Thank Germany for Oktoberfest, Christmas, Easter and Groundhog Day
If you haven’t experienced Oktoberfest firsthand, you most likely have heard of the famous German tradition that is celebrated around the world. Many popular traditions like Oktoberfest were either introduced or popularized by German immigrants. Several of the most familiar elements of the Christmas celebrations are gifts from the Germans, as is the Easter bunny. Not as well-known as having German origins is Groundhog Day.
Oktoberfest is a 16-day festival held yearly in Munich, running from late September to the first weekend in October. Held annually since 1810, it is one of the largest and most famous events in Germany. Large quantities of Oktoberfest beer are consumed, as well as traditional food such as Hendl (chicken), Würstl (sausages), Knödel (potato or bread dumplings), Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes) and Sauerkraut.
Santa Claus and St. Nicholas
A traditional Christmas featuring Santa Claus, a Christmas tree, and an Advent calendar are only a few of the many familiar items that have been handed down by Germans. On December 5th, St. Nicholas Day, children would hang up stockings and hope that St. Nicholas, more commonly known as Santa Claus, would leave them candy, fruit and other gifts for having been on their best behavior all year long. The Christmas tree and the Advent calendar also are rooted in German tradition.
February 2nd is also known as Candlemas Day, a religious day when people took note of their current weather as well their remaining winter supplies. As people wanted winter to be over, a tradition filled with hope developed. This tradition became associated with an animal and its shadow. If a shadow was cast, then winter would continue for six weeks. No shadow meant a shorter winter. In the 1920s, Pennsylvania Germans promoted the festival so much that it became a nationally celebrated holiday on February 2nd. In the United States, the groundhog is the animal of choice, but the Germans were the first to use an animal’s shadow to predict the weather!
While Easter did not begin in Germany, the tradition of finding Easter eggs was first recorded there. The first known account of the Easter bunny, or der Osterhase, is from a Heidelberg professor in 1684 discussing Easter eggs. Germany is home to the Easter tree and can take credit for removing an egg from its shell by using a pinhole. Eggshells are then decorated and hung from trees.
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