I got into an interesting discussion the other day. One of the colleagues asked me what “Whit Monday” actually is and why this is a holiday in the German speaking countries. I have to admit that my English ran out on me, and I had to actually look up what “Whit Monday” is in German. Okay, it is “Pfingst Montag”. ..One of the Pentecost holidays.
Then I answered her that this is a big national holiday in all German speaking countries like Germany, Austria and Switzerland. She then was surprised how many religious holidays we have since Germans are …well… not that religious at all.
This is when I figured that she really didn’t know much about German traditions and religions. Maybe Germans do not wear religion on their sleeves.
Let’s only look at Germany for now. 67% of Germans are Christians, with their two largest churches –the Protestant Evangelical and Roman Catholic Church. Believe it or not the 2nd largest religion is the Islam with 4% and #3 is Judaism right behind.
The Protestant and Catholic churches lost quite a number of followers after World War II. Religion in the former GDR was frowned upon by the regime and religious believes were oppressed. Til’ this day East Germany still has the majority of non-religious people.
The increase in Islamic believers is due to the immigrants from Turkey. Western Germany started luring Turkish people into Germany in the late 60’s to have cheap labor for low paid jobs. Since then Germany has a growing Turkish population with Islamic roots. Looking at the regional distribution in religion the Southern states e.g. Bavaria, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate have the highest percentage of Christians.
Religious National German Holidays are:
- Easter with Good Friday and also Easter Monday
- Ascension Day
- Pentecost with Whit Monday
- Christmas with Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day
Besides that Germany celebrates several statewide religious holidays:
- Reformation Day
- All Saints
- Day of Repentance and Prayer
To get information on which date these holidays are, you can check out this website: Germany Travel Guide by World Travel Guide
It is still tradition in Germany to go to church during almost all of those major religious holidays and use this time as a time for reflection and to spend time with family.
Christmas as probably the biggest national holiday in Germany is celebrated in a much quieter way than here in the US. It is a time of reflection, very traditional and peaceful. Even though gifts are part of the giving tradition it is not as commercialized as in the US. A lot of German businesses even close down during the Christmas holidays into the new year.
Here are the stats: