Harvest Festivals in Germany

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In Germany there are many festivals related to the harvest. For instance there is a celebration running from August to October devoted to the shepherds and cowherds who would return from the mountains. It is called Almabtrieb which literally means drive from the mountain pasture. It is an annual event in the alpine regions in Europe, referring to a cattle drive that takes place in late September or early October. The animals are covered with flowers, and the villagers put on their traditional costumes to welcome the procession.

During summer, all over the alpine region cattle herds feed on alpine pastures (Almen in Austria or Germany, Alpen in Switzerland) high up in the mountains, a practice known as transhumance. In numbers, these amount to about 500,000 in Austria, 380,000 in Switzerland, and 50,000 in Germany.

While there is often some movement of cattle between the Almen, or Alps respectively, during the summer, there is usually one concerted cattle drive in the autumn to bring the cattle to their barns down in the valley. If there were no accidents on the Alm during the summer, in many areas the cattle are decorated elaborately, and the cattle drive is celebrated with music, feasts and dance events in the towns and villages. Upon arrival in the valley, joint herds from multiple farmers are sorted in the Viehscheid, and each animal is returned to its owner.

In many places this Alpine custom of Almabtrieb has today evolved into a major turist attraction, with a public festival, and booths set up along the course for selling agricultural, as well as artisans’, products along with alcoholic beverages.

In the spring, the reverse cattle drive moves from the valley barns to the Alp (in Switzerland: Alpaufzug, Alpfahrt, Alpauffahrt; in Germany/Austria: Almauftrieb). It is celebrated in Switzerland, though less well known. It is not celebrated in Germany and Austria, however. In Germany, peasants used to break the first straws of hay brought into the barns saying, “This is food for the dead.”

Viehscheid Oberstdorf
Traditionel march in Oberstdorf – Alps

Almabtrieb is super but the bigest harvest festival in Germany is known as Oktoberfest. It is the world’s largest Volksfest (beer fest and travelling funfair). Held annually in Münich, Bavaria, it is a 16- to 18-day folk fest running from mid or late September to the first Sunday in October, with more than six million people from around the world attending the event every year. Locally, it is often called the Wiesn, after the colloquial name for the fairgrounds, Theresa’s meadows ( Theresienwiese). The Oktoberfest is an important part of Bavarian culture, having been held since the year 1810. Other cities across the world also hold Octoberfest celebrations that are modeled after the original Munich event. The Oktoberfest festivities are officially opened when the Lord Mayor taps the first barrel of beer A large parade of colorfully decorated brewers’ drays and magnificent floats brings the festivities to an exciting climax on the first Sunday of October. Beer tents erected for the occasion provide an unending supply of drink and food and a carnival atmosphere permeates the entire festival.P1000426

During the event, large quantities of October Beer are consumed: during the 16-day festival in 2013, for example, 7.7 million liter (66,000 US bbl; 1,700,000 imp gal) were served. Visitors also enjoy numerous attractions, such as amusement rides, sidestalls, and games. There is also a wide variety of traditional foods available.

The Munich Oktoberfest originally took place in the 16-day period leading up to the first Sunday in October. In 1994, this longstanding schedule was modified in response to German reunification. As such, if the first Sunday in October falls on the 1st or the 2nd, then the festival would run until 3 October (German Unity Day). Thus, the festival now runs for 17 days when the first Sunday is 2 October and 18 days when it is 1 October. In 2010, the festival lasted until the first Monday in October (4 October), to mark the event’s bicentennial.

Where grape-growing and wine-making go on, a green branch or bush is hung over the door when it comes time for the wine tasting..

In Germany the Erntedanktag (Thanksgiving) is also official holiday just like in Canada or in USA. Harvest Festivals are celebrated in churches and market places, in homes and dance halls. Religious holiday traditions are a part of the local culture and are enjoyed by the whole community.The German Erntedankfest is primarily a rural and a religious celebration. When it is celebrated in larger cities, it is usually part of a church service. Erntedankfest is often celebrated on the first Sunday in October, which is usually also the first Sunday following Michaelistag or Michaelmas which is 29 Sept, but, various locales may give thanks at different times during September and October. Erntedankfest is not a big day of family get-togethers and feasting, but, there are some turkey substitutes, usually so-called Masthühnchen, or chickens bred to be fattened up for more meat. Der Kapaun is a castrated rooster that is fed until he’s heavier than the average rooster. Die Poularde is the hen equivalent, a sterilized pullet that is also fattened up. A “harvest crown” or Erntekrone is formed of ears of grain, flowers and fruit is taken to church in solemn procession. Mostly the celebration includes the blessing of gifts, a parish celebration and/or morning drinking festivals also known as Frühschoppen.

German Catholics also celebrate the Feast of Saint Martin of Tours or as it is also known Martinmas, hold on November 11. This feast was held to honor the Romain saint who, as legend goes, hid in a barn when he heard he had been appointed a bishop and believed he did not earn such an honor. A honking goose as legend goes was to reveal his hiding place, so roast goose became a traditional dish for Martinmas feast, along with wine made from the grape harvest. As well the day held elements of the Halloween tradition with children marching in parades carrying homemade lanterns. Protestant Germans later on celebrated the Feast of Saint Martin in honor of the German religious leader and founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther, who was born on November 10th 1483 and was named after Saint Martin of Tours.


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