Holidays in Germany

How to Survive in Germany Part 14: Holidays

Germany, like many countries, has holidays, but it has its own laws and traditions that make them unique. For starters, the German government doesn’t decide what days are official holidays, but leaves it up to its 16 states. And, as you will see, many of the holidays are tied to the Catholic or Protestant faiths since Germany is a (mostly) Christian country. Besides holidays, Germany also has rest days and quiet days. Read on to find out how holidays work in Germany.

Note: This is part of my series on Surviving in Germany based on my own experiences.

Official holidays in Germany

As in most countries, during an official holiday stores are closed and there’s no work or school. The amount of holidays vary by state and can amount in total to 10-14 days a year. Some holidays are on a fixed date while others, mostly the religious ones, vary in date.

The following holidays are celebrated German-wide:

  • New Year’s Day – January 1st
  • Good Friday (Karfreitag) – Friday before Easter (March-April)
  • Easter Monday (Ostermontag) – Monday after Easter Sunday (March-April)
  • Labor Day (Tag der Arbeit) – May 1st
  • Ascension Day (Christi Himmelfahrt) – 39 Days after Easter (May-June)
    • Fun Fact: It is also Father’s Day (Vatertag) or Man’s Day (Männertag). These two holidays got tied together since Jesus reunites with his father in heaven.
    • Men celebrate by going hiking in groups and taking carts loaded with beer and food to sustain them. Mostly, a day to get drunk!
  • Pentecost Monday (Pfingstmontag) – 50 Days after Easter (May-June)
  • German Unity Day (Tag der Deutschen Einheit) – Oct. 3rd
    • Marking the anniversary when East and West Germany officially reunified into one German country.
  • Christmas (Weihnachten) – Dec. 25th and 26th (Yes, two holidays!)

These holidays are also common:

  • All Saints’ Day (Allerheiligen) – Nov. 1st
  • Corpus Christi Day (Fronleichnam) – 60 days after Easter (May-June)
  • Reformation Day (Reformationstag) – Oct. 31st
    • Marks the day Martin Luther nailed his thesis to the door of a church in the town of Wittenberg, giving rise to the Protestant faith.

A peculiarity about the holidays with a fixed date is that, unlike in the U.S., these holidays are only counted on the day they occur. For example, when a holiday falls on the weekend, it won’t be counted on a Monday or a Friday. Hence, there’s no day off for this holiday (unless you work on the weekends, like at a store). My German husband says they call the years when this happens an employer-friendy year (Arbeitfreundliches Jahr).

Back in 2014, after I had been living in Germany for two years, November 1st fell on a Saturday, our grocery-shopping day. We got to the supermarket and found the store closed. I was confused since my husband didn’t have off the day before. Even he was confused, after living five years in the U.S. That weekend, we had to make do with some canned food we had on reserve, since on Sunday everything is closed (see below).

Bridge Days (Brückentage)

Certain holidays, like Ascension and Corpus Christi, fall every year on a Thursday. The Germans call the Friday after this a Bridge Day or Brückentag since it bridges the holiday with the weekend. Needless to say, many Germans take this day off.

Sunday is Rest Day (Ruhetag)

In Germany, Sundays are for resting, and most businesses are closed.

On these days, certain activities like home improvement and mowing the lawn are forbidden, since they cause noise. So if your vacuum is one of the old models, beware of using it on a Sunday unless you want a noise complaint from a neighbor. Taking your glass to the recycling bin is also a no-no for the same reason.

Fun fact: In Germany, Sunday is considered the last day of the week, and not the first, as in the U.S. Calendars show Monday at the start. This has led to some miscommunications between me and my husband, when talking about this week or next week!

School holidays in Germany

As with the official holidays, school holidays vary by state. Each state determines the duration and the start and end days of the holidays. And thank God for that, because if they happened at the same time the roads would collapse when most Germans go on vacation! A trip to Austria which would’ve been 8 hours during the off-season took us 10 hours during the summer break.

Most states celebrate as follow:

  • Fall break (Herbstferien)- 1-2 weeks in October or November
  • Christmas break (Weihnachtsferien) – usually from December 24 to January 6
  • Easter break (Osterferien) – 1-3 weeks around Holy Week and Easter
  • Summer break (Sommerferien) – 6-7 weeks. Can start as early as mid-June and end as late as mid-September depending on the state.

During the summer holidays, it’s not uncommon for some businesses (restaurants, hair salons, bakeries, butchers, etc.) to close. A friend of ours from the U.S. commented how a bakery that closes for so long would go out of business over there, but this is Germany, and everyone has a right to vacation time (see below).

On Quiet Days – No Dancing!

As I was doing research for this post, I found out that Germany has an actual dance ban (Tanzverbot) on certain days. It reminds me so much of the movie Footloose, but at least it’s not permanent.

Quiet days not only forbid dancing, but also sporting events and concerts. If you have a party on one of these days you can have music, but so low as to inhibit dancing (I don’t know how that would even work).

This doesn’t affect us so much since we’re not party people, but my husband mentioned how every year club owners complain on the news that they can’t open on these days.

The restrictions can apply for the whole day or only for certain hours. Some examples of quiet days are:

  • Ash Wednesday (Aschermittwoch)
  • During Holy Week (Karwoche) or only from Thursday-Saturday.
  • Pentecost Sunday (Pfingstsonntag)
  • All Souls’ Day (Allerseelen) – Nov. 2
  • Memorial Day (Volkstrauertag) – two Sundays before the first Sunday of Advent (November)
  • Sunday of the Dead (Totensonntag) – last Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent (November)
  • Christmas Eve (Heiligabend)

Regional Holidays

Some regions have special holidays connected to a local tradition or feast. The most common of these are the days during the carnival season in February-March.

Some states also recognize Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve as half-holidays, where people only work half the day or leave earlier than usual.

Vacation

As if Germans didn’t have enough holidays and time to rest and relax, by law they get at least 20 days (4 weeks) of vacation time per year. Some employers extend this to 30 days! And now you know why Germans travel so much.

Did you know holidays in Germany worked this way? Did I miss something? Add your comment below!

Holidays in Germany
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