Thanksgiving – looking at the social media posts around that date, undoubtedly one of the most important, if not the most important holiday in the United States. But what about Thanksgiving in Germany?
Other than Christmas, and Halloween more recently, which have been equally commercialized over the past decades, the Erntedankfest has maintained a rather low profile.
Being another of those infamous German compound nouns die Ernte = harvest der Dank = thank / gratitude and das Fest = feast / celebration, Erntedankfest is still exclusively celebrated in church. Depending on the region and confession the parish gathers on the first Sunday in October.
The altar is decorated with fruit and vegetables, some regions also have a Erntekrone (f) = harvest crown made from wine leaves or crop. Many villages in Germany also have a Festzug (m) = festive procession called Erntedankzug. They are similar to those during carnival season with decorated carriages and up to 90 groups participating.
Similar festivities around the time of harvest were celebrated throughout Europe in pre-Christian times. In the roman-catholic church the Erntedankfest has been celebrated from the third century onward, yet, due to different climate zones, there was never a fixed date.
The Erntedankfest is not an official holiday in Germany. Only during the Third Reich when the so called Blut und Boden = blood and soil ideology was a key part of society, the Erntedankfest became an official holiday and was celebrated on September 29th.
The central event called Reichserntedankfest at the Bückeberg near Hameln was one of the huge Massenveranstaltungen (f, pl) = mass gatherings by the NSDAP. It was celebrated from 1933 to 1937 with over 1.2 million participants at the last event. The event in 1938 was cancelled due to logistic problems as the vans and buses that used to bring the people to Bückeberg were then used to relocate troops to the border in preparation for the invasion of Czechoslovakia.
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