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Pfingsten, Pentecost - Whitsun in Germany


Pfingsten with its religious, pre-Christian and secular, traditions and festivals mark the last day of Easter celebrations throughout Germany. Ostern didn't end with Easter Monday but with Pentecost from the Greek "Pentekoste"; fiftieth day. Pfingsten.

Another "moveable feast", and major Christian festival in Germany. Fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead it can be held in May, or at the latest on June 13th; commemorating the day the Holy Spirit gave the "gift of tongues" to the apostles.

The birth of the Christian church, and something Jesus had foretold.

As a religious and public holiday, thousands of Germany's Christians walk in procession to church to attend the special services; often wearing Tracht, the traditional dress of their region. In other areas horses, their riders carrying banners and crosses, are led by priests.

There are local secular and pre-Christian customs and traditions, many connected to farming and planting; country fairs are held all over the country while it is also the "revision break" for many students before their summer exams.

Not all have to study though, and the night between Pentecost Sunday and Pentecost Monday is Unruhnacht, "unrest night", or Bosheitsnacht, "Wickedness Night", when, as with Walpurgisnacht, any young people who do not have to "hit the books" are often out and about making mischief; doing what in pagan times was believed evil spirits would have done.

That is to come out into the open, and take away and hide any moveable objects not safely put away. "Was nicht durch ein Dach geschützt ist"; what is not protected by a roof.

At the same time, there are regions where more romantically minded young men fix branches from a birch tree to walls of homes belonging to the young woman they hope, perhaps secretly, to marry. Sometimes even planting an entire young birch tree. This is a fertility rite that can be traced back thousands of years; "Pfingstbaumpflanzen" or "Birkenstecken".

Greenery symbolizes the fertility of nature, so many customs are centered around trees; including Pfingstbaumpflanzen, Pentecost tree planting. Covering a birch tree with ribbons like an old fashioned maypole.

In a way it also used to be a form of "Harvest Festival", because at this time of year the first fruits and vegetables have ripened.

It is today a maypole, Pfingstbaum, is erected in some regions, not May 1; especially on the eastern side of Germany, and one of the day's highlights is the classic "Dance around the Maypole" with ribbons ending entwined around the pole.

While the Pentecost wreath, Oelder Pfingstenkranz, is a three meter high pyramid made from evergreen branches used as the central point for dancing, and singing traditional songs.

This dates from the days of the Germanic pagan god Woton, who among other things was worshipped as the protector of harvest and farm animals.

When Pentecost is in May livestock, which has spent winter and spring in barns and fields close to villages, is taken out to pasture for the first time; often to fields high in the mountains.

Leading the herd will be the strongest animal, der Pfingstochse, the Pentecost Ox. Usually decorated with flowers, greenery, ribbons and bells, this is a tradition that continues in many rural areas; especially in southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

There is a saying: Geputzt wie ein Pfingstochse, "dressed up like a Pentecost ox", describing someone who is wearing either highly fashionable or formal clothes. Perhaps for a special occasion, but at the same time ending up more than a little over-dressed.

A June Pfingsten, with the herds already in their summer pastures, does not mean no Pfingstochse. As a tradition that goes back generations an ox will be chosen, decorated and paraded.

While, in some regions, whoever in a family or household sleeps the longest on Pfingstsonntag is awarded the title "Pfingstochsen".

There are "Pfingstfeuer", Pentecost fires, originating from a pagan custom for chasing away the last of the winter and welcoming the spring, but now a symbol of the Holy Spirit in Christian circles; as well as a popular secular tradition.

Some children put wild coltsfoot leaves, Huflattichblätter, out in the night before Pentecost, and in the morning find they have been replaced by a Pfingstenbrezel. Pentecost Pretzel. The leaves are kept as they are used for quite a few "herbal cures" in Germany.

While in the Bible the dove plays a part in Pentecost, as a symbol for the Holy Ghost, and one used to be released into churches on the Sunday.

There it flew around until being allowed to fly free on Pentecost Monday.

At the same time roast dove was a traditional Pfingsten meal. These days in most places it has been replaced by Brotvögeln, bread birds, either with a meal or given as a present.

Pfingstmontag is an official holiday, and the country's "quiet laws" are in place; meaning no loud noise, mowing of lawns etc. is allowed, but the day is still filled with tradition. Including more religious processions with or without horses, Kermes (funfairs), Pfingsten Markets, Bratwurstfeste and if the "Pfingstl" didn't visit on Sunday, then he will appear today.

The Pfingstl in Bavaria, or "Maimann" as it is known in some other regions, is a symbol of the last winter, and under those layers of birch and evergreen is a man hoping that is doesn't rain; making his outfit heavier than it already is.

Some Pentecost traditions in today's Germany.


Pfingsten, with the Dove and Fire, two symbols for the Holy Ghost, via pvsenglischefraeulein.at - Pfingstochsen ready to be led through the village via GrevenerZeitung.de - Pfingstl foto by Trachtenverein Hirmonstaler, via Bayern.blogger.de


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Easter in Germany
Ascension Day/Father's Day
Walpurgisnacht, Maibaum and May Day
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Content copyright © 2015 by Francine McKenna-Klein. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Francine McKenna-Klein. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Francine McKenna-Klein for details.

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