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Father's Day in Germany
For those who experience it for the first time, even from a distance, a traditional German "Fatherís Day" can come as something of a surprise. It has little in common with the hand written card, gift wrapped pair of socks, "Breakfast in Bed", or special favorite meal type of celebration honoring fathers in other countries.
With origins in the Middle Ages as "Vatertag", a family day celebrating fathers and their role in life, it takes place on the 40th day of Easter "Christi Himmelfahrt". Ascension Day, which for Christians commemorates Jesusí ascension into heaven.
However "Mšnnertag", Men's Day, or "Herrentag" as it was more commonly known in East Germany, evolved from days of Christian celebration; by the 19th century it had become more of a men only "Sauftag". A "Drinking Day".
A day spent in the company of friends and lots of alcohol; somewhere out in the country, or as a pub tour.
Ascension Day has been a German public holiday since 1936; is still an important date on the religious calendar with special church services and processions but also developed into a work free "holiday" for the countryís menfolk, who were given the liberty to do whatever they wanted.
This led to some, but by no means all, becoming intoxicated as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
In today's Germany men don't need an extra day set aside to have a few drinks with their friends, and for most of those who take part it is just a "get together". Perhaps for a cycling or hiking trip.
Although drink, of the alcoholic variety, is normally included.
It is perhaps not as commonplace as it used to be, although not unusual, to see "fathers" sprawled in a wooden cart clutching a beer, where the carts spend the rest of the year is a mystery; slumped in a corner; against a lamp post; or "Drunk in Charge" of a bicycle that has a basket stacked with alcohol of one type or another.
Originally the custom was that carts full of "fathers" were taken to the town or village square, where the one with most children was awarded with a large ham. By the 19th century, colorful parades were common, with horse-drawn carriages and traditional walks by men and women commemorating the walking of the apostles. By the late 19th century as religion lost its hold on many, especially in urban areas, the day involved men enjoying little walking trips, with picnics of ham and beer tied to their walking sticks in handkerchiefs.
Now carts are used to accompany them as they make a hiking tour. Bollerwagen, handcarts, or "Kutsche", wagons for the less energetic, are filled with beer, wine or Schnapps and good old fashioned, heavy on calories, Hausmannskost, regional food. Their original contents consumed, it is rare they make the return journey empty.
"Fathers", who donít even have to be fathers, make for a quiet spot where surrounded by a supply of alcohol and food they sing, recite poems, and tell jokes and anecdotes until everything has been consumed.
This is when those no longer capable of walking the distance are loaded into the empty carts, and it often signals the beginning of a "pub crawl".
A celebration of "Fatherhood" unique to Germany and parts of Austria, and tradition or not the annual event does attract criticism. What is a good old fashioned tradition to one person can just as easily be unpleasant drunk and disorderly to another.
Even politicians get involved, among others the country's one time Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a mother of seven, who urged fathers to spend the day playing with their children and begin a new tradition of accepting gifts of flowers and chocolates.
A family minded alternative to sitting in a wagon, or dragging a handcart, filled with alcohol and coronary inducing food then traveling across the countryside. Or taking root in a bar and passing the hours consuming vast amounts of Schnapps.
But her idea remained just that, and didn't bring about much in the way of change.
Will the customs of centuries eventually return to being a family celebration honoring a father?
Society and the event itself is changing, it could happen, but Germans are against commercialized or manufactured celebrations, so, although it might be modified by time and circumstances, there is no chance that "Father's Day in Germany" will never become a "Hallmark Holiday".
Images: Horse drawn carriage, photographer Lienhard Schulz via de.Wikipedia, Ein Papamobil via Spiegel.de
Content copyright © 2015 by Francine McKenna-Klein. All rights reserved.
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