Today is another public holiday here in Germany, Pentecost Monday, or Whitsuntide. May and June are good months for public holidays, what with May Day, Ascension Day, and Pentecost. Unlike public holidays in the US, where sometimes it seems that only the post office and bank are closed, in Germany pretty much everything is closed, just as it is on Sundays. There is usually one bakery in smaller towns that is open for 8-11 so no one is without their fresh bread, but other than that, you better break out your bicycle or go for a walk like everyone else if you don’t want to be cooped up in the house all day.
All of these days off is another one of those benefits of living here. Only a few months of the year have NO holidays whatsoever. December and January are packed with them, what with Christmas and Boxing Day and New Year’s and the one I like to call “We Three Kings” (January 6). February has none, March or April have Easter, which of course also includes Easter Monday and Good Friday (again in contrast to the US, where there is no such thing as Easter Monday). The list below is for the state of Baden-Württemberg, which, with 13, has more public holidays than some of the other states. Nordrhein-Westphalia, for example, only has nine.
The interesting thing to me about all of these days of work is that the majority of the days are church holidays. Very few Germans I know here go to church, and most don’t even know what the more obscure church holidays are about — ask your German friends what Pfingsten is celebrating and see how many know (the holy spirit descending on the disciples in the form of tongues of fire). I think There is an odd disparity here between the tradition of church holidays and the religion behind it. My in-laws are generally not what I would call religious people, but when we celebrate Christmas, we talk about the Christkind coming and follow a certain protocol every year. Most of my German friends have been baptized and confirmed. They pay their church tax and often get married in the church. They baptize their children and make sure that they have Godparents. But that’s often all until they are buried. They don’t actually go to church — not even on Christmas. Again I am not speaking for everyone here, but this is my personal experience.
I was brought up going to church every Sunday and was pretty well versed in the bible. My family were what are now termed “evangelicals”. Pretty much all of us have strayed from the church, including my dad, who was the driving force behind us going to the charismatic churches for a long time. I left when I was eighteen for a number of reasons, one of which is my perception of the church and politics being so entwined in the US.
Here these two areas are entwined in a very different way. You don’t hear about people voting based on “controversial” issues such as gay marriage, but there is no separation of church and state. The schools teach religion, but to me it seems to be more about the history and the stories than the beliefs. The kids are divided between Catholic and Protestant for religious instruction. If you are not of either of these persuasions, you may go to an ethics class or you go home, depending on the school. This is also interesting to me. There is a substantial Muslim population here, but there is no instruction for this group in the schools.
And again, all of this means there are a lot of days off for church holidays, but not many people actually go to church, at least compared to the US. And if you are one of those expats who are here with the military, you might not even know it is a holiday until you go off base to buy some bread, because life goes on as usual on base, with everything being open unless it is an American holiday.
So if you are moving to Germany from somewhere else, be sure to check the calendar before you plan anything that requires grocery shopping or any stores. And don’t forget, the trains run differently on holidays, as do the buses and trams.
For more information on German holidays, you can also have a look at the German Way page: http://www.german-way.com/german-celebrations-holidays.html
|Di.||06.01.2009||Heilige Drei Könige|
|Sa.||03.10.2009||Tag der Deutschen Einheit|