This week my son and daughter are happily making a secret surprise in school (both are in German school) for Mother's Day. I know they are doing this because they are terrible at keeping secrets and mention it nonstop. I also know that Father's day is this week in Germany and I haven't heard a peep about it. I asked them if they were making something for Vatertag, and they said, "Nope". So, what gives? I asked one of my local friends for the deal on Father's Day, and yes, it is the MOST ridiculous holiday in Germany.
In Germany, Father's Day (Vatertag) is celebrated quite differently than other parts of the world. Depending on which region of Deutschland you live in, Father's Day can be called Männertag (Men's Day), Vatertag (Father's Day), or Herrentag (Gentlemen's Day). It is a day of tradition for men, young and old, to head out with their wagons, filled with alcohol and get drunk. The wagon is essential because it's really hard to carry the amount of beer and wine they might need by hand alone. Many men will forgo the wagon and just head to the bar. My neighbors explanation was, "The men go to the bar and get drunk. The children don't make anything for them because they aren't there." Either way, alcohol related accidents multiple by three on this day.
May 10th is not only Father's Day, but Christi Himmelfahrt (sky journey), also known as Ascension Day or Holy Thursday. Ascension Day is the national holiday, not Vatertag. Ascension Day is celebrated on the 40th day after Easter Monday and commemorates the Christian belief of the bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven. Since 1936, this day has been a public holiday in Germany and most stores, businesses, and public offices will be closed on this day. The Friday after is often taken as a "bridge day" by many Germans, resulting in a 4 day weekend. Taking a mini holiday, hiking, bike touring, picnicking, or attending church services are typical activities in Germany for the holiday.
Vatertag Then and Now
How the tradition of men getting drunk could be related to the ascension of Jesus is a bit confusing, but there is an explanation. During the 18th century, Ascension Day processions would take place with men being seated in a wooden cart and carried to the town center. The man who had the most children would be awarded a prize by the city official. This prize would typically be a nice piece of ham. Over time, this ceremony evolved into men touring on foot with beer and ham. Today, the alcohol has become the most important component of the day, and having children isn't necessary to participate. During Vatertag, you may see men carting around wagons or wheelbarrows, riding in horse drawn carriages, cruising around on bicycles, or being towed by a tractor. In all instances, there is probably some serious alcohol consumption and possibly some fighting. Not only are traffic accidents more likely on this day, but fights between men as well. So men, grab a wagon and fill it with beer or wine, pack up some ham for the afternoon, and enjoy your day...just don't expect a card or handmade craft.