Do people in Germany take part in Halloween costumes, candy, and trick-or-treating like we do in the United States? The answer to that question is, well, a bit tricky. In recent years, Germany and other countries have in fact come to embrace Halloween -- but what we think of as Halloween is not entirely an American invention. And to make matters just a little bit more confusing, Germany and its cultural cousin, Austria, have their set of traditional Halloween-like celebrations to boot. But don’t be scared! Though it may seem a little “chicken and the egg,” the story of Halloween is deliciously fascinating.
A Brief History of Halloween in the United States
Early colonial settlers marked the fall season with celebrations of merriment and mischief, but it wasn’t until the influx of Irish immigrants during the mid-1800s that Halloween as we’d come to know it gained popularity. Iconic American Halloween activities like dressing in costume, trick-or-treating, and fixating on spirits and the dead are a mix of both Irish and English traditions, which, in turn, have evolved from a combination of ancient Celtic, Roman, and later, Christian practices. (It was Christianity that gave Halloween its name; the day preceding the Christian feast of All Saint’s Day, observed on November 1, was traditionally called “All Hallow’s Eve.”) The holiday became more widely celebrated as time went on and began taking its modern form in the early and mid 20th century when it became increasingly geared toward children. Due to America’s influence on global pop culture, some other countries like Japan and Russia have adopted Halloween traditions in recent years. Germany began adopting them too following the Gulf War -- even though the country already had a rich history of unique, Halloween-like fall celebrations all their own.
German Traditions Similar to Halloween
Martinstag, or St. Martin’s Day, is a festival celebrated in Germany commemorating the Christian Saint Martin of Tours -- a Roman soldier turned monk who is said to have lived during the 4th century. The feast day of November 11 is also observed in France, where the festival originated, as well as in most other European nations. In Germany, the faithful mark the occasion with bonfires, a meal of baked goose, costumes, songs, and a procession of lanterns. In nearby Austria, another familiar Halloween sight – pumpkins – take center stage each year during the annual Kürbisfest, or “pumpkin fest.” Families gather to carve and decorate pumpkins and participate in a Halloween parade known as Halloween-Umzug. But perhaps the most famous German contribution to Halloween culture is a type of candy that’s a staple of trick-or-treating: candy corn. The legendary treat was first produced at the turn of the 20th century by Goelitz Confectionary Co., a candy outfit founded by German-Americans Gustav and Albert Goelitz.
Have a fun and safe Halloween, from all of us here at Leckerlee! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to find out about our authentic German lebkuchen -- a perfect Halloween treat for when you’re craving more than just some fun-size trick-or-treat candy.