Halloween and Martinstag

Halloween auf Deutsch

Also see Martinstag below.

German fall/Halloween pumpkins

A roadside display of autumn/Halloween pumpkins in Bavaria. Customers are asked to leave payment for items they select. PHOTO © Hyde Flippo

Halloween may not be a traditional German celebration, but virtually every German youngster knows about it. For adults as well, over the last decade or so Halloween has become increasingly popular in Europe, and particularly in Germany. It is now common to see pumpkin (Kürbis) and jack-o’-lantern decorations in Austria and Germany by mid-October.

From Ireland to America and Back to Europe
As a result of the long post-war presence of Americans in Germany, and Halloween depictions in Hollywood movies and on television, Halloween has long been known in Germany. But it was not until the 1990s that the holiday became a popular “German” celebration. It’s an American holiday imported from Ireland and now exported back to Europe. The Mardi Gras / Fasching / Karneval aspects of Halloween also have a special appeal to Europeans.

One German organization in particular takes credit for making Halloween a popular celebration in Germany. The Special Carnival Group (Fachgruppe Karneval) of the German Association for the Toy Industry (Deutscher Verband der Spielwarenindustrie, DVSI) claims the German amusement and toy industry was badly hurt in 1991 after Karneval was cancelled because of the First Gulf War. The DVSI began looking for alternatives. In 1994 they began a campaign to promote Halloween to Germans. By 2009 Germans were spending 30 million euros on Halloween. For Germany’s candy industry, the holiday has become the third largest after Christmas and Easter. Whether or not the DVSI should get the credit, Halloween is now a major factor in German popular culture and the German economy.

Only in certain regions or neighborhoods do German youngsters actually go trick-or-treating (“Süßes oder Saures!”). But while trick-or-treating may be rare, Halloween has become a very “cool” party theme for young and old. A web search in German turns up many German-language Halloween sites – many of them for party outfitters. More and more German department stores carry Halloween-related items in October. Hamburg’s House of Horror specialty store, which opened for business in 1996, does a brisk business around Halloween.

Kürbisfest im Retzer Land

Every year in the last week of October, this region of Austria invites families to a Halloween “pumpkin festival.” See more and the web link below.

Austrian jack-o-lantern

Jack-o’-lanterns at the Retz Kürbisfest in Austria. PHOTO: Wolfgang Zajc (kuerbisfest.at)

The Pumpkin Festival in Austria
Around Halloween the Austrian town of Retz and neighboring communities, not far from Vienna, hold an annual pumpkin festival (Kürbisfest), complete with pumpkins, parties, and a Halloween parade (Halloween-Umzug). The region around Retz has also become known for its annual pumpkin harvest. Known as Bluza in the regional dialect, the pumpkin becomes the centerpiece of ein Fest für die ganze Familie, a festival for the entire family.

Martinstag – November 11

There is an old traditional German custom that has much in common with Halloween: Martinstag (St. Martin’s Day, Martinsmas). The Catholic Martinstag observance on November 11 includes costumes and a lantern procession for children. Also known as Martini in Austria and Bavaria, the feast day of Martin of Tours is celebrated in many parts of Europe, including even some Protestant regions. According to legend, Martin cut his red cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm. The traditional baked goose (Martinsgans) meal on Martinstag is based on another part of the legend. Feeling unworthy of becoming a bishop, Martin hid in a stable filled with geese. The noise made by the geese betrayed his location, and the people of Tours had him consecrated as a bishop.

In parts of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland the Martinstag observance is a children’s affair. Carrying paper lanterns they have made in school, the young children take part in an evening procession, sometimes led by a rider on a white horse, emulating St. Martin and his red cloak. In some places the lantern procession ends with a Martinsfeuer (Martin bonfire).

In mostly Protestant Berlin, Martinstag is observed by some kindergartens and elementary schools with a lantern procession for the children, using lanterns they have made. The observance in Berlin tends to be more secular, without emphasizing the religious (Catholic) aspect of the day.

The Candy Corn Connection

There is at least one direct German-American Halloween connection. Following the American Civil War, Gustav and Albert Goelitz traveled from Germany to Illinois to join an uncle who had emigrated in 1834. After Gustav’s death, his two eldest sons revived the candy business that he and Albert had founded. The story goes that the Goelitz Confectionery Co. invented the popular Halloween confection known as Candy Corn in the 1880s. Records indicate that Goelitz was making candy corn by 1900. That firm’s successor, today’s Herman Goelitz, Inc. of Fairfield, California, is best known as the maker of Jelly Belly jelly bean candy. (For more about Goelitz, see the company’s website: Goelitz Company History.)

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