Links to English sites are in italics, other links lead to German sites.
This is a very personal account. I live in Germany and I'm pretty cynical about my culture. Please, do not feel offended by my views, I do not want to spoil your favourite holiday for you. If you have a different perception of some holiday, by all means, write about it. If I did not mention some holiday you find significant, by all means, write about it. Only thus can this article achieve what I can not hope to achieve alone: a thorough account of the public perception of various culture's holidays.
Various Religious Bogus
There exist a couple of religious holidays in Germany about which little is publicly known. Some of them are "Sundays" meaning most labour is suspended for that day. Though many people do not even know what they are supposed to celebrate or contemplate on these days.
Take for example Fronleichnam (60 days after Easter, see below). The name is made up of two German words: Fron (= soccage) and Leichnam (= corpse). The English name for the holiday is Corpus Christi. The original intent was to celebrate the possibility of salvation through the sacrifice of Christ. But this holiday is often referred to as "Happy Cadaver" (sic! It is a German anglicism). That pun deliberately misunderstands the holiday as Frohleichnam: Froh = happy.
This pun may be regarded as heresy by people who know and value the "real" meaning of the holiday. Thus the commonness of the pun tells a lot about what this holiday means for today's culture. There are dozens of such religious holidays that become all but extinct in my culture.
To me they mean little beside one implication: The traces the very religious history of my culture left are rapidly fading in the sand; washed away by the tides of a very different culture that is closing its grip on my people.
Christmas (24.-26.12.) and Easter (1st Sunday after spring full moon)
These are the highest Christian holidays in Germany. Easter is meant for contemplating the resurrection of Christ. With his death and rebirth he is supposed to have freed mankind from original sin. He is supposed to have died for us. But easter is marginalized by Christmas which celebrates Christ's birth. This has probably less to do with the agreeable implications of birth as opposed to death or the metaphysical difficulties with contemplating resurrection than with an important tradition: On Christmas you give gifts. This tradition stems from another holiday about two weeks after Christmas: Three kings are said to have visited the newborn Jesus and brought gifts. I do not know why the tradition switched holidays in some christian cultures and not in others.
Anyway the gifts have become far more important to many people than the religious implications. And Christmas in Germany is the most important family holiday. Families come together, eat tons of food, fight and spoil relations for the year to come. It might be kind of like Thanksgiving in the US. There is an aphorism that sums up my views on Easter and Christmas very well: Yeah, see: On Easter Christ saved our souls. Oh well and fine. But you know, on Christmas! Yes, on Christmas he saved the retail industry.
New Year's Eve (31.12.) and Carnival (45+ days before Easter)
Officially these holidays have nothing to do with each other. I put them in one section because the ways the are celebrated have some things in common.
Sylvester - another name for New Year's Eve - marks the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. Carnival marks the beginning of lent before Easter. As one editor pointed out: "[...] to get one last party in before you spent the next 40 days thinking about what a rotten person you are[...]". In Germany it has a rather political tradition. Carnival is marked by an inversion of rules and the rule of jesters.
The carnival season (the "fifth season") starts at 11/11 (11:11 hours). In carnival sessions which are held in public halls, people give more or less funny speeches and the carnival wagons are prepared. These wagons will drive through the streets on Carnival Monday (47 days before Easter) and the following Tuesday. The wagons usually exhibit some criticism of some public person. The whole madness ends on Ash Wednesday (45 days before Easter). There are more traditions connected with carnival in Germany (partly with other special days). The carnival traditions are especially strong along the river Rhein.
Many traditions are connected to these two holidays, some of them very old. Sylvester traditions are about driving the bad ghosts away and about foreseeing the future. Carnival traditions are about rules and criticism of the rulers. Many of these traditions are still enacted today.
Superficially both holidays are big parties. You get drunk - badly. You enjoy yourself as good as possible, you dance, do crazy things and screw perfect strangers. To me they are traditional holidays transformed by our hedonistic society. In that way they are icons of the strength of our current culture, incorporating elements of other cultures (in this case the culture our's used to be), digesting them and spitting out something barely recognisable.
Day of German Unity (3.10.)
This is a young one. It celebrates the toppling of The Wall and the re-unification of Germany.
It also marks the fall of the USSR and the failure of Leninism/Stalinism and the annexation and ingestion of eastern Germany by my culture. After the wall fell it was not clear what would happen to eastern Germany. There was some slim chance of something new emerging there. Eastern Germany had a strong idealistic civil movement and fresh memories of the good aspects of their former system and its bad aspects. In effect it was swallowed whole by the west.
Day of Labour (1.5.)
The first of May reminds of the riots of labourers in Chicago 1886. It was instrumentalized by socialists to commemorate the suppressed of the world. Proletarians of the world ... The holiday is pretty marginalized today.
Many people might have a faint idea what the day is about. To some it might stand as a reminder of a failed ideology. To me it means little. Who gives a shit about the supressed of the world?
The following holidays are "unofficial". They do not show up in calendars, all are of recent origins. Yet they are more significant to many people than the Various Religious Bogus holidays I wrote about above. The latter being welcome days off work at best.
Love Parade (some day in summer)
The biggest party of the world. Hundreds of thousands of people march through Berlin city annually, dancing through the streets to the loud beats of techno music. The Love Parade is famous for half or completely naked people using all kinds of drugs, having sex and enjoying themselves visibly. Don't flame me, I know this is an overused stereotype, but it reflects the public perception of the Love Parade. It is an open celebration of hedonism and thus and icon of our society.
Christopher Street Day (changing date)
Christopher Street Day is the "German" name of the Stonewall riots commemoration or Gay Pride day.
Superficially the Christopher Street Day looks much like the Love Parade. With one small difference: Most participants are homosexual. The Christopher Street Day goes back to events in the Christopher Street, New York 1969. For the first time homosexuals resisted the state terror they had to endure for centuries. Thus in my cosmology the Christopher Street Day has a special place. It is one of the last visible memorials of people fighting for freedom. And they do it in the culturaly most appropriate form: they - again - celebrate hedonism.
Valentines Day (14.2.)
St. Valentine was a Christian priest in the 3rd century who was executed for marrying people. The holiday is celebrated by giving flowers to your love. On the one hand it is a nice holiday worshipping love and all. On the other hand it bears the unnerving signature of commercialization like almost everything in my culture. Go buy flowers for your love. You're not going to show up with some pathetic self picked bouquet, are you?
Chaos Days (changing date)
The chaos days are an amazing memorial of our society. People meet yearly in some German city (it started in Hanover and happened there most of the years) - and riot. Yes really, we institutionalized our riots. You see, we are Germans. Certainly, the police do their best to beat the freaks up, but they keep coming year after year after year to wreak havoc. To show us what they think about our culture. They collect their spanking and go home. To return next year. No comment.
Geo Day of Biodiversity (some day in summer)
The German magazine Geo (comparable to National Geographic) initialized that day in 1998. Annually hundreds of scientists and thousands of interested laymen go out and catalogue species in some chosen spot. The day was invented to raise awareness of the biodiversity (or soon lack thereof) issue.
I like that one. It instills some faint hope into my cynical self that humans may eventually make it. Looks a bit too much like a Quixotic endeavour though. Oh, and they branded the holiday - I guess after all my clamouring I don't have to write out what I think about that ...
Red Nose Day (dunno da date)
Wear a red nose and donate money to fund research on sudden infant death syndrome.
If this holiday did not exist it would have to be invented. I loath this one with all my heart. You wear a red nose to show you are part of our stupid hedonistic circus and you make a small donation to clear your conscience. That about sums up what my culture is like.
I would like to thank my numerous editors here at K5. You improved the article quite some. What remains to be desired is certainly all my fault.