First of all, here is a plug: The cross publisher bundle of horror and dark fantasy fiction that Julie of Bards & Sages Publishing has set up at DriveThruFiction for Halloween is still available. The bundle includes Letters from the Dark Side as well as a bunch of other good books, anthologies and short stories from several small press and indie publishers. Best of all, you you get 51.85 USD worth of fiction for only 13.99 USD. So what are you waiting for? Grab a bundle while supplies last.
Halloween itself does not have long tradition in Germany. When I was a child, Halloween was completely unknown in Germany, even though All Hallows’ Day still is a public holiday in Catholic parts of Germany. Luckily I did get my all American Halloween experience as a child in Biloxi, Mississippi, complete with homemade witch costume (which raised both eyebrows and applause in an environment dominated by store-brought costumes) and trick or treating in the mall. When I tried to explain Halloween to German friends and schoolmates, I got a lot of weird looks, however.
Halloween eventually seeped into Germany via American pop culture as well as via American expats and Germans who had been to America. Back in the 1990s, there was an annual Halloween party at my university. We also had private Halloween parties, though at first we didn’t even have decorations except homemade things and stuff we adapted. When I bought some cheap Halloween decorations at a dollar store during a US visit in 1994, it was a sensation. A few years later, you could buy similar stuff in every supermarket.
Eventually, Halloween trickled down from Americaphile twentysomethings into the teen and child demographic, spurned on by the candy and novelty industry who saw a way to make some extra bucks. Trick or treating began to appear in German neighbourhoods about ten years ago. It first took hold in areas which did not have native trick or treating type traditions like St. Nicholas Day (see my posts here and here for an explanation of the tradition) or St. Martin’s Day a.k.a. Martinsmas, the feast day mentioned in several 19th century novels. St. Martin’s Day was never a big deal in my region apart from having the legend of St. Martin cutting his cloak in half to share it with a beggar told to me in religion class. “But that’s stupid”, I said, “If he cuts his cloak in half, they’ll both freeze and no one can use the cloak anymore.” It wasn’t the answer the religious education teacher had expected.
As with any foreign tradition imported into Germany, there are those who hate Halloween and view it as a commercialized American* import. Because Christmas and Easter and Valentine’s and Mother’s Day (both American imports BTW, since neither was traditionally celebrated in Germany) and All Hallows Day and even St. Martin’s Day are not commercialized at all.
The two big churches are very much anti-Halloween, particularly the Lutheran church, because October 31 also happens to be Reformation Day, the anniversary of the day Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg (maybe he didn’t get a treat). Reformation Day was a sort of half-public holiday when I was a child in that schools and government buildings were closed, but shops remained open. However, it has been abolished in the name of efficiency and financing general care insurance years ago without much protest from the Lutheran church. Which makes their complaints about Halloween usurping their holiday more than a bit hypocritical. And while no one disputes the importance of Luther and his 95 theses, as a holiday Reformation Day is kind of boring. How are we going to celebrate, by dressing up as Luther and nailing our complaints to random church doors? As for Luther candy (yes, that’s a real product), I guess I’ll pass. Honestly, it’s no wonder that the kids prefer to celebrate Halloween. Dressing up as a monster, free candy and the chance to play pranks? It’s no wonder the kids are all over it.
Ever since trick or treaters started showing up in my neighbourhood a few years ago, I bought some Halloween candy (now available in German shops) and started handing out treats. It doesn’t bother me and I view it as essentially harmless, though I was annoyed the one year I wasn’t at home and found eggs hurled against my door. And if the same kids show up on my doorstep again for St. Nicholas Day, what does it matter? I can afford to hand out candy to the neighbourhood kids twice a year. In fact, I would only start to get worried if Halloween began to supplant rather than supplement our local St. Nicholas Day traditions.
This year I bought some Halloween pumpkin heads and scary monsters from Kinder Schokolade, manufacturer of the beloved Kinder Surprise Eggs. In previous years, I had chocolate eyeballs from Riegelein Schokolade, but the supermarket didn’t have them this year. At any rate, I had 15 trick or treaters at my door, which is our best Halloween yet. They were all nicely costumed and some of them even sang songs or recited poems, mixing Halloween with the local St. Nicholas and St. Martin’s Day traditions.
Regarding American traditions seeping into Germany, I was grocery shopping with my Mom today at a big Real market. And alongside frozen geese for St. Martin’s Day (roast goose is a traditional meal in the areas that celebrate) and large pans for roasting the geese, they also had huge frozen turkeys for Thanksgiving. Not that I see any Germans making Thanksgiving turkeys anytime soon (turkey is not a popular meat here), but American expats will be grateful, especially since finding the gigantic turkeys required for Thanksgiving was very difficult here in Germany until a few years ago.
While at the supermarket, I also ran into one of my former students, one of the really nice and eager kids you’ll remember for a long time. He finished school by now and is currently studying at an agricultural trade school about 40 kilometers away. He always wanted to become a farmer. It always gives me a little thrill to see former students doing well. Not that I ever had doubts with this particular student.
And because it was the day of weird coincidences (well, it is Halloween after all), I also ran into an old schoolmate of mine working the cash register at the grocery store.
*There is still quite a bit of lingering Anti-Americanism among older Germans, particularly the sixties generation but also survivors of the WWII generation. A lot of it is directed against American pop culture.