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The German Erntedankfest Celebration

Erntedankfest

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Pumpkin

Thanksgiving in German Europe

In German-speaking countries, Erntedankfest is often celebrated on the first Sunday in October, which is usually also the first Sunday following Michaelistag or Michaelmas (29 Sept.), but various locales may give thanks at different times during September and October. This puts the Germanic thanksgiving closer to Canada's Thanksgiving holiday in early October.

A typical Erntedankfest celebration at Berlin's Evangelisches Johannesstift Berlin (the Protestant/evangelische Johannesstift Church) is an all-day affair held in late September. A typical Fest begins with a service at 10:00 am. A Thanksgiving procession is held at 2:00 pm and concludes with the presenting of the traditional "harvest crown" (Erntekrone). At 3:00 pm there's music ("von Blasmusik bis Jazz"), dancing, and food inside and outside the church. A 6:00 pm evening service is followed by a lantern and torch parade (Laternenumzug) for the kids — with fireworks! The ceremonies end around 7:00 pm. The church's Web site has photos and video of the latest celebration.

Some aspects of the New World's Thanksgiving celebration have caught on in Europe. Over the past few decades, Truthahn (turkey) has become a popular dish, widely available in German-speaking countries. The New World bird is valued for its tender, juicy meat, slowly usurping the more traditional goose (Gans) on special occasions. (And like the goose, it can be stuffed and prepared in similar fashion.) But the Germanic Erntedankfest is still not a big day of family get-togethers and feasting like it is in America.

There are some turkey substitutes, usually so-called Masthühnchen, or chickens bred to be fattened up for more meat. Der Kapaun is a castrated rooster that is fed until he's heavier than the average rooster and ready for a feast. Die Poularde is the hen equivalent, a sterlilized pullet that is also fattened up (gemästet). But this is not something done just for Erntedankfest.

While Thanksgiving in the U.S. is the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season, in Germany the unofficial starting date is Martinstag on November 11. (It used to be more significant as the start of 40 days of fasting before Christmas.) But things really don't get started for Weihnachten until the first Adventsonntag (Advent Sunday) around December 1. (For more about German Christmas customs, see our article entitled A German Christmas.)

More: Thanksgiving Glossary and German-English Menu and Dining Guide

Exercises: Thanksgiving Vocabulary Quiz and Thanksgiving Word Search

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