Seasonal festivities and traditions

A bright firework above the Cathedral in Cologne behind a river and bridge.
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"Man muss die Feste feiern, wie sie fallen" (holidays should be celebrated on the days on which they fall) is an old German saying. And there are plenty of celebrations throughout the year, not just Christmas and Easter.

Germans ring in the New Year from December 31 to January 1 with sparkling wine and fireworks. Are you familiar with the tradition?

Carnival or "Mardi Gras" usually takes place in February, with people celebrating in bright costumes and street parades.

May 1 is a holiday – labor day. Everyone has the day off, and lots of people have been up celebrating since the night before. May trees are put up in village squares, and in some regions people tie birch trees decorated with ribbons or streamers outside their sweetheart's front door.

In the fall, many places celebrate fairs or folk festivals based on giving thanks for a good harvest. But the Oktoberfest in Munich is not one of these. It is Germany's biggest festival, drawing some six million visitors a year. You have probably heard of it.

October 3 is the Day of German Unity, commemorating the division of Germany and reunification in 1990. It's the country's national holiday.

Halloween is at the end of October. The tradition comes from the United States, but it has been widely adopted in Germany, with children dressing up in Halloween costumes and trick-or-treating, going from house to house asking for candy. Traditionalists in Germany still prefer St Martin’s Day, which comes a few days later. Children walk in procession through the neighborhood streets, not in costume, but holding home-made lanterns and singing. In some regions, they also go door-to-door, collecting sweets.