Foreign Exchange Student Shares Holiday Experiences

It’s always interesting to experience foreign holidays. Of course, everybody knows about the typical American holidays like Thanksgiving and Halloween, which I already experienced, but what do other countries, like Germany where I am from, celebrate?

In Germany, we celebrate Thanksgiving different. It’s called ‘Erntedankfest’ and it’s a traditional celebration after the harvest. It’s mostly in the church, when the church is decorated with some field crops. Germans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving that big as Americans do. But it was a great experience to make. The whole family sitting together, helping cooking and then enjoying the huge meal. When I came here I knew that Americans celebrate things bigger than we do, but I was really impressed by Thanksgiving.

One holiday, that I’m a bit upset about because we don’t have in Germany, is Halloween. It was awesome how some people decorated their house with so many scary things like witches, bats and tombstones. My host family did a really good job decorating the house and I carved a pumpkin for the first time in my life. And on the 31st October I went trick-or-treating. I expected more kids outside, but it was interesting how people dressed up.

In October we celebrate our ‘German Unit Day’ (Tag der Deutschen Einheit). From 1961 to 1989 Germany was divided into two, East Germany and West Germany. The western part was richer than the east, and the East was controlled by the government. They (DDR) spied their inhabitants so nobody would say something bad about the Eastern part. They also had lack of food. People tried to escape and risked their lives for freedom. Some made it; others were shot at the border, which had a hard security system to pass. Finally on the 3rd December 1989 the wall that divided Germany fell. Every year on the 3rd October, kids have no school to honor the day when Germany became one country again.

We have another holiday Americans don’t have. It’s called St. Nikolaus Day, and it’s on the 6th December. The night before we clean our boots, some kids in Germany have special ‘Nikolausboots’ for that day, after cleaning them we put them outside with some milk and cookies. The next morning the boot is filled with candies and small presents like maybe a book or pencils, but just if they were good. If they weren’t good they’ll get a ‘Rute’ (tree branch).

Even Christmas is celebrated different in Germany. We celebrate Christmas on the 24th December; we have a huge meal as a family. There’s no special food we eat on Christmas. It’s different from family to family. In the evening we open our presents under the Christmas tree we decorated a few days or even weeks before. And same as on Nikolaus, kids who were bad get a “Rute”. There are many different traditions in Germany. Some families let the kids sing a song before they can open their presents or say a Christmas poem. The two days after that are for most families to spend the day together.

In February Germans, especially the Rhine area celebrates Carnival. It starts on the 11-11 at 11:11, but the actual carnival where everybody masquerades and they have big parades which start at Weiberfastnacht (Fat Tuesday) and ends on Aschermittwoch (Ash Wednesday) in February. On Weiberfastnacht the women are allowed to cut the men’s ties. Typical for cologne carnival is that the people shout “Kölle Alaaf!” all over the place, which means as much as ‘all above cologne’.

Those are just a few holidays in Germany. We also celebrate Easter and it’s different from region to region. In Bavaria for example they celebrate more than the North because Bavaria is more religious and traditional.