Celebrating girl power in the traditional German way

Celebrating girl power in the traditional German way

Global Citizen Daily Travel Editor, Poppy White, is traveling in Europe this week and sent us a snapshot that got us all talking.

No stranger to interesting cultural differences and international holidays, Poppy came across a rather exceptional description of a Carnival-related holiday that's celebrated in Germany's Rhineland, where she is currently soaking up the culture and having People to People moments.

The holiday is called Weiberfastnacht, and it won't be new to some Americans living in a handful of large cities with significant German Catholic immigrant populations. I happen to have grown up in a very small Catholic, Volga-German town in the Midwest, and also lived in Vienna, Austria for a few years, but sadly had never heard of this delightful celebration.

We hit Wikipedia and scoured the web to gather some info for you about this crazy sounding holiday that highlights some entertaining cultural differences, and we think you won't be disappointed…

cultural differences, international holidays, Weiberfastnacht                                                                                                   (Image credit: The Epoch Times)

Although it has become one of the world's more minor international holidays, no one observes this feast day quite like the Germans!

Celebrated in conjunction with the larger annual, seasonal Carnival festivities, Weiberfastnacht is a traditional Catholic feast day that takes place on the last Thursday before Lent.

Lent, of course, is a time of fasting that lasts about 6 weeks (the next opportunity to feast isn't until Easter), so you can see how getting your feast on right before Lent kicks off would be a big deal. Traditionally, these big pre-Lent feast days were taken very seriously.

Weiberfastnacht is awfully similar to an unofficial holiday we all know quite well in the US – the French festival of Mardi Gras, or "Fat Tuesday" – but don't confuse them. For starters, Weiberfastnacht is a Thrusday feast day and Fat Tuesday is, well, on Tuesday. So, in France they feast on Tuesday, in Germany they feast on Thursday, and in cities as far flung as Chicago and Freemantle in Western Australia, they observe both. We say, why not?

No matter where it's celebrated, Weiberfastnacht (or shall we say "Fat Thursday?") is consistently dedicated to eating and celebrating. Typically, people will congregate at home or in a restaurant/bakery/café/(bar?) with family and friends, where they proceed to consume pastries, cakes, sweets and other foods "forbidden" during Lent.

In German cities such as Cologne, Berlin and Regensburg, Weiberfastnacht is observed as an unofficial holiday. Most businesses close before lunchtime, so that people can get into their costumes (we love holidays with costumes!). Celebrations begin at 11:11am, mostly in pubs and on the streets – but also in offices and shops – and the feasting begins in the evening.

Where things get truly unusual, according to Poppy's missive, is in Bonn, Germany.

cultural differences, international holidays, Weiberfastnacht                                                                                                  (Image credit: Mark R Reierstad)

In Bonn's district of Beuel, and in many towns throughout the Rhineland, people celebrate in a particularly unique way, known as Beueler Weiberfastnacht, or colloquially, the "washerwomen's carnival."

This unusual ritual is said to have started in 1824, when local women first formed their own “Carnival Committee.” Based on today's traditions, you can take a guess at what became of the original, presumably all-male, Carnival Committee.

cultural differences, international holidays, Weiberfastnachtcultural differences, international holidays, Weiberfastnacht                                                                                 (Image credit: Simone Vanhattem, WDR.de)

Bear in mind that in this Germanic tradition, men's neck ties are symbolic of their social status and power. On this day each year, local women symbolically storm the Beuel town hall, bursting into men's offices and literally cutting their ties in half. Then they steal a Bützchen (a little kiss) before running back out into the street celebrations. Throughout the rest of the celebration and feast, the men wear the stumps of their ties and get little Bützchens as compensation.

Throughout Germany and around the world this tradition has slowly gained localized followings, leading to traditions such as Regensburg's "The Reaping Of The Ties" where some women take their task rather seriously and become known as "Tie Hunters."

cultural differences, international holidays, Weiberfastnacht

Who wouldn't be delighted to share an office with this woman?     (Image credit: Steven Glassman)

This is why we love introducing our readers to fascinating international holidays and celebrations that highlight our cultural differences. You couldn't make this stuff up!

Although I observed some wonderfully entertaining traditions among the Germanic settlers I knew growing up (Such as Prairiesta!), I have trouble imagining such outrageous festivities taking place in my little home town in rural Kansas. But if you ask me, any community would be enhanced by adopting such a lighthearted tradition and festive celebration.

I can fearlessly make such suggestions since I don't wear ties to work.

                                                                                              (Header image: Weyh Touristik)

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