Posts Tagged ‘Blog’


St. Nikolaustag

              Today, December 6th, is Der Nikolaustag (St. Nicholas Day) and this means that all throughout German-speaking countries children woke up this morning to goodies from St. Nicholas left in their boots or stockings!            Der Nikolaustag is based off a real person, der Heilige Nikolaus (St. Nicholas), who was born in the 200s A.D. in what we now know as Turkey. He became the Bishop of Myra and the Patron Saint of Children, Sailors, Students, Teachers, and Merchants and was known for giving secret-gifts to the poor and those he protected. It is said that he died on December 6th, 343 A.D., which is why this day is now the day that we celebrate his life and legacy.

          If you ever find yourself in Germany in November 1st you will find that all stores and office buildings are closed, and instead, people are spending their day at the graveyard honoring their loved ones that have passed away. November 1st is known in Germany as Allerheiligen (All Saints Day), a Catholic holiday honoring those that are with God after their death and therefore have reached their final resting place.

         The day starts with the family getting together for a procession through the graveyard with a remembrance and benediction of the graves. The graves are then decorated with candles and bouquets of autumn flowers and twigs of the heath plant.

           Once the family is back home they share an Allerheiligenstriezel, a braided brioche type bread decorated with coarse sugar crystals. Children often remember receiving these Allerheiligenstriezel or a similar baked good from their Godparents on this day.

          It is not only a day to honor our loved one that have past away but also anyone in general that have lost their lives due to tragic events such as war, car accidents, or drownings. On November 1st , multiple remembrance ceremonies are held across the country to honor the fallen soldiers from WWI and WWII. In addition, crosses, candles and flowers are placed at the side of the road in memory of those that lost their lives in a car accident. The Market Gemeinde St. Nikola, in addition to many other German cities, honors drowning victims by having two men take a boat on the Danube to place a wreath in the water.

         The following day, November 2nd is known as Allerseelen, or All Souls Day. Similar to the other parts of Die Allerseleenwoche (All Souls Week), it is a day of remembering and honoring the dead. All Souls Day is typically practiced in the predominantly Catholic areas of German-speaking countries, though it is not limited to these places.

        Similar to All Saints Day, All Souls Day emerged in 998. However, what is different is that this is a day of remembrance for all departed souls that are in purgatory, due to them not confessing to their sins before they died.

         This day is one of remembrance, so the ways in which it is celebrated are more subdued than some of the other holidays that German-speaking countries take part in. There is, of course, partaking in prayer and various church services, as well as a few other traditions. One of these is that the family will do a silent procession through the graveyard holding colored glass called Allerseelenlämpchen in order to honor the dead. Another way of remembrance is one where cone-shaped candles that are red, white, blue, yellow, and/or green are placed on graves – what is interesting about this is that it is only done in Mainz and not much is known about how this tradition came about. Although this day is one that contains a fairly heavy topic, children are not left out of the traditions – they receive Seelenbreze (basically a “Soul Pretzel”) that came about due to the tradition of having a Allerheiligenstriezel on All Saints Day.

By: Emily Beeland and Elena Osiander

Happy Halloween!

          It is the night when witches, and ghouls, and ghosts alike run amuck; the night when “trick-or-treat” can be heard up and down the street; the night when everything is just a little bit spookier; it’s the night of Halloween!

          We at the German-American Heritage Foundation would like to wish everyone a Happy Halloween! Although this is primarily an Irish/American holiday, German-speaking countries throughout Europe still celebrate it. Halloween first started emerging in Germany after World War I & II, most likely due to America’s influence on the country during that time. However, in the 1990s, the holiday quickly gained popularity – this is thought to be because Fasching was cancelled in 1991 due to the First Gulf War, so the Special Carnival Group (Fachgruppe Karneval) of the German  Association for the Toy Industry (Deutscher Verband der Spielwarenindustrie) promoted the idea of Halloween.

         Celebrating Halloween in Germany (and other German-speaking countries) is a little different than it is here in America. For instance, one of the biggest differences is the prevalence of trick-or-treating (or Süß oder Saures). In Germany and other German-speaking countries, only big cities or cities near American military bases participate in trick-or-treating due to the fact that St. Martinstag (another holiday where kids go door to door to get candy) is only 11 days later. Instead, Halloween is celebrated more with parties, in which people dress up in scary costumes.

          Halloween celebrations also vary by region and country. For example, in Retz, Austria (just outside of Vienna), there is the famous Kürbisfest (Pumpkin Festival). Similarly, in Darmstadt, Germany, one can visit Burg Frankenstein, which is thought to be the possible inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. These are only a couple of the ways of celebration, with many more being found around the countries.

Once again, Happy Halloween!

Written by Emily Beeland
Today, October 26th, is Nationalfeiertag, which is also known as Austrian National Day! We at the German-American Heritage Foundation want to acknowledge and celebrate this holiday due to our goal of promoting the cultural heritage of all Americans of German-speaking ancestry. So, Happy Austrian National Day! Austrian National Day emerged from political developments after World War II. After the war ended, the country was occupied by the Allied Forces (the Soviet Union, United States, Great Britain, and France). However, on October 26th, 1955 (ten years after the end of the war), the Austrian Parliament passed a law that stated that the country would have permanent neutrality and this put an end to occupation by Allied forces. Because of this, the idea of neutrality has become a big part of Austrian Culture and is why Austrian National Day exists. This day is celebrated in a variety of ways in the country, be it through ceremonies or festive celebrations. Some of the ways that Austria celebrates include:
  • The Federal President and the Federal Minister of Defense attending a celebration at Heldenplatz (“Heroes’ Square) in Vienna
  • The Federal President addressing the country in an address similar to the American “State of the Union”
  • The new recruits of the Austrian Armed Forces are sworn in
  • There is free and/or discounted entrance to Federal museums
Once again, to all the Austrians, Happy National Day from us here at the German-American Heritage Foundation! (For anyone who would like more information, please go to: By Emily Beeland
Independence Day Independence Day is the national holiday of the United States. On July 4th, 1776, the Continental Congress declared the independence of the thirteen American colonies from Britain and this laid the foundation of a new nation state—the United States of America. During the Revolutionary War, German Americans served both the British and the Americans. Well known is the Prussian born general Baron von Steuben (1730–1794), who fought on the American side and became famous by introducing successful new military drills, tactics, and disciplines. Other German Americans followed the example of Frederick Baron de Weissenfels, who initially joined the British, but soon changed sides. In this respect German Americans took their share in achieving the independence that Americans celebrate with their national holiday every year since 1777.
This Memorial Day we mourn those who gave their lives in defending our country. Over the years, many German Americans have been part of the loss of lives that we reflect upon today. Rituals honoring the dead, especially those who fell in battle against one’s enemy, can be traced back as far as to Ancient Greece. For Americans, Memorial Day is a federal holiday, honoring those in the Armed Forces who fell in service to their country. Germany has a similar day of remembrance called Volkstrauertag, which is observed two weeks before the first Sunday of Advent. On the surface, these two holidays seem very similar, yet there are some noticeable differences: The focus of Memorial Day in America lies in soldiers and those who have served in the Armed Forces, whereas the German Volkstrauertag memorializes all victims of war: soldiers, civilians, and those who fell victim to oppressive systems. This reflects some of the cultural differences regarding how the Armed Forces are perceived in each country. Returning after WWII, American soldiers were praised as heroes and saviors of the Free World. In Germany however, former soldiers were initially eager to play down the Wehrmacht’s involvement in Nazi Crimes and cast themselves as victims, too. Since the 1980s, the perception has changed toward associating Hitler’s Army with Nazi Germany’s shameful past. However, in neither patterns of interpretation did German society give much reason to remember their soldiers as heroes of the nation like in the United States.