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Culture Shock: Vatertag (Father’s Day)

Tomorrow will be Father’s Day in Germany. Here is what baffles me about that day in Berlin.

29.05.2019

by Duygu Bräuer

A couple of years ago, a German friend of mine asked me what I would give as a gift to my father for Father’s Day. I said that there was still time to think about it until the third Sunday of June, when it’s Father’s Day in my country. Seeing her surprised, I noticed for the first time, that Father’s Day in Germany has another date. Here, it is celebrated on Ascension Day, the 40th day after Easter. According to the Christian belief, Jesus Christ ascended into heaven on the 40th day after Easter. That is why Ascension Day (Christi Himmelfahrt) always falls on a Thursday. This information leads us the second difference, I have noticed: Father’s Day is a public holiday in Germany. The following Friday is usually a “Brückentag” (a bridge day), that people take off from work in order to enjoy a 4-day weekend.

The tradition reaches back to the 18th century as a way to celebrate Jesus returning to the Holy Father, when men would be seated in a wooden cart and carried into the town square. It occurred as a family day to honour the father, just like Mother’s Day. But later, the religious meaning became less significant and the day became more widely known as Father’s Day. For example; in some regions, especially in Berlin, “Herrenpartien” (gentlemen’s parties) have been held since the 19th century, excluding women but including heavy alcohol intake. It did not matter whether all the members of the parties were fathers or not. Just being male was enough. Hence, Father’s Day is also called as “Männertag” or “Herrentag” (Men’s Day).

Father’s Day is also celebrated differently from my country. Like Mother’s Day, people get a gift for their fathers; the whole family spend the day together in my country. Here, I have seen something wholly different. In Germany, men gather, go hiking, meet for a bike ride, have a barbecue, they drink at a beer garden, they chat, laugh, chant loudly, and mostly they can be seen strolling around while pushing hand carts full of alcohol and food. I assume that there are some fathers who rather stay with their families, but it looks to me like a day for “boys going out and going wild”.

Father's Day has a reputation as a drinking day. The high intake of alcohol causes more alcohol-related accidents than on any other day. Hence, a couple of cities in Germany tried to apply public drinking bans on Father’s Day. But the ban has been hindered by the court due to a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of action in a country where beer drinking is a part of the national culture. So on 30 May, we can closely observe this national culture being performed excessively by males who celebrate their special day.

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