10 Facts I How Germans celebrate Public Holidays
Here’s everything you have to know about German public holidays. Are the shops open? Why the heck do Germans go crazy about Brückentage (“bridge days”)?! What are the traditions on Christmas in Germany? Find the most important things about public holidays in Germany here!
Are shops closed on public holidays in Germany?
On national public holidays, people in Germany generally do not work.
However, some service industries, such as cafes, restaurants and bakeries, as well as entertainment industries, like theatres and cinemas remain open.
Now you may wonder… What to do when all the shops are closed on a holidary in Germany? Where can I buy food and drinks?
Well, don’t worry.
Gas stations and main train stations are normally open all year. They are open on Sundays and on public holidays in Germany. So if you need to buy milk, eggs or other things you can go shopping in these locations.
Beware though: These places are incredibly expensive. So ideally, you make sure to buy everything beforehand.
If you find yourself having an empty fridge during a holiday, then you can also get an online delivery. There is a number of them available online.
What are the most important holidays in Germany?
Christmas and Easter are arguably the most important holidays in Germany.
They are usually spent with the family.
Whilst the tradition of going to church service on those occasions continues, the importance of religions has declined in many people’s lives over the last few decades in Germany.
What’s a “Brückentag” in Germany?
A Brückentag or “bridge day”, is a working day that falls between two work free days.
For example, if a public holiday happens to be on a Thursday, then the Friday would be a so-called “Brückentag”.
You have to know… these bridge days are extremely important for the vacation planning of Germans… Why? Because Germans love travelling!
Germans are one of the most well-travelled people in the world.
If you are able to take a vacation on one of these ‘bridge days’, this is great!
Why? Because it means you can get a long weekend and go travelling! Yes.
Germans go crazy when it comes to ‘Brückentage’.
So you better understand this quickly: at the beginning of the year, Germans sit down and search the calendar for these bridge days, just to be the first ones in January to go to the work team calendar and take vacation on those days.
Some work paces even do a ‘bridge day lottery’.
Bridge days are in high demand.
How do Germans celebrate Christmas?
Christmas celebrations in Germany usually last for three days. The most important day is the 24th of December (Heiligabend).
On this day, the closest family members have dinner together, sometimes potato salad (Kartoffelsalat) and Wuerstchen (sausages). But this varies across different German regions.
My own family usually eats goose and mashed potato for Christmas. You can pre-order it in various supermarkets. Have a try! It’s delicious.
What is Bescherung?
The tradition of opening the presents together by the Christmas tree is called Bescherung. Most families get a real tree. Others get a fake plastic tree. You can get them in various places in your city. Most supermarkets also sell small Christmas trees in Germany.
Some families ‘rent’ a Father Christmas for the evening. He brings the presents for the children. In order to get their gifts, children have to sing a song or recount a poem. This is an old tradition. But many families still do it.
Usually there are several church services all day. This way everyone gets the chance to attend.
Christmas is the time when most people attend church in Germany. Even if they’re not active church members otherwise.
Many weeks before Christmas already, people tend to decorate their houses, apartments and rooms.
Decorations include Christmas lights, candles and the so-called Adventskränze to count down the weeks until Christmas arrives.
The 25th and 26th of December are also public holidays. This means: Shops are closed. These days are usually used to visit other family members that may live further away.
What is Silvester? What do Germans watch on New Year’s Eve?
Germans celebrate the beginning of a new year on the 31st of December. The 31st of December is not a public holiday, however, most people work only half day.
Christmas is usually spent with the family.
Silvester is usually celebrated with friends in Germany.
Fireworks are legally allowed to be used from six pm onwards on Silvester. They can be purchased at any shops about two weeks in advance. Many cities also offer public fireworks which people can watch.
Traditions of German Silvester include watching the famous English sketch ‘Dinner for one” video at home.
It’s really funny. Don’t ask me why this is a German tradition. Most British people have never heard of this sketch.
The public German broadcasting channels ARD and ZDF usually show this sketch a few times on Silvester.
It only lasts about 10 minutes.
How Germans celebrate Easter (Ostern)?
Easter with Good Friday (Karfreitag), Easter Sunday (Ostersonntag) and Easter Monday (Ostermontag), is one of the most important holidays in the German calendar.
It marks the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after crucifixion (Easter Sunday).
Traditions of celebrating Easter include the hiding of Easter chocolate eggs and gifts. Little gifts are exchanged between friends and family, usually sweets and chocolate.
Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays. Many people use the extended weekend to go on vacation.
1st of May in Germany – ‘Dance into May’
The 1st of May is a worker’s holiday, like in many other countries.
The German Trade Union Association (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund) organizes demonstrations and political gatherings in numerous cities across Germany on the first of May. Sometimes these demonstrations become a little violent; police is always present.
The evening before the 1st of May is the time for the traditional ‘Dance into May’ (Tanz in den Mai). This follows old traditions to celebrate the spring month of May.
Traditionally, the so-called Maypole, a tree standing for the fertility of spring, is erected in some areas of Germany.
You can find a list of public events in Berlin for the First of May here (German only).
3 Oct German Reunification (Tag der Deutschen Einheit)
On the 3rd October 1990 East and West Germany were officially reunited. The Berlin Wall had already come down on November 9, 1989.
The day is called Tag der Deutschen Einheit. Literally, this means Day of German Unity.
This day is incredibly important.
On Reunification Day, there are no military parades but many festivals and gatherings with political speeches that celebrate the reunification of East and West.
In Berlin, for example, there are usually celebrations at the Brandenburg Gate.
A peaceful revolution in former East Germany led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In 1990, free elections were held. The former East German government was dissolved. And Germany officially reunited on October 3, 1990.
List of German Public Holidays
So far, I have only mentioned a couple of German holidays.
There is many many more. If you live in the South of Germany, you have more public holidays than in the North.
Because there is many Catholics in the south of Germany. And Catholics have more public holidays.
Make sure that you are aware of all German public holidays. This way you can avoid standing in front of a closed shop. It also helps you figuring out bridge days (see above)…
Make sure to put them in your calendar :-)
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Note that due to the limited space in this article, we only mention a selection of German public holidays.
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