Germans celebrate Labor Day with traditions

  • Published
  • By Iris Reiff
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office
There is a special reason not to leave things outside and to park the car in the garage the night from April 30 to May 1. It's "Witches Night," the night before "Tag der Arbeit" or Labor Day, a federal German holiday.

The "witches," are town youngsters who play tricks on people who often make things disappear from one spot and show up somewhere else. Items that typically disappear are flower pots, patio furniture, trash cans, door mats or toys left outside over night in front of houses or in yards. People sometimes find items scattered throughout the area and hanging in nearby trees. Youngsters also like to decorate trees or houses with paper.

It is best to simply move things inside the house for the night.

May poles
The most common symbol for the holiday is the May pole, a symbol of freedom. A May pole is a wooden pole made from a tree trunk of pine or birch, typically decorated with colorful ribbons, flowers, carved figures and various other decorations, depending on regional tradition. In the Eifel area the "May tree" reflects the custom of placing a small pine tree atop the May pole. Youngsters put the tree up the night prior to Labor Day in a public square or village green and guard it around the clock with a party. They make sure neighboring villagers don't come and cut it.

In many small towns and villages the local populace comes out for the ceremonial raising of the May tree and celebrate the tradition with beer and wurst afterward. The May pole raising is also associated with dances, music and folk customs. Dancers appear in either a gasthaus or a community hall and everyone is invited.

The Bavarians decorate their trees with a wreath of spring flowers and colorful ribbons. A highlight in Bavaria is the famous Maibaumkraxeln, Maypole climbing, contest. Men battle to see who can climb up the 15 meter polished tree trunk the fastest. The goal is to win pretzels and sausages that hang on top of the pole. 

German Labor Day 
Germans observe the next day, Labor Day or May Day, with a variety of different customs and traditions.

People like to use this holiday to spend time with friends and families, go on a May walk or host a barbecue, if weather permits. Don't forget that as with all German federal holidays, stores will be closed throughout the country.

Alcohol may be involved in some of the celebrations. Police controls are enforced around the holiday and people are encouraged not to drink and drive, if participating.