Father’s Day is a unique holiday the world over. As a counterpoint to Mother’s day, Father’s Day gives us the opportunity to celebrate the important father figures in our lives. Father’s Day traditions vary from country to country, with each region having a special set of practices unique to the date. However, perhaps no region has quite the same amount of panache as Father’s Day in Germany.
Father’s Day (called Vatertag) in Germany is celebrated on Ascension Day, a Christian Holiday. The holiday originally celebrated Jesus’ ascension to Heaven. The date occurs thirty- nine calendar days after Easter, on a Thursday. Originally, Ascension Day involved religious processions through the countryside. Families would proceed to the village square together, where the Mayor would award prizes to the father with the biggest family (often in the form of a Ham or similar foodstuff). This practice formed the basis of one of the holiday’s most distinctive practices, the gentleman’s outing.
By the 18th and 19th centuries, the religious connotations of the processions of the holiday were ebbing away, particularly in more urban areas of the country. A steady transition began to take place. The processions began to take on a more relaxed nature. Men were beginning to organize and take outings by cart (called a Bollerwagen), often pulled by manpower or horse. They would ladle the carts with regional alcohol and foods (called Hausmannskost). Then, carts full, men began to take outings into the countryside, drinking and celebrating the day with a communal meal. Through these practices, the holiday has become less and less about strictly celebrating fathers. While father figures are at the center of the festivities, the holiday is also a celebration of all men (or gentlemen).
For the last eighty years Father’s Day has been celebrated as a federal holiday in Germany, with schools and businesses closing down for the day. Often, many individuals will take a holiday on the following Friday, resulting in a relaxing four day weekend to ease the stresses of the work life and provide time for friendship and camaraderie. The day is also often referred to as Mannertag (Men’s Day) or Herrentag (Gentleman’s Day). The holiday has a heavy drinking component that is celebrated in a (mostly) responsible manner. German police authorities report a large-scale increase in alcohol-related traffic accidents during Father’s Day and the associated festivities, but these accidents seem the exception of the populace rather than the rule. Rather, Father’s Day is celebrated merrily and responsibly, as a means for general male bonding and communal good times!