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Lesson 5-2 - Lektion 5-2

German holidays and some of their customs

Lesson 5: Extension and revision of the first chapter of the course. Activity 2

From this activity you will learn new words, expressions, some information about German holidays and be able write a congratulation.


December, 31 / January, 1. New Year’s Eve in Germany is called Silvester. It’s when Germans celebrate the New Year (Neujahr). It’s usually outside the house. Masquerades, fireworks. Bells are ringing at midnight sharp. Crackers are exploding from evening till morning. As they bid farewell in the evening, they say: Guten Rutsch ins Neujahr! “Have a good New Year!” Giving toasts at midnight, they say Prosit Neujahr! “Happy New Year!”. Traditional New Year’s food and drinks: carp, donuts, punch. The most common greetings:

Ein glückliches (gesundes, frohes) Neues Jahr! or
Viel Glück im Neuen Jahr! Reply:
Ich wünsche Ihnen auch ein glückliches (gesundes) Neues Jahr!


February / March (sliding date). The date varies, but the German version of Mardi Gras is the last opportunity to celebrate before the Lenten season. It goes by many names: Fasching, Fastnacht, Fasnacht, Fasnet, or Karneval (Carnival). The Rosenmontag is the main celebration day of Carnival, which features parades, clownish processions and ceremonies to drive out any evil spirits. Carnival is especially popular in Köln, Mainz and other cities in Southern Germany. Costume parties, dances. Carnival processions are often politically oriented, they criticizes different aspects of life. It is particularly common to celebrate it for three days before the beginning of the fast (always in Wednesday — Aschermittwoch): Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. There are no traditional greetings for this holiday.


March / April (sliding date). In Germany, Easter is known as “Ostern” and the commemoration begins a week before, on Palm Sunday, marking Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Nowadays this traditional holiday is more of a public holiday, it symbolizes the return of life and growth in the spring, and is less associated with church. Traditional attributes of the holiday: painted eggs, the Easter Bunny (According to legend, once in a year the Bunny hides coloured eggs throughout the house for the children and family members to find!), different sweets, especially of chocolate. Germany’s Easter marches for peace also take place during the holiday. The most common greetings:

Frohe Ostern! or Ein frohes Osterfest!

Tag der Arbeit

May, 1. International Workers’ Day (Internationaler Kampf- und Feiertag der Werktätigen). It’s the day against unemployment and poverty, for social freedom. The symbol of the holiday is the red carnation flower.

Himmelfahrt, Muttertag

May / June (sliding date). The Ascension of Christ (Himmelfahrt). Unlike Mother’s Day (Muttertag), which is celebrated on the second Sunday in May as a tribute to all mothers, the Ascension is considered as “Men’s Day” or “Father’s Day”. It is celebrated on the 40th day after Easter. It is about celebrating manhood and going out into nature in “gentlemen parties” (Herrenpartien) while pulling along decorated Bollerwagen (handcarts) filled to the brim with food and alcohol. That is of course until you go further south to more Catholic regions like Bavaria where towns continue on with religious parades that actually honour Jesus Christ on the sacred day and give locals yet another reason to wear Lederhosen (leather trousers) with funny hats. There are no special greetings for this holiday.


May / June (sliding date). Pentecost (Pfingsten) is a traditional public holiday which was adopted in time by the Church as the Holy Trinity. Morning concerts, excursions, walks. Traditional meetings of young people, song and dance festivals, sports competitions. Houses are often decorated by fresh green branches. The most common greetings:

Frohe Pfingsten! or Ein frohes Pfingstfest!

Tag der deutschen Einheit

October, 3. The Day of German Unity (Tag der deutschen Einheit) is a national holiday. It commemorates the German reunification in 1990. The historical event of German reunification, where the former GDR officially joined the Federal Republic of Germany, is celebrated with a three-day festival around Platz der Republik at the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate. In that area, various stages host live bands and stands sell food, drinks and sweets. Musicians, comedians, poetry slammers and actors present their art at the festival. A possible greeting:

Die besten Wünsche zum Tag der deutschen Einheit!


December, 25/26. Christmas (Weihnachten) is a Christian holy day that marks the birth of Jesus, the son of God. Celebrating Christmas is an important family tradition not only in Germany but in most Western countries. The main event is on December, 24 — Christmas Eve (Heiligabend). All theatres, cinemas and restaurants are closed this day. The evening is spent in a close family circle. A decorated Christmas tree is lit up and the family is all together! There is a present for every family member lying under the Christmas tree. Some families sing Christmas songs and make music together. Traditional Christmas dishes: goose, Christmas pie (Stollen) (fruited yeast bread), spice-cakes, cookies. In big cities, Christmas fairs (Weihnachtsmarkt) are organised during the month before Christmas with many attractions, lotteries and gift sales, especially for children. The most common greetings (oral and written):

Frohe (Fröhliche) Weihnachten! or Ein frohes Weihnachtsfest!

Christmas congratulations are often combined with New Year congratulations because it is customary to send presents and congratulate friends and relatives:

Herzliche Weihnachtsgrüße und ein gesundes Neues Jahr!
Frohe Weihnachten und ein glückliches Neues Jahr!

The family holidays are: birthday (der Geburtstag), initiation (die Jugendweihe) (in ex-GDR, ceremony in which 14-year-olds are given adult social status) and confirmation (die Konfirmation) (in the FRG), engagement (die Verlobung) and wedding (die Hochzeit). A possible greeting:

Die besten Glückwunsche (Herzlichen Glückwunsch) zum Geburtstag!
Die besten (Glückwunsche zur Hochzeit (Jugendweihe)!

1. Determine if the following statements are true or false (answer yes or no ).

1. Christmas is celebrated only by believers. 2. May 1 is the day when people lay wreaths at tombs of German soldiers. 3. At Christmas Eve all theatres and cinemas are close. 4. There are two national holidays in the FRG. 5. Public holidays in the FRG are sometimes used for political purposes. 6. The red carnation flower is the symbol of International Women’s Day. 7. Carnival processions are accompanied by crackers rattling and fireworks. 8. Christmas congratulations are often combined with New Year congratulations.


2. Answer the questions using the given words on the right.

1. What is the most common name for Carnival in Germany?

а. Weihnachten

2. What holiday includes a bunny as its attribute?

b. Silvester

3. What is the German name of Christmas Eve?

с. Fasching

4. In what holiday are the houses decorated with green branches?

d. Heiligabend

5. Before what holiday are Christmas fairs organised with attractions and lotteries?

е. Pfingsten

6. What holiday is accompanied by cracker rattling?

f. Ostern


3. Say when you should use the following congratulations (to what holiday or to what day and month).

1. Die besten Wünsche zum Tag der deutschen Einheit!
2. Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Muttertag!
3. Herzliche Weihnachtsgrüße!
4. Ein frohes Pfingstfest!
5. Guten Rutsch ins Neujahr!