Learn about the background of Erntedankfest, Germany's Thanksgiving. We look at traditions in rural areas and the appropriate vocabulary in German.
Thanksgiving in Germany, or Erntedankfest, has a long tradition, particularly in rural areas. It’s a celebration to give thanks for the successful collection of the harvest which guarantees another year without starvation. While in the United States, Thanksgiving is an important secular holiday, including a weekend, with the emphasis on family get-togethers and the consumption of a turkey as the central celebration, Erntedankfest in Germany is a religious occasion. Church services dominate the day, and it’s a religious festival equally celebrated by Catholics and Protestants. Well known is the Erntedankgottesdientin Berlin, Germany’s capital,with three services during the day. Erntedankfest is usually celebrated on the first Sunday in October.
Erntedankfest traditions in Germany revolve around harvest and grain. The first church service is usually held at 10.00 am; and huge straw baskets, filled with grain, fruit, potatoes, etc., are carried to the church. The baskets are blessed and later distributed to the poor.
In rural areas, Erntekränze, big wreaths made from grain, are hung on doors or, Erntekronen, huge crowns, skilfully woven from grain and decorated with ribbons, are erected in the marketplace of smaller towns and villages. Smaller crowns are also often put on the roofs of farm buildings and barns. The crowns are carried in Umzügen (parades) at the end of a church service.
In the evening there are Laternenumzüge, or lantern parades in which children participate and go from house to house, much as they do on St. Martin’s Day in November.
The traditional American turkey has become popular in Germany, too. Apart from turkey, a chicken or kapaun ( rooster), similarly roasted and stuffed, is consumed. A special Thanksgiving pastry is Mohnstriezel, a sweet bread sprinkled with poppy seeds which originates in Austria.
Vocabulary around Erntedankfest
Erntedankfest (n) – Thanksgiving
Ernte (f) – harvest
Ernte einbringen – to harvest
Scheune (f) – barn
Bauernhof (m) – farm
Bauer (m) – farmer
Korn (n) – grain
Weizen (m) – wheat
Gerste (f) – barley
Hafer (m)- oats
Mohn (m) – poppy
Gottesdienst (m) – church service
Segnen – to bless
Pfarrer (m) – clergyman, priest
Erntekrone (f) – harvest crown
Erntekranz (m) – harvest wreath
Bänder (f) – ribbons
Girlande (f) – garland
Umzug (m) – parade
Truthahn (m) – turkey
Masthuhn (n) – chicken
Kapaun (m) – rooster
Feiern – to celebrate
Religion (f) – religion
Religiös – religious
Festmahl (n) – celebration meal
Brot (n) – bread
Mohnstriezel – special sweet bread with poppy seeds
Eine Krone flechten – to weave a crown
Aufschneiden- to carve
Tranchiermesser (n) – carving knife
Familie (f)– family
Laterne (f) – lantern
Kerze (f) – candle
Kinder (f) – children
Laternenumzug (m) – lantern parade