Festivals of Western Europe, by Dorothy Gladys Spicer, , at sacred-texts.com
NEUJAHR (New Year's Day) January I
The first day of the year must be lived as you would live during the next twelve months, according to German folk tradition; for New Year's Day is the time of new beginnings. The housewife takes care that her home is in order. Everyone puts on at least one new garment. People try not to spend money, but jingle coins in their pockets "for luck." No unpleasant tasks are undertaken. Of course, both doctor and chemist are avoided. Everybody settles down to having a good time with family, friends, and neighbors.
At the beginning of the year people universally exchange greeting cards, but the giving of gifts is confined largely to money remembrances for the postman, janitor, cleaning woman and others who have served the family faithfully during the year.
DREIKONIGSFEST (Festival of the Three Kings) January 6
The Festival of the Three Kings marks the end of the Yuletide season. On this day the Christmas tree is lighted for the last time.
Boys and men dressed as the Three Kings wander about towns and villages of the Kinzig River area and elsewhere, singing old folk songs of the Wise Men and begging for alms. The Kings wear gold paper crowns and carry large cardboard stars. One of their favorite songs says that:
In many parts of the country, particularly in western and southern Germany, salt and chalk are consecrated in church on this day. The salt is given the animals to lick, while the Three Kings' traditional initials, C.M.B., for Caspar (also, Gaspar, Kaspar), Melchior, Balthasar (or Balthazar) are chalked above house and stable doors. This is thought to keep evil from entering and harming man or beast. In the Bavarian Forest peasants write above the lintel the legend, "Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, protect us this day from all danger of fire and flood."
Epiphany parties are frequent, with the traditional cake as a special feature of the celebration. A bean, or sometimes a coin, is hidden in the cake. Whoever finds the symbol in his portion becomes king of the feast.
In Upper Bavaria peasants wearing horrible-looking wooden masks go about cracking long whips and symbolically driving out Frau Perchta (also known as Berchta, or Bertha), nature goddess of ancient Germanic mythology and custodian of the dead. According to folk belief the mysterious witch wanders about and harms mortals on the Twelve Days between Christmas and Epiphany. On Perchiennacht, or Epiphany, Perchta and her cohorts, symbolizing powers of both good and evil, are thought to fructify the fields and to frighten naughty children.
The Perchta masks which are handed down from one generation to another, are terrifying in their fantastic ugliness. Some have protruding fangs for teeth, bulging eyes, sinister wrinkles and hairy faces. Those who wear the masks dress in slovenly kerchiefs and dirty aprons, and march through the streets with brooms, chains, and hatchets, fully looking the part of the relentless furies they are intended to represent.
FASTNACHT (Shrove Tuesday) The Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday
Fastnacht, as Shrove Tuesday is called, is celebrated throughout Germany with masquerades, carnival processions and ceremonials that vary in character according to locality and folk custom. In the Rhine district where many of the carnivals originate in religious rites, there is strict adherence to the sacred pattern. In Mainz, on the other hand, companies of guards pitch camp along city thoroughfares--especially in the cathedral area--and form a bodyguard to Prince Carnival. In Cologne, Prince Carnival presides over a Fool's Court. He is surrounded by councilors wearing high peaked hats and the badge of the Order of Fools. The Sparks, as Prince Carnival's bodyguard is called, wear the uniforms of old Cologne's City Guards and carry wooden muskets over their shoulders.
In Munich Shrovetide observances are marked by much of the pageantry and splendor of the Middle Ages. Actors dressed in court costumes of former days perform ancient guild dances, while historical floats and ceremonies portray much of the picturesqueness of Munich's past.
Eastern Saxony boasts some of the most charming carnival celebrations of all Germany. In this region a symbolic battle is fought between representatives of Winter and Spring. Winter always is vanquished and Spring welcomed with laughter, merrymaking, and song. In some localities this kind of carnival celebration occurs somewhat later than Fastnacht. The character of the spring drama varies from district to district. In Eisenach, for example, where the battle of the seasons has been observed since 1286, "Summer is won" by burning Winter in effigy after his defeat by Dame Sun.
People of Baden-Warttemberg call Fastnacht "Fastnet" in local dialect. For over five hundred years Rottweit on the Neckar has celebrated a Fastnet parade with all kinds of traditional figures such as three huge cocks, known respectively as Guller, Federhannes, or Feathery John, and Biss, or Bite. Another feature of the parade are groups of Fools, wearing costumes decorated with ball-shaped bells, who dance about and recite verses of "fools' wisdom" to the crowd.
KOPENFAHRT (Kope Procession), in Luneburg, State of Lower Saxony Shrove Tuesday
The Kope Festival, observed at Carnival time by Luneburg's salt miners, dates back to the Middle Ages. According to a chronicle of 1471, an early duke of Luneburg granted journeymen salters--the sons of master salters--the privilege of holding the annual celebration which has been observed for almost five hundred years.
The Kope, a stone-filled wooden barrel, originally was dragged through the town's narrow byways by strong horses which were mounted by Salzjunker, or young journeymen salters. Horses and riders were followed by festively-garbed local officials such as aldermen, councilors, and scribes. Then came a long line of salt mine laborers, townsfolk, and trumpeters. Through the centuries the Kopenfahrt, or Kope procession, has become a folk, rather than a historical, event. Today, as in the beginning, the trumpeters still blast loudly on their instruments in an attempt to unnerve the spirited horses. Great skill is therefore required on the riders' part in order to guide the animals safely through the streets and bring them to the mouth of the salt mine. There the Kope is ceremoniously dumped on a huge pile of wood and set on fire.
Following the bonfire the procession returns to the market place and with solemn rites enacts the ceremony of initiation of the Salzjunker into the Guild of Master Salters. For a thousand years Luneburg, famed for its salt-mining industry--the source of the town's prosperity--has paid high tribute to this important Guild. Following initiation ceremonies there is a great banquet.
According to some authorities the Kopenfahrt originated in pagan, rather than medieval times. Consequently the flames of the great bonfire are thought to symbolize the Sun God's triumph over forces of darkness, while the rolling of the Kope through the streets represents the relentless passage of time. Quite aside from such speculation, the ancient festival was revived in 1950 following a period of interruption, and once more the event is a characteristic feature of the old salt town's annual carnival merrymaking.
BRAUTELN (Wooing a Bride), in Sigmaringen, State of Baden-Wurttemberg Shrove Tuesday
Brauteln is the name Sigmaringen gives to a Carnival custom which started in 1648, at the close of the Thirty Years' War. In that year bachelors who dared to become engaged were honored with a peculiar ceremony. According to local tradition Sigmaringen's young men were hesitant about assuming the responsibilities of marriage and family life, due to widespread hunger and pestilence following in the wake of the war. Accordingly, the town's population diminished so rapidly that the Schultheiss, or Mayor, decided to take drastic steps.
Finally the Schultheiss conceived a unique plan: He would honor the first young man who was courageous enough to become engaged with the Brauteln, or "Wooing a Bride" ceremony. This meant that the bachelor would be carried at the head of a brilliant procession about the pump in the market square. No pains would be spared to make the event a memorable affair. The man would be accorded so much prominence that other bachelors would be encouraged to take wives.
The mayor's plan must have worked since the ceremony still continues. Annually on Shrove Tuesday every man is brautelt who has married within the last twelve months, has moved to town for the first time, or celebrated his twenty-fifth or fiftieth wedding anniversary.
The yearly two-day carnival ceremony is impressive. Heralds dressed in three-cornered hats, black breeches, and white shirts and stockings, go about the town with the Sigmaringen standard. Accompanied by drummers and pipers, the heralds stop at the house of each eligible bachelor on their list and invite him to be brautelt, by dancing before the door. Woe to the man who refuses to participate in the ceremony, for he must pay a ransom!
To the accompaniment of a lively tune the heralds briskly carry eligible candidates about the town pump, while their victims treat the jubilant spectators with apples, pretzels, and sausages.
according to one old brautel song.
Yet another Sigmaringen song has come down through the centuries. The words, which doubtless were applicable in 1648 when husbands were scarce, are hardly appropriate for the modern young woman. The song is jolly, however, and therefore worth repeating:
PALMSONNTAG (Palm Sunday) The Sunday before Easter
In most parts of Germany Easter festivities start on Palm Sunday. Customs vary widely from place to place, but everywhere they symbolize resurgence of life and joy in the budding spring.
In the Black Forest, for example, people decorate tall poles with pussy-willows, heart or cross motifs, and long multicolored ribbon streamers. These gay Eastertide emblems are set up before village houses and later carried in procession to church, where they are consecrated by the priest.
In Bavaria on the other hand, the poles are transformed into glittering trees, with branches cut from twelve different kinds of wood. The branches are bent and fastened to the poles in semicircular shape, then gaudily decorated with colored glass beads. Villagers carry the trees in joyous procession to the church. After the blessing the peasants set up the trees in the farm fields to ensure fertility to crops, protection from hail and drought, and preservation from all other disasters.
Most unusual of all Palm Sunday customs, perhaps, is the Palm Esel, or wooden Palm Donkey, symbolic of the animal upon which Jesus entered Jerusalem two thousand years ago. The Palm Donkey, survival of a rare folk custom, is reverently carried to the village church. Devout parishioners believe that by touching the wooden image they, too, may share the same mystic blessing which people doubtless thought emanated from the humble ass when it carried the King of Israel.
GRUNDONNERSTAG (Green Thursday) (Holy, or Maundy Thursday) The Thursday preceding Easter
Anyone refusing to eat green salad on Grundonnerstag, or Green Thursday, is in danger of "becoming a donkey," according to old Saxon tradition. To be on the safe side children eat an entire green vegetable dinner on this day. Often the meal is supplemented by a special dish prepared from cottage cheese.
Many interesting egg superstitions are associated with the Thursday preceding Easter. One saying is that an Antlassei, or Holy Thursday egg, stays fresh for the entire year. Another claim is that such an egg, when ploughed into the first furrow, ensures a plentiful harvest. It is also believed that an Antlassei is just the thing to prevent ruptures. And to keep one on hand in the house will safeguard the premises from lightning during the next twelve months.
KARSAMSTAG (Holy Saturday), in South Germany, Hesse, and the Rhineland; KARSONNABEND, in Berlin and North Germany The Saturday preceding Easter
On Holy Saturday housewives dressed in their most elaborate peasant costumes carry the Easter foods to church for consecration by the parish priest. It is customary for each woman to line a large basket with snowy linen and decorate it with gay ribbon streamers. She then fills the basket with a variety of Easter foods--the long braided loaf of holiday bread, the colored eggs, a portion of bacon or ham and, most important of all, butter molded into the form of a lamb--the Lamb of God--with a ribbon tied around the neck and a banner on a long stick inserted into the flank.
After the food has been blessed housewives take their baskets home and start preparing the feast day dinner.
Eastertide customs, many of which originated in early Germanic pagan rites, are largely concerned with eggs, fire, and water.
Eggs, the ancient heathen fertility symbol and the early Christian emblem of the Resurrection, inspire all kinds of games and customs for both children and adults. Modern children generally accept the idea that the Easter Hare brings their holiday eggs and hides them in many out-of-the-way nooks and corners. In the past the stork, the fox and the cuckoo, rather than the Hare, were credited with dispensing eggs.
In many places, especially in Swabian villages, pretty little "rabbit gardens" are made ready for the Hare. In the Deister mountains near Hannover, he finds carefully prepared nests of moss awaiting his visit. Of course, the Hare prefers to hide his eggs in gardens and out-of-door nooks; but in stormy weather he manages, somehow, to find curious indoor places for boys and girls to search for his offerings. The Hare brings not only dyed hens' eggs of purple, green, and yellow; sometimes there are toothsome chocolate eggs with wonderful little pictures inside, which may be viewed through openings in one end. Sometimes the Easter visitor even leaves elaborate little pink or blue satin eggs, containing exciting presents of sweets, perfume or tiny lace trimmed handkerchiefs.
Eggs are not only presented to friends but are important in all the Easter games. Friends give each other beautifully hand-painted eggs which are made according to distinctive traditional designs. The exquisite patterns are passed down from one generation to another in certain towns and villages. Often a special legend or verse accompanies the decoration. In many places, on the other hand, it is customary for village girls to present their suitors with red eggs. Should the girls fail to have their gifts ready, however, the boys spank them with canes!
Eggs play an important role in the Easter sports. In northwestern Germany, for example, peasants have formal contests to see who can devour the greatest number of eggs. Egg duels, known as Eier-Spacken, or Eier-Doppen always are immensely popular. Contestants face each other, holding hard boiled eggs by the round ends. Each stabs his adversary's egg with the pointed end. The player who succeeds in cracking the greatest number of his opponent's eggs wins, and receives all the damaged eggs as prize.
Eierlesen, or egg gathering, and Eierschieben, or egg rolling, are two of the season's most popular sports. The egg gathering contests, particularly, require great agility and skill. Eggs are placed at intervals along a racing track. Running down the track at a starting signal, the boys try to see who can gather tip the most eggs in the allotted time. The game is even more exciting when, as in the Black Forest and some other areas, contestants ride down the line on horseback or bicycles.
In Germany as in the United States, egg rolling contests are confined chiefly to children. This sport usually comes on Faster Monday. Boys and girls play their game on a hillside. The child whose egg rolls the greatest distance wins. In some villages the girls play Caningeln, a game in which an egg is rolled through a ring. This feat requires great agility and skill.
By far the most ancient and dramatic of all German Easter customs are the bonfires and fiery wheels which are common to sections of the Harz, the Rhineland, Oldenburg and Westphalia.
The fires, built on mountain tops and ridges, are survivals of pagan sacrificial rites, while the flaming wheels, symbolic of the sun, are reminiscent of early Germanic fire worship. In some neighborhoods young people go about singing traditional rhymes and asking for contributions of fuel or money for the Easter fires. Generally these fires take the form of huge piles of tar-soaked barrel staves, tree limbs and roots.
In the vicinity of Luegde, a Westphalian village, the usual bonfire consists of huge seven-foot oak wheels with straw-packed spokes. Each family in the village contributes straw to the gigantic wheels which weigh approximately eight hundred pounds. The wheels, poised at the top of a hill, are set afire. Thousands of spectators gathered about Easter bonfires on adjoining hills watch and cheer as the tremendous wheels start on their course down the hillside into the valley below. Each time a wheel reaches the bottom of the hill ablaze, a shout of Joy rises from the breathless villagers who regard this as portending special blessing to the land and a rich harvest to the farmer.
Water no less than fire is important in Easter rites, especially among young girls of the Harz, Thuringia, and many other regions. The girls, rising at dawn stealthily go out to the river bank and dip up "Easter water." If they do not utter a single word and then bathe in the water, they will be rewarded with beauty throughout the year. For those who cannot go to the river bank there is, of course, the Easter morning dew which, when used for bathing the face, is sure to make it look fresh and charming.
Spring flowers and grasses are important in Easter ceremonies, especially in the Black Forest. There blossoms and leaves are fashioned into symbolic crosses and hearts and taken to church for blessing. The Easter sunrise is considered important, too; for if the sun dances and you can see it, you will be blessed with good luck throughout the year.
Easter brings special Joys to shop and factory workers who don knapsacks and go out into the country; and to young and old of towns and villages, who put on new spring finery and join the ranks of Sunday afternoon participants in the traditional Easter parades.
GEORGIRITT (Saint George's Parade), in Traunstein, Upper Bavaria April 23
Saint George, the great soldier saint of the Middle Ages who reputedly was martyred on April 23 about the year 300, is honored annually at Traunstein and some other Bavarian villages by the Georgiritt, or Saint George's Parade. For George, who represented the flower of knighthood, became protector of horses and their riders. On his day the parish priest blesses both beasts and men and sprinkles them with holy water.
According to Jacobus de Voragine, thirteenth-century author of The Golden Legend, Saint George arrived at Lybia's pagan city of Sylene just as a dragon which demanded human tribute was terrifying the entire countryside. Saint George, finding Sylene's citizens in deepest mourning, soon discovered that it was the turn of the King's daughter to be sacrificed to the demon's appetite. Dressed in wedding garments of purest white, the young girl calmly sat down by a stagnant pool outside the city. Fortunately the story had a happy ending. Saint George came upon the Princess and awaited the monster's arrival at her side. At last the charging dragon appeared. Saint George stuck his sword down the fiery throat. The Princess then tethered the beast to her girdle and triumphantly led him into Sylene. There the saint promptly slew the dragon--once Sylene's fifteen thousand citizens had agreed to be baptized into the Christian faith.
Throughout the centuries the story of Saint George has symbolized the victory of good over evil. Many claim that the legend, which finds its counterpart in the Siegfried cycle and other mythological stories, represents renewal of life in early spring and the conquest of Summer over Winter.
Today the ancient victory of the saint on horseback is commemorated when Traunstein farmers mount their gaily garlanded horses and ride them across the fields and three times around the parish church. After receiving the priest's blessing on the horses, as well as other farm animals, and on crops and gardens, the procession, accompanied by drums and trumpets, turns toward the village. The festival finally ends with ritualistic sword dances which, like the Saint George legend, have come down from medieval to modern times.
HIMMELFAHRTSTAG or HIMMELFAHRT (Ascension Day) The fortieth day after Easter
Many picturesque local customs mark the celebration of Ascension Day which is the holiday when everyone tries to get into the country for picnics and outdoor festivities. In the villages of Fienstedt, Godewitz, Salzmunde, Zornitz, Gorsleben, and Krimpe, in the Mansfeld district of the State of Saxony-Anhalt, the drinking of "Ascension beer" is traditional to the day.
According to thirteenth-century documents of these hamlets, villagers are commanded to drink beer on this day in memory of the Countess Elizabeth; for it was she, in olden times, who relieved the inhabitants of the payment of tithes.
Himmelfahrtstag (which always falls on a Thursday) is the accepted time for men to get together with other men on excursions to the country. According to one informant, this custom started in Berlin. In the nineteenth century the male merrymakers hired a horse-drawn Kremser, or charabanc, to take them out of town. Later, buses, trucks, motor launches, and little steamers--all decorated with festive streamers, garlands, and pennants--were chartered for the men's day of freedom. Often clubs hike part of the way to some point of scenic interest.
Hearty refreshments of food, beer, and wine are features of the excursions; and even if hubands return home at night a little the worse for wear, wives are not expected to complain.
PFINGSTEN (Pentecost or Whitsun) The fiftieth day after Easter
Pentecost, even more than Ascension Day, is a great spring holiday which everyone tries to spend in the country. In both urban and rural communities houses and doorways are decorated with birch branches in honor of spring. Characteristic Pfingsten ceremonies and customs take place in many different parts of the country.
Near Schramberg in the Black Forest, for example, shepherds assemble on the Fohrenbuhl Hill to do a brisk business in buying and selling cowbells. Bells of varying sizes and tones are tried out, both singly and together, for every shepherd wants to acquire a harmonious set of bells.
Once the day's business is transacted, the shepherds choose partners and dance the Hanzmeltanz, a traditional country dance which is performed around a sheep. The dancers hand a staff back and forth between them. Suddenly a bell rings. The shepherd who happens to be holding the staff at the moment receives the sheep as prize.
In parts of the Harz Mountains, noted for the breeding of song birds, members of the local Finkenklubs, or Finch Clubs, enter their birds in singing contests. The winning bird's cage is decorated with flowers. Later in the day the villagers assemble to sing the old folk songs of the district.
A Pentecost Bride and Bridegroom are features of the celebration at Kotzting, in Franconia, which is noted for the colorful procession of some two hundred horsemen, who perform the annual Pfingstritt, or Pentecostal Ride. The horsemen, led by the priests carrying church banners and crosses, make a pilgrimage to the Steinbuhl church in the Zeller valley.
Deldesheim in the Rhenish Palatinate, is famed for its annual auction of a buck goat at Pentecost. This custom dates back to the early fifteenth century. According to tradition Kaiser Rupprecht commanded, in 1404, that the city of Lambrecht should each year provide a buck as tribute for use of the Deidesheim forest and pasture lands. The ancient custom has been observed for over five hundred years.
DER MEISTERTRUNK (The Master Draught), in Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, State of Bavaria Whitsuntide
Each Whitsuntide the ancient city of Rothenburg honors the memory of Georg Nusch, the man who, in 1631, took one of the most famous drinks in history and so saved the town's councilmen from death and her inhabitants from humiliation. The celebration takes the form of a historical pageant in which over a thousand of Rothenburg's citizens reenact, in colorful period costume, the drama of the siege of their city in the Thirty Years' War.
According to legend General Tilly's victorious army stood within Rothenburg's walls and declared that all members of the town council were to be hanged. Moved at last by the entreaties of the councilmen's wives and daughters, the enemy general finally changed the sentence and declared that only four councilmen, chosen by lot, would be put to death.
The whole history of Rothenburg might have been changed had not the Pokal, the huge state beaker, which was filled to the brim with the town's best wine, been brought in at this moment. The drinking vessel, which held three quarts, was quaffed again and again by Tilly and his aides, who passed it from hand to hand around the table. Some of the liquid still remained, even after repeated draughts.
Then Tilly suddenly had an idea: If there was a Rothenburg man, he declared, who could drink the contents of the goblet at a single draught, and who would be willing to do so, knowing that the wine was poisoned, that man could save the council members from hanging!
A deep hush fell over the room. Finally the silence was broken by Georg Nusch, an ex-burgomaster, who volunteered to accept the challenge.
The story goes that Georg Nusch, in the presence of the amazed General Tilly and his companions as well as his fellow Rothenburgers, drained the three-quart Pokal and then fainted. According to recently discovered documents, the wine was not really poisoned; but the brave Nusch, willing to sacrifice his life for the councilmen, believed that it was.
It was the ex-burgomaster's heroic exploit which saved four men from hanging and Rothenburg from occupation. The historic event, which now has become almost a folk legend, is reenacted each Whitsuntide, and once or twice during the summer, in the ancient town of Rothenburg.
FRONLEICHNAMS-FEST (Corpus Christi Day) The Thursday following Trinity Sunday
Corpus Christi Day is celebrated throughout Catholic Germany with picturesque processions through streets that are charmingly decorated with flowers and garlands of green. Crucifixes and pictures of Christ are prominently displayed from window ledges and the steps of cottages and village fountains. In many places people display bright hangings and spread carpets before their houses in honor of the Sacrament and the large crucifix that are carried through the parish. One of the most beautiful features of the processions is the group of children, dressed in white with flower chaplets on their heads and nosegays of fragrant blossoms in their hands. Girls and women in magnificent regional costume add further distinction to the joyous event.
Probably the most dramatic of all Corpus Christi processions are those of Lakes Staffelsee and Chiemsee, in Upper Bavaria, which take place on the water, rather than in the streets.
Boats adorned with flowers and garlands and carrying church banners and holy symbols, glide across the lakes and are reflected in the crystal clear waters. Devout worshippers following in other boats chant liturgies which fill the still air with music and echo solemnly across the lakes.
SOMMERSONNENWENDE (Summer Solstice) June 23
Bands of young people march singing to hills and open places to build enormous bonfires in honor of the summer solstice. First comes a picnic supper, which is eaten in the early summer twilight. Then the Johannisfeuer, or Saint John's fire, is lighted. Boys and girls dance and sing old folk ballads about the huge bonfire. The more hardy lads leap through the flames, while young lovers join hands and try to jump over the fire together. If they succeed, they never will be parted, according to current folk belief.
LINDENFEST (Linden Tree Festival), in Geisenheim, region of the Rhineland Three day festival, second weekend in July
Geisenheim boasts a six-hundred-year-old linden tree which is the center of the annual celebration for sampling new wine. Geisenheim is the oldest town in Rheingau County which, for over a thousand years, has been renowned for flourishing vineyards and precious wines.
During three days of festivities the ancient linden is illumined and folk dances in costume are held beneath its spreading branches. The town fairly bursts with laughter and merrymaking, since visitors from all over the world come to taste Geisenheim's wine and participate in her annual orgy of feasting, visiting the vineyards and making pilgrimages to Marienthal, a picturesque Franciscan shrine, which is hidden in a nearby wooded valley.
High above the sounds of festivity and merrymaking the chimes of the old Rheingau Cathedral chime out melodiously:
SCHAFERLAUF (Shepherds' Race), in Markgroningen, region of Swabia Saint Bartholomew-tide, about August 23, 24, 25
Markgroningen and other Swabian towns honor Saint Bartholomew, patron of herdsmen, with a three-day festival which includes a barefoot Shepherd's Race.
The celebration begins with a church service, which is followed by a colorful procession through the town, a welcome to guests and a program of sports and contests. Chief among the latter is the race which barefoot shepherds and shepherdesses run in pairs across the stubble fields.
The victors are honored by a shepherds' dance, a water carriers' race and other events. These features are followed by a historical play known as Faithful Bartel. Period costumes, processions, pageants and general merrymaking all are features of the celebration.
Later in the day toasts are drunk to the winners in the season's first new wine, and both shepherds and shepherdesses are entertained by a sumptuous rural feast.
PFERDEWEIHE (Blessing of Horses), in St. Margen, region of the Black Forest Day of the Nativity of the Virgin, September 8
On the Day of the Nativity of the Virgin, Black Forest farmers and their wives bring their horses to St. Margen to receive the priest's benediction. St. Margen, long known as the center of a famous horse breeding area, is especially noted for the sturdy horses which work the neighboring farms.
The horses, which are brought to town from outlying hamlets, are festively decked with well-polished traditional brasses. Nosegays adorn the harnesses while ribbon streamers, interwoven in manes and tails, flutter gaily as the horses trot. Both men and women, dressed in picturesque costumes of the Black Forest valley, add brilliant splashes of color to the handsome procession of horses.
ALMABTRIEB (Return from Mountain Pasture), in the German Alps Some time in September
The day that the flower-decked cattle are driven down from the mountains to winter in their valley homes is the occasion for merrymaking and rejoicing throughout the German Alps. All summer long the animals, under the watchful eye of rosy-cheeked Sennerinnen, or herd-girls, have roamed at large and grazed in lush mountain pastures.
Now the cattle are sleek and fat. There is a frosty nip in the September air. It is high time to take the animals back to winter shelter. The entire village turns out to celebrate the homecoming and to welcome both girls and beasts; for as the animals prosper, so thrives the farm. The village band is on hand to greet the picturesque procession. There are, also, the priest, the school master, the farmer and his wife and, of course, the herd girl's sweetheart, family, and friends. Last, but by no means least, there is a host of village children dressed in gay regional costumes.
The air throbs with suppressed excitement, for long before the slow moving animals swing into sight, the rhythmic clanging of deep-toned bells echoes melodiously from the distant mountain passes.
Almabtrieb is indeed a gala event. The adornment of the cattle, like the costume of the herd-girl, differs considerably from place to place, but always is picturesque. In the Berchtesgaden area, for example, around the beautiful Alpine lake known as Konigssee, the herd leader wears a distinctive traditional headdress which is a most elaborate creation. It resembles a two-tiered crown, which the herd-girl's clever fingers fashion from thinly-shaved colored wood. The shavings are woven into stars, bows, or other intricate designs and fastened to the lower tier, while the upper is surmounted by a small, gaily decorated fir, which looks like a miniature Christmis tree.
Skillfully, the Sennerrinnen drive the cattle down from their Watzmann Mountain summer quarters, making sure to guide them safely along rocky paths and treacherous ledges. The final stage of the journey comes whe--i their charges reach K6nigssee at the foot of the mountain, and broad-bottomed flower-decked boats ferry them across the lake. A triumphant shout rises from the impatient reception committee waiting on the opposite shore.
Once the cattle are safely driven to winter shelter the real festivities begin. Each farm couple prepares a sumptuous welcome home supper, which is followed by music, dancing, and singing lasting far into the crisp autumn night.
TURA MICHELE MARKT (Tura Michele Fair) in Augsburg, state of Bavaria September 29
On September 29, Saint Michael's Day, the city of Augsburg holds an annual autumn fair to which hundreds of peasants from far and near come for trade and pleasure. Chief among the day's attractions is the hourly appearance of figures representing the Archangel and the Devil. The figures are built in the foundation of Perlach Turm, or Tower, called Tura in local dialect. This slender structure, which rises to a height of two-hundred-and-twenty-five-feet and stands next to the Peter's Kirche, north of the Rathaus, originally was a watch tower. In 1615 the watch tower was heightened and converted into a belfry.
Almost a hundred years earlier the group depicting the saint and the devil had been installed in the tower's understructure. Annually on his feast day the archangel's armor-clad figure, holding a pointed spear, appeared whenever the tower bell struck, and stabbed at the devil writhing at his feet.
During World War II the historic figures--the delight of generations of fair-goers--were destroyed. Since then a new group has been made and installed. Today, as for over four centuries, spectators continue to gather about the Tura and to watch breathlessly the symbolic drama of Michael, head of the Church Triumphant, dealing death blows to the dragon which brings evil and destruction to the world of men.
MUNCHENER OKTOBERFEST (Munich October Festival), in Munich, state of Bavaria Usually the third Sunday in September; when there are five Sundays in the month, from the fourth Sunday in September to the first Sunday in October
In Munich the Oktoberfest celebrates the annual season of drinking huge quantities of new Munchener beer, feasting on Steckerl-fisch, or stick-fried fish, tasty sausages of all sizes and shapes, plump chickens and whole oxen, spit-roasted over pan fires.
The Oktoberfest, with its drinking, feasting, and general jollification, is the anniversary of the marriage of King Ludwig I and his bride, Theresa, on October 17, 1810. The Theresienwiese, or Theresa Meadow, where festivities are held, was named in honor of Ludwig's queen. Today hundreds of Bavarian peasants crowd into this huge area to carry on the tradition of merrymaking on a royal scale.
The festival opens as the burgomaster taps the first keg of beer. The beer which is drawn from barrels, is served by buxom Frauleins in native costume and drunk from enormous steins.
Powerful brewery horses decorated with gleaming brasses and colored ribbon streamers, clatter noisily through the narrow streets, dragging heavily-loaded beer trucks. Festivity is in the air. Everywhere one sees bright costumes and hears folk singing and the tireless rhythm of dancing feet.
Munich's Oktoberfest, which annually is attended by millions of visitors from Germany and foreign countries, is noted for all kinds of amusements besides eating and drinking, although food consumption is an important part of the annual celebration. Merchandise is bought and sold from cleverly-decorated booths which feature household articles, clothing, foodstuffs, and sweets. Burly farmers enjoy an agricultural show, while carnival features such as merry-gorounds, side shows, and sports events, furnish entertainment for the general public. In addition to historical pageants and a magnificent parade which shows costumes from all parts of the country, there is the traditional Schafflertanz, or Coopers' Dance. The dance is a five-hundred-year-old custom. It is performed every seven years during carnival season in Munich, a city in which beer coopers have always been much respected. Twenty-five coopers, in colorful costume and the leather aprons of their trade, execute the steps of the dance, slowly swingin
hoops of fir branches and beating time with their tools on barrels. The dance was last performed at the Oktoberfest in 1956.
GRENZUMGANG (Boundary Walk), in Springe Deister, Lower Saxony 1961, and every ten years thereafter
Springe Deister observes its Boundary Walk once every decade. The celebration was revived in 1951, following a twenty-three-year lapse.
Boundary Walk festivals, held in many German towns, differ from place to place according to local tradition. The custom dates back to the Middle Ages when surveying in the modern sense was unknown. In those days land-owners and churchmen, accompanied by stalwart armed men, periodically reviewed the boundaries to see that marking stones were in place and hunting or fishing rights observed. In later times woodsmen and soldiers walked town and village boundaries and, when all was in order, ended the ceremony with a huge feast.
In Springe Deister Boundary Walk celebrations start with morning reveille and a Fire Department band concert. The burgomaster then reads a proclamation concerning the day's activities.
Generally the local band leads off a group of marchers who carry the town's treasure chest at their head. At the first boundary a delegation from an adjoining town meets Springe's citizens. An appropriate ceremony is held, drinks are exchanged. The group then continues to the next boundary point, and the next. Each time the marchers are joined by more neighbors, each time they indulge in further cheer. By the time final rounds are completed the marchers are hilarious. Their ranks have so greatly increased, moreover, that the group divides and proceeds in different columns to various points, where festivities are continued.
SCHUTZENFESTE (Marksmen's Festivals), all over Germany At various times during the year
Throughout Germany, from small cities to large ones, the Schutzenfest, or Marksmen's Festival, is one of the most important annual events. These festivals originated five or six hundred years ago with the decline of the knights' feudal power. Archery contests by citizen marksmen superseded medieval tournaments of the knights. Marksmen, rather than knights, became responsible for the protection of towns and villages against enemy attack.
At regular intervals contests were held to keep these guardians of the peace in top form. People gathered from far and near to witness their feats of skill. Gradually, the marksmen's contests became gala events, lasting for several days. Throughout the centuries popular elements were introduced, such as processions in costume, folk dance exhibitions, special foods and various amusements. In this way the marksmen's festivals finally developed into folk festivals in which everyone participated. Today they are observed with an enthusiasm which is rivaled only by the holiday spirit prevalent at Christmas, the New Year, and Carnival.
Each town and hamlet celebrates its Schutzenfest at its own time and in its own way. In Biberach, for example, the festival occurs on the first Monday and Tuesday of July. For centuries the town has featured a procession of children dressed in period costume who are accompanied by local bands and colorfully attired heralds. In places like Dusseldorf and Neuss, on the other hand, the event occurs in late August, while Hannover celebrates on the first Sunday in July. Some forty or fifty marksmen's societies participate in these events. The man who scores highest in the contests is crowned Schutzenkonig, or King of the Marksmen, and is escorted through the streets to the accompaniment of blaring trumpets and beating drums. Colorful banners, stretched across the streets, flutter in the breeze. Spectators shout themselves hoarse as the King proceeds triumphantly to his coronation and receives homage from his thousands of admiring subjects.
LEONHARDIRITT (Saint Leonard's Ride), in Bad Tolz, State of Bavaria November 6
November 6 is the namesday of Saint Leonard, the sixth-century hermit-abbott, who was reared by his godfather, the pious Saint Remy, Archbishop of Rheims. Saint Leonard is patron of prisoners and farm animals, especially horses and cattle. This saint, who won many tourneys before giving himself to God, is especially revered in Bavaria and Austria, where numerous chapels are dedicated to his name. These small shrines, which usually are situated in mountain places outside the villages, are covered with votive offerings consisting of horseshoes, pliers, palls, and other objects associated with horses and cattle raising. Iron chains, also, are often present, for Saint Leonard reputedly had power to break chains and set all prisoners free.
Saint Leonard is honored throughout Bavaria but nowhere, perhaps, more picturesquely than at Bad Tolz, where peasants in native costume celebrate his namesday by riding to church in Truhenwagen, chest wagons, which are gaily painted with incidents from the saint's life. Religious ceremonies are held in a chapel on top of Kalvarien, Calvary Mountain, which overlooks the river Isar. The small edifice was built in 1772, on a spot once occupied by a huge old tree.
From homesteads and farms high up in the mountain festival wagons--possibly sixty in all--come drawn by spirited horses wearing gleaming brass-studded harnesses. The animals proudly toss manes and flip their long tails, which are decorated with flowers, ribbons, and sprays of green. An outrider, carrying a colorful banner, accompanies each conveyance. Great white horses draw a wagon in which members of the clergy and the Tolz councilmen ride in state.
The procession, led by a handsome horseback rider and accompanied by the local rifleman's band, assembles at the foot of Calvary Mountain and makes its way up the steep ascent to the Chapel. There the worshipers walk three times about the sanctuary and, following open air Mass, receive the priest's blessing on both horses and wagons.
Later the procession returns to town where the group disbands to the accompaniment of lively music. The "Riders of Saint Leonard," as the mounted escort is called, then participate in a whip cracking contest--an ancient and honored sport in this part of Bavaria.
In many hamlets cattle, rather than horses, participate in the Saint Leonard's Ride, for they, also, fall under the saint's special protection. Hundreds of miniature iron votive churches are consecrated and then purchased by faithful worshipers, in the hope that Saint Leonard's intercession will preserve the animals from sickness and disease throughout the year.
MARTINSFEST (Saint Martin's Festival) Saint Martin's Eve, November 10, Saint Martin's Day, November 11
Martinsfest is a festival of significance to both Catholic and Protestant Germany. The occasion honors Saint Martin, Jovial fourth-century friend of children and patron of the poor, and also Martin Luther, leader of the Reformation in Germany, born November 10, 1483. German Catholic communities along the Rhine and elsewhere, but especially in Dusseldorf, pay annual tribute to Saint Martin; while Protestant groups, notably in Thuringia, long have celebrated Martin Luther's birthday in picturesque fashion. In prewar Erfurt, where Martin Luther attended the university, it was customary for thousands of children, carrying lighted lanterns, to form in procession and march up to the Plaza before the Cathedral and the Severi Church. There the young people with their lanterns traditionally formed the "Luther rose," or the escutcheon of Martin Luther.
In many Black Forest areas Saint Martin's Day is celebrated by a village fair. Along the Upper Rhine, however, where Frankish missionaries first introduced the Christian faith and venerated Saint Martin as their patron, the Eve is characterized by children's lantern processions and the Day by feasting on roast goose. Rural inhabitants of Black Forest and Lake Constance districts usually plan their feast to coincide with the slaughter of the family pig. Friends and neighbors, the school master and the preacher are invited to dinner and village youngsters come around from door to door. They chant traditional ditties and demand "a sausage so long you can wind it three times around the oven, across the room and out to the singing boys!"
Legends abound to explain the eating of goose on this day. One is that the saint died after eating a whole goose at a single meal. Many claim that the custom of eating goose originated in pagan times when, according to German mythology, the bird was sacrificed to Wotan, father of the gods. Others say that Martinmass feasting began with Thanksgiving ceremonies for Freya, goddess of plenty.
Saint Martin in Germany, as elsewhere in Europe, is regarded as patron of the harvest and friend of the poor. On his anniversary people invite others to share their bounty, to make merry, feast on autumn foods and drink the new red wines. Saint Martin himself set the pattern for sharing when, as a dashing young soldier at the gates of Amiens, he divided his cloak with a beggar.
Saint Martin's Day is for family, friends, and the needy, but Saint Martin's Eve is for children.
is the ancient song which resounds through Dusseldorf's streets at nightfall, as hundreds of jubilant boys and girls scurry hither and yon, swinging fantastic lanterns from long poles and gathering for their famous procession. An adult, representing Saint Martin, heads the long line. Then come the children, bobbing homemade lanterns of every conceivable size and shape. Some of the simpler goblin lanterns are made from hollowed-out pumpkins or beets, illumined by lighted candles. There are also wooden lanterns with elaborately colored windows, strange animals, and cunningly fashioned windmills. Among the more ambitious creations are lanterns representing Lambertus Church with its leaning tower.
Through the streets the children advance, singing, holding their lanterns, which rise and fall like the waves of the sea. Against the background of the city's ancient gabled facades; through the cobbled streets of the Altstadt or old town, on into the broad avenues of the town's newer parts the procession steadily moves, the children's lighted lanterns casting fantastic shadows against the dark walls of silent buildings.
From every quarter the Saint Martin's Eve theme song,
rises like a mighty chant from the throats of hundreds of clear-voiced boys and girls. The words are caught up by thousands of spectators and repeated in the cracked voices of aged men and women on the sidelines who, on this one night in the year, relive their lost youth.
HAMBURGER DOM (Dom Fair) in Hamburg November until Christmas
Hamburg's ancient Dom probably is one of the most unique Christmas fairs not only in Germany, but in the world. The fair gets its name from the fact that, in olden days, it was held in the open square before the Dom, or cathedral. Today the fair occupies the Helligengelstfeld, or Holy Ghost Field, in the center of town.
There are booths filled with all kinds of exciting toys, sugared gingerbreads, and myriads of useless knicknacks which attract the eye and lure the last pfennig from pockets of holiday shoppers.
The Dom opens in November and continues until shortly before Christmas.
ADVENT (Advent) The four weeks preceding Christmas
Advent customs vary from place to place, but everywhere in Germany the four weeks before Christmas are looked upon as a preparation period for the greatest festival of the Christian year.
In towns an villages of northern Germany every household has a "Star of Seven," a seven-branch candlestick. On Christmas Eve the candles are lighted. At midnight each family carries its glowing pointed "star" across meadows, through dark crooked lanes, along snowy streets to service in the village church. There, amid a blaze of lighted stars, parishioners reverently kneel and welcome the Christkind to their hearts and homes.
Many families make Advent wreaths of fir which are decorated with gold or silver ribbons or just scarlet woolen threads. Sometimes the wreaths hang from the ceiling beams; sometimes they adorn the tables. On each of the four Saturdays or Sundays in Advent a candle is lighted-one on the first day, two on the second, three on the third, and so on. Members of the family or groups of friends customarily sit about the lighted wreath, singing seasonal carols and preparing handmade Christmas gifts.
CHRISTKINDLSMARKT or CHRISTKINDLESMARKT (Kriss Kringle's Fair), in Nuremberg, State of Bavaria Early December until Christmas
Nuremberg's Christkindlsmarkt, one of the most traditional of Germany's many holiday fairs, starts about December 4 in the old town's marketplace and continues until Christmas. The fair is so ancient that nobody remembers just when it began. In 1697 the historian Wagenseil, himself a native Nuremberger, described the event much as it is celebrated today. Many think that the fair originated in the Middle Ages and that it was associated with Twelfth Day ceremonials.
The mayor of the town opens the event with a speech. Then, to the accompaniment of Christmas music, a child dressed like Nuremberg's "gold angel" makes a dramatic appearance and welcomes visitors in verse.
The gold angel is reminiscent of an ancient event. In medieval times people who came to the fair saw in church a replica of the Christ Child in the manger. In those days it was customary to give the Christ Child away to the children in the form of a doll. After the Reformation, the original significance of the custom was lost and the Christ Child doll gradually became a Christmas angel. Today the angel is dressed in gold-colored robes of eighteenth-century style.
As Christmas approaches native toy-makers make thousands of reproductions of Nuremberg's golden angel. An angel graces every home and hovers as guardian over fair-time festivities. Quite aside from golden angels, however, the fair is distinguished by its rows and rows of colorful booths, each filled with such holiday delights as glittering Christmas tree decorations, clever toys such as only the fingers of Nuremberg craftsmen can fashion, marvelous Lebkuchen and pungent gingerbreads to make a child's nostrils tingle and mouth water. Then there are cunningly wrought figures of the baby Jesus in his crib, surrounded by Mary, Joseph, and adoring shepherds. There are small painted sheep, cows, asses, chickens and dogs--all so life-like and enticing that parents scarcely can drag their offspring past the tempting wares.
Even more attractive to youthful imagination, perhaps, are the numberless booths filled with such specialties as savory-smelling roasted sausages or delicately grilled herrings. There are sweets, of course, all kinds of traditional candies, hard spicy peppernuts, and little pink-frosted cookies, adorned with delightful sugar scrolls or, possibly, a brightly colored picture or bit of shiny mirror.
Yes, the Nuremberg Christkindlsmarkt is full of wonderful sights, sounds and smells. It symbolizes for grown-ups unforgettably beautiful childhood memories; for small boys and girls it is little short of paradise.
SANKT NIKOLAUS-ABEND and SANKT NIKOLAUS-TAG (Saint Nicholast Eve and Saint Nicholas Day) December 5, 6
The Yuletide season opens officially on December 5, Saint Nicholas Eve, or on the morning of December 6, when the good saint appears in person in many towns and villages and calls on the children. Saint Nicholas (or, in some places, his assistant, Knecht Rupprecht, or Christkindle or Kriss Kringle) usually is regarded as a pre-Christmas messenger who examines the youngsters' behavior. He promises gifts of toys and sweets if the children are good. If they are bad, however, he flourishes bundles of birch rods and threatens punishment unless naughty ways are mended. Sometimes he reminds children of their waywardness by presenting little bundles of twigs, either real or of candy.
In some places children place a shoe or a large stocking beside the bed or outside the door. Saint Nicholas then leaves a small gift or a bundle of rods, to remind the little ones of their behavior--good or bad.
On Saint Nicholas Eve, in the Rhineland and in northern Germany, the holiday Spekulatius makes its first appearance. Spekulatius is traditional hard gingerbread which is made in molds to represent Saint Nicholas, little men, or animals. Sometimes, also, it comes in thin, yard-long loaves.
HEILIGABEND (Christmas Eve) December 24
Christmas is the gayest holiday of the German calendar and the Weihnachtsbaum, or Christmas tree, with its lighted candles, gilded nuts, multicolored paper garlands, shining red apples and dancing, raisin-eyed gingerbread men, is the symbol of the German Yuletide. The real holiday begins with Christmas Eve church services, which are followed by home festivities and family gatherings.
In most parts of Germany the trimming of the Christmas tree is done on the twenty-fourth, although in some places people do it whenever convenient on the days preceding. Usually the rite is performed in greatest secrecy by the heads of the household, who are the only persons having access to the room in which the tree is kept. Presents for each member of the household, including the domestics, and bunte Teller, plates filled with apples, nuts, Pfefferkuchen, marzipan and other goodies, as well as presents, are grouped under and about the tree.
At last the white candles on the Christmas tree are lighted and all other lights extinguished. A bell rings and the children are allowed to enter the room and look at the tree in all its glory. After singing Christmas carols, which usually include such old time favorites as O Tannenbaum and Stille Nacht, the moment for the Bescherung, or distribution of presents arrives. The children are told that their gifts have been left under the tree by the Weinachtsmann (the Christmas Man, Santa Claus or his helper, Knecht Rupprecht), or by Christkind, the Christ Child.
The rest of the evening is spent in opening gifts, singing and merrymaking.
SCHAFER-WALZER (Shepherds' Waltz), in Assinghausen, region of Westphalia December 24
For over a hundred years the gay rhythms of the "Shepherds' Waltz" have characterized the Christmas Eve service of Assinghausen's little church. At midnight the bells ring out joyously and devout villagers from throughout the parish hasten through heavily drifted snows to the tiny church, where candles blaze and the pungent smell of melted wax mingles with the spicy scent of pine.
Worshipers bend their heads reverently as the priest offers the Christmas prayer and reads the Gospel story of the manger birth. Suddenly, the merry strains of the Shepherds' Waltz flow through the sanctuary and scores of heavily shod feet begin to beat time to the gay dance music which issues from the organ loft.
The birth of the Son of God is welcomed in Assinghausen with secular music, as a result of a century-old tradition. According to church records Herr F. W. Grimme, local poet and church organist, was playing a hymn on Christmas Eve, when word came that he had just become father of a seventh child. On the anniversary of this night two thousand years ago, reasoned Herr Grimme, shepherds had brought glad tidings of Jesus' birth. Quickly the organist broke off the stately hymn he was playing and started improvising a joyous waltz such as he imagined the shepherds might have played on their pipes, in honor of the arrival of Bethlehem's Child.
WEIHNACHTEN (Christmas) December 25 and 26
Both December 25 and 26 are public holidays. In many homes Christmas Day, Der Erste Feiertag, is strictly a family day which is spent quietly in enjoyment of the Christmas tree, the new books, and appropriate seasonal music. Der Zweite Feiertag, Second Christmas, often is spent in more worldly fashion as a time for visiting friends, attending dances, and indulging in all kinds of merrymaking.
Of course, food is important in all the holiday festivities. Roast goose and Christstollen, long loaves of bread bursting with nuts, raisins, citron and dried fruits, Lebkuchen, Pfefferkuchen, marzipan, and scores of other tempting dainties are important among the holiday foods. Berliners eat carp at Christmas. Whoever finds roe with his fish is happy, for the superstition is that he will find money in the coming year.
There are many old folk superstitions regarding the "Twelve Nights" between Christmas and Epiphany. Peasants often forecast weather for the twelve months by the "onion calendar." They cut an onion into twelve slices and sprinkle each portion with salt. The wetness or dryness of the coming months is predicted according to the degree of moisture found on each of the twelve slices.
ALLERKINDERTAG (Holy Innocents' Day) December 28
Boys and girls of Thuringia celebrate the anniversary of King Herod's slaughter of Bethlehem's children with a custom sometimes called "whipping with fresh greens." Armed wilh switches and green branches the children go out into the streets and spank passers-by with their rods, demanding at the same time small money gifts.
The custom doubtless originated in pagan times when whipping was regarded as an early spring purification rite intended to drive out demons and disperse powers of darkness.
SILVESTERABEND (New Year's Eve) December 31
This is a merry night throughout Germany. Traditional foods, ancient customs, old fashioned games and beloved folk songs all play an important role in colorful celebrations that take place in various areas.
People in different localities think it "lucky" to eat certain foods on this last night of the old year. For example, there is the traditional carp, which is served not only in the homes but in fashionable metropolitan restaurants. In northern Germany many people, especially those of the older generation, not only eat the fish but slip a few of the shining scales into their purses as a New Year's charm to ensure plenty of money in the next twelve months! Then there is the traditional Silvesterabend punch, a fine hot potent toddy made of cinnamon-and-sugar-flavored red wine, which is served with Pfannkuchen, or doughnuts.
Just as carp is thought by some to bring good luck, so Baden folk insist that their special dried pea soup is auspicious for all partakers.
Along the lower Rhine there are many delightful New Year's Eve foods including Noujoer, or "little New Year" yeast cookies, baked in spiral wreath forms or in pretzel or circle shapes. In Bergisch-Land and Wuppertal the favorite pastry is Ballbauschen, a toothsome fried cake stuffed with raisins and currants.
Regardless of locality, however, or the special fare enjoyed on Silvesterabend, everybody agrees that to secure a well-stocked larder for the coming year one must leave on one's plate a bit of every kind of food--at least, until after the clock strikes midnight!
According to ancient Germanic folk belief prowling demons, devils and other spirits of darkness must be routed on the last night of the year by mummery and noise. For the most part the superstition has been forgotten, but shooting parties still are popular at Berchtesgaden, in the Bavarian Alps, and elsewhere, and Buttenmandl, or Little Butten Men, still run through streets of towns and villages. The Buttenmandl are peasants dressed in straw clothing who wear deerskin animal masks. They hold clanging bells and drag clanking chains in an effort to drive out evil spirits! Members of the shooting societies, on the other hand, do their part in routing demons by scaling the Berchtesgaden heights and shooting in unison five hundred or more old mortars.
In Schiltach on the Kinzig a four-hundred-year-old ceremony annually is reenacted with the midnight ringing of the church bells. Old and young, carrying lighted lanterns, assemble in the town square and pledge to protect their town under all circumstances. After a hymn of thanksgiving the lantern bearers visit the parsonage, where the pastor greets them and gives his blessing.
The procession then returns to the square where the Burgomaster of Schittach delivers a New Year message in which he reviews events of the past year and extends best wishes for the one to come. The official greeting is accepted and congratulations returned by one of the town's leading citizens.
The last night of the year is regarded as a propitious occasion for looking into the future. "Lead pouring" parties are popular among young people who drop a little melted lead into a bowl of cold water and read fortunes for the coming year from the shapes the metal assumes. Thus a ship may mean a voyage to distant shores, a pig, food and plenty on the farm, a ring, a wedding, and so on.
In lower Rhine areas card games are the most popular pastime of the season. Everyone plays until midnight; but as soon as church bells begin to peal and sirens to blow, everyone throws down the cards and shouts the ancient greeting, "Prosit Neujahr!"
In some places bands of children go from house to house singing carols. Sometimes the songs are addressed especially to godfathers and godmothers. The children are welcomed by householders who give them presents of nuts, apples, Pfefferkuchen and coins.
In certain communities the night watchman still goes about at midnight on New Year's Eve and recites this traditional verse: