Learn About the German Thanksgiving Erntedankfest: Vocabulary and Traditions

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Thanksgiving in Germany, or Erntedankfest, has a long tradition, particularly in rural areas. It’s a celebration to give thanks for the successful collection of the harvest which guarantees another year without starvation. While in the United States, Thanksgiving is an important secular holiday, including a weekend, with the emphasis on family get-togethers and the consumption of a turkey as the central celebration, Erntedankfest in Germany is a religious occasion. Church services dominate the day, and it’s a religious festival equally celebrated by Catholics and Protestants. Well known is the Erntedankgottesdientin Berlin, Germany’s capital,with three services during the day. Erntedankfest is usually celebrated on the first Sunday in October.


Erntedankfest traditions in Germany revolve around harvest and grain. The first church service is usually held at 10.00 am; and huge straw baskets, filled with grain, fruit, potatoes, etc., are carried to the church. The baskets are blessed and later distributed to the poor.

In rural areas, Erntekränze, big wreaths made from grain, are hung on doors or, Erntekronen, huge crowns, skilfully woven from grain and decorated with ribbons, are erected in the marketplace of smaller towns and villages. Smaller crowns are also often put on the roofs of farm buildings and barns. The crowns are carried in Umzügen (parades) at the end of a church service.

In the evening there are Laternenumzüge, or lantern parades in which children participate and go from house to house, much as they do on St. Martin’s Day in November.

The traditional American turkey has become popular in Germany, too. Apart from turkey, a chicken or kapaun ( rooster), similarly roasted and stuffed, is consumed. A special Thanksgiving pastry is Mohnstriezel, a sweet bread sprinkled with poppy seeds which originates in Austria.

Vocabulary around Erntedankfest

Erntedankfest (n) – Thanksgiving

Ernte (f) – harvest

Ernte einbringen – to harvest

Scheune (f) – barn

Bauernhof (m) – farm

Bauer (m) – farmer

Korn (n) – grain

Weizen (m) – wheat

Gerste (f) – barley

Hafer (m)- oats

Mohn (m) – poppy

Gottesdienst (m) – church service

Segnen – to bless

Pfarrer (m) – clergyman, priest

Erntekrone (f) – harvest crown

Erntekranz (m) – harvest wreath

Bänder (f) – ribbons

Girlande (f) – garland

Umzug (m) – parade

Truthahn (m) – turkey

Masthuhn (n) – chicken

Kapaun (m) – rooster

Feiern – to celebrate

Religion (f) – religion

Religiös – religious

Festmahl (n) – celebration meal

Brot (n) – bread

Mohnstriezel – special sweet bread with poppy seeds

Eine Krone flechten – to weave a crown

Aufschneiden- to carve

Tranchiermesser (n) – carving knife

Familie (f)– family

Laterne (f) – lantern

Kerze (f) – candle

Kinder (f) – children

Laternenumzug (m) – lantern parade