do their best to make sure you never sleep again.
Of course, it’s not all Horror. Many communities organize parties that are kid friendly, Legoland Germany celebrates Halloween in a funny scary way with special shows and events.
Another family favorite it the Pumpkin Festival in Ludwigsburg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, located just 17 km north of Stuttgart. Over 450,000 pumpkins are on display! There is plenty of Pumpkin food to eat, and astonishingly cool Pumpkin Sculptures to enjoy. And yes, you can buy pumpkins to take home with you. This really is an event for the WHOLE FAMILY… from Oma down to the baby in a stroller.
Halloween in Germany, Another Americanization?
The argument against Halloween is that it Americanizes German culture. Yet, it’s not really taking away any part of German culture. St Martin’s Day is still a day for Children… Karneval /Fasching are still celebrated with costumes and silliness, parades and parties. Adding the scary celebration of Halloween just adds a new element to German society. We can despair about commercialization, but that is a universal problem. (I just go nuts when I see Christmas decorations in the stores in early October!!)
Witches and Devils, Costumes and Bonfires are not new to Germany. Walpurgisnacht celebrations have happened for hundreds of years, and superstitions go back further. And a quick online search will show you Vintage German Halloween Decorations and Cards that go back much further than 1991. Think of Halloween as just another ancient celebration.
Remember, the Christmas Tree was brought to America by Germans just over 100 years ago… yet most people couldn’t celebrate Christmas without it. Times change, the world keeps moving, and kids love costumes and sweets. So, if someone dressed as a ghoul comes to your door and says “Süßes oder Saures!”… give them a candy and smile.
German Halloween Recipes and Ideas
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