Guest Author - Francine McKenna
For those who experience it for the first time, even from a distance, a traditional German ĎFatherís Dayí 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 that honors fathers in other countries.
Originating 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 Maennertag, Men's Day, or Herrentag as it was more commonly known in the East of Germany, evolved from days of Christian celebration and by the 19th century had become more of a men only Sauftag, Drinking Day.
An all day drinking or pub tour.
A German public holiday since 1936, and on the religious calendar still an important date with special church services and processions, it developed into a work free 'holiday' for the countryís menfolk, who were given the liberty to do whatever they wanted. This by tradition 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 the just a 'get together'. Perhaps for a cycling or hiking trip.
Although drink, of the alcoholic variety, is normally an accompaniment.
It is not as commonplace as it used to be but also not unusual to see some '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 would be filled by fathers and taken to the town or village square, once there the one with most children would be awarded with a large ham. Now the carts are used to accompany the men as they make a hiking tour.
Bollerwagen, hand carts, or Kutsche, wagons for the less energetic, are filled with beer, wine or schnapps and good old fashioned, heavy on calories, Hausmannskost, regional food, but despite their original contents having been consumed they rarely make the return journey empty.
The '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, and that is when those no longer capable of walking the distance are loaded into the empty carts. This often signals the beginning of a 'pub crawl'.
It's a celebration of 'Fatherhood' unique to Germany and parts of Austria, and tradition or not the annual event does attract criticism, with the country's one time Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen, herself a mother of seven, urging fathers to spend the day playing with their children and begin a new tradition of accepting gifts of flowers and chocolates.
Rather than sitting in a wagon, or dragging a handcart, filled with alcohol and coronary inducing food and traveling across the countryside. Or taking root in a bar and passing the hours consuming vast amounts of Schnapps.
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 as a people Germans are very much 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'.
"Father's Day" is just one of many traditions passed down through the generations until present day. For a glimpse at these and much more: "Our Daily Bread: German Village Life, 1500-1850" is a fascinating window into the past, with everyday life as it was in those days often showing just why so many decided to take a voyage into the unknown and emigrate.
It is an interesting, informative and easy read for anyone with German roots, or who is simply interested in history.
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Image: Photographer Lienhard Schulz via de.Wikipedia