Erntedankfest- Germany’s Thanksgiving

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It’s Thanksgiving weekend in the US. But, like many other countries, Germany knows how to give thanks too. It’s called Erntedankfest .It’s celebrated at a different date and the traditional food isn’t the turkey, but otherwise, the spirit is the same.


Giving thanks after the harvest has successfully been brought in, is one of the oldest traditions known to man. Romans, Egyptians, Celts and many other cultures worshipped the gods with festivities and offerings of food and wine. Sometimes the celebrations went on for days and, of course, there was no common date because it depended on the climate and harvest of very different countries.

Erntedankfest as celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church is first mentioned in the 3rd century.  There are basically two dates in Germany: 1st Sunday in October for the Catholics and 29th of September for the protestants. But, German regions are free to change the dates a bit.


Both religions celebrate Erntedankfest in a church. The altar is richly decorated with baskets full of fruit, vegetables and bunches of cereal.

Theatiner Kirche Munich

Theatiner Kirche Munich

After the mass, the food is often distributed to the poor. Or else, particularly in smaller communities, a huge meal is prepared to which each and everyone is invited. Beer and wine flow freely and the whole thing often becomes one big party.

An essential symbol of Erntedank are huge, elaborate crowns, woven from straw, which are often displayed in the church. In southern regions, a procession precedes the offerings and mass in church. Carriages take part, decorated  with flowers, straw, streamers and bows and sometimes horses and oxen participate too.

Another custom is to weave effigies from straw which at the end of the day are burnt.


One traditional dish is chicken. This has its origin in a habit from the times when potatoes were harvested by hand. The farmer had to give a chicken to his laborers once they had finished bringing in the potatoes. Hence this chicken feast was called Potato Chicken or Kartoffelhahn.

Otherwise, there is no really typical Erntedankfest food, as opposed to the traditional turkey in the US.

Happy Thanksgiving to everybody.

First picture source: Steve Collins for Wiki Commons


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