How To Observe The Fun And Spooky Halloween Holiday In Germany

What was once a holiday for American kids begging for candy while dressed as their favorite superhero (or heroine) has evolved into a global celebration.

Halloween may have its origins with the ancient Celts’ celebration of Samhain, the harvest festival. Because this time of year was half in the light (summer) and half in the dark (winter), the border between the real world and the spirit world was at its thinnest. So, the spirits could move freely between the two worlds.

Costumes and masks were worn by the Celts as a way to protect themselves from evil spirits. They also made lanterns of hollowed-out turnips to keep away these harmful ghosts.

A variation of Samhain celebrations were brought to America in the early 1900s with Irish and Scottish immigrants. The popularization of the holiday may have been spread by American culture and movies, but the idea was not totally foreign for Germany.

Although Halloween is not as popular and as much celebrated as in other countries, there is already a very Halloween-y German holiday called Walpurgisnacht, or Walpurgis Night — the Night of the Witches. From April 30 to May 1, the witches are said to gather on the Brocken, the highest mountain peak of the Harz Mountains, and wait for the arrival of spring.

Goethe wrote about this night in his famous story of Faust. So the idea of an American holiday of witches, werewolves and monsters wasn’t all that strange. ;-)

But the time around Halloween is a real holiday for Germans. The days from October 30 to November 9 are called Seelenwoche, or All Souls Week. This is the holiday for remembering family and friends who have died, with visits to their grave sited and lighting candles. During the week of All Souls, it is a custom to keep all the knives in the house out of sight. With so many spirits in the air, the danger is that one of them may be cut with a knife that is left out carelessly.

There is also an Austrian holiday that also recalls some of the traditional Halloween activities. Some Germans may have been familiar with this day. The town of Retz outside of Vienna held a pumpkin festival called Kürbisfest. Of course, for Halloween, the custom of the Jack O’Lantern, carving a face in a pumpkin and placing a candle within, is an ever-popular activity.

We Germans have embraced Halloween and all its fun traditions. There are costume parties and parades for the “cool” kids, teenagers and maybe a few adults at the nightclubs. Others will watch horror movies or visit a local graveyard. Some kids will even partake in that much beloved Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating. Children dress in costumes and visit their neighbors with the call of “trick-or-treat!” If their neighbor gives them candy (the “treat”), then there is no need for a “trick,” which is when the children can get into trouble.

Germany has many places that are perfect for celebrating Halloween. One of the most famous is Frankenstein Castle. This old mansion in Darmstadt is one of the most famous haunted houses in the country. However, these haunted parties are not just fun Halloween celebrations.

Some other German castles may hold Halloween parties during the season, notably the Satzvey Castle. Burg Satzvey, its German name, will host a nighttime event called the Haunted Castle. The grounds are decorated in a creepy fashion with ghosts and other monsters. Then there is a labyrinth of terror and other scary events to get your heart pounding for this spooky holiday. ;-)

—Marcus

 

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