A Newcomer‘s Guide to Germany: May Holidays and Traditions

The month of May is welcoming warmer weather and the return of the sun here in northern Germany.

Alongside warmer temperature, May also includes 3 public holiday:

Tag der Arbeit on 1. May (fixed holiday)
Christi Himmelfahrt on 9. May (the sixth Thursday after Easter)
Pfingstmontag on 20. May (51 days following Easter)

Most employees (in nonessential sectors) have the day off. Banks, Supermarkets, schools and offices are all closed on these public or federal holidays. Many restaurants will be open on this day and some swimming pools will open for the summer season. The concept of Sonntagsruhe or peace and quiet on a Sunday applies to all public holidays. This sentiment is taken quiet seriously and is written into the German constitution (Grundgesetz) that Sunday and the nationally recognized public holidays shall remain protected by law as days of rest and spiritual upliftment. This means if you have a garden, you are not allowed to be mowing the lawn and should refrain from vacuuming in an apartment for long periods on this day. There are no reserved holidays in Germany (Germans typically celebrate a public holiday on the actual day of the week it falls). If a public holiday falls on Saturday or Sunday, there would be no additional day off from work. You can also expect long lines at the supermarket the day before a holiday. The lines can be especially long when a holiday falls before or after a weekend, in which supermarkets can be closed for 2-3 days in a row. I definitely recommend planning ahead! If you are a parent to daycare or school age kids, this will often mean they have additional days off before or after the public holiday, referred to as Brückentage because it bridges the gap or day between the holiday and the weekend.

Tag der Arbeit or Labor Day is a public holiday on 1. May and became an official holiday in 1919 when it was approved by the Weimar National Assembly. The Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP, later SPD) called to celebrate May Day as the day of the workers’ movement often noted as the day of struggle for the Labor movement or Kampftag der Arbeiterbewegung. Although there was not specific order to strike, around 100,000 people in Germany did in fact protest on May 1, 1890. Labor Day protests continue to this day.

On 30. April may also be celebrated with a festival called Dancing into May Tanz im Mai, in which friends will dance together and welcome the month of May at midnight. This tradition has roots in a celebration from the Middle Ages, Walpurgisnacht, in which it was believed that dancing around the campfire (Lagerfeuer) was supposed to banish evil spirits, death and the plague as well as welcome spring. This tradition is still celebrated throughout Germany today with a modern twist.

In many southern German cities, a May Pole will be erected, locally know as a Maibaum. I personally have not been to a Maifest and have asked my colleagues for their experiences. The traditions of a Maibaum varies from location to location. There may often be a parade or procession before the Maibaum is erected in a central location like the town square or marketplace. The pole may remain throughout the year or be removed at the end of the month. It is typically the trunk of a birch tree and is decorated with wreaths, ribbons, flags and other local decorations in celebration the fruitfulness of the upcoming seasons.

Christi Himmelfahrt (Ascension of Christ) and Pfingstmontag (Pentecost- or Whit Monday) vary each year in according with the date of Easterr and celebrate Jesus’ ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit. Father’s Day is also celebrated on Christi Himmelfahrt in Germany.

We hope you enjoying the upcoming holidays and learned a bit more about the local traditions in the region. Stay tuned next week as I will be diving into the German healthcare system.

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