Goodness gracious. I let my Rosetta Stone course run out of time.. doh! Three months sure do fly by quickly. I realized this on Monday and looked up the number to the school in an effort to get it back up and running. No dice – I forgot Monday was Memorial Day!
While we didn’t have Monday off this week, we did have today (Thursday) off. In Germany, the fortieth day after Easter is a holiday throughout the country known as Ascension Day. Apparently, it is big with Catholics and, since we live in a very Catholic region, I saw many going to mass today. As on Sundays, everything was closed. Good thing I put it on my calendar or we’d be eating Turkish döner kebap for dinner. (And you know how I feel about mystery meat!)
What I didn’t know was Ascension Day is also Father’s Day. My German friends tell me that this is a day not for men to spend with their families but with other men getting communally sloshed. More history can be found here:Father’s Day in Germany has a different origin and is a very different observance than the American version. Germany’s Vatertag began in the Middle Ages as a religious procession honoring “Gott, den Vater” on Ascension Day. Although as late as the 1700s Vatertag was a family day for honoring dad, somehow things went sour and in the 19th century the custom reappeared in Berlin as a less refined and very alcoholic celebration on that same date. Today Germany’s Vatertag is supposed to be closer to a “boys’ day out” and a pub tour with the guys (Männerrunde) than the more family-oriented Father’s Day in the U.S. The Vatertag tradition has a bad reputation as a “Sauftag” (“drinking day”). In some regions groups of men (few of them fathers) still go off into the country to have a “Joe Six-Pack” party on Vatertag, but in reality, the German Father’s Day beer bust is largely a thing of the past. German men today hardly need a holiday excuse to have a few drinks with their buddies.
(Interestingly, Mother’s Day in Germany is not a public holiday at all. What’s up with that?!)
But, all this time off got me thinking. Why haven’t I heard about a Memorial Day in Germany? We all know the atrocities of the Nazis in WWII, but not every German in the army was a Nazi. Surely, the country must do something to honor the veterans’ service, right?
One German friend told me the difference should be obvious. We (the US) won the war; they (Germany) lost. Why would they want to relive that? And, it’s not only that the veterans don’t want to relive it, but the citizens don’t want a reminder either.
No parades. No picnics. No monuments. No speeches.
How different this is from our American experience! We try to convince our kids who have not been touched by war that Memorial Day and Veterans Day are more than barbecues and days off school. We say thank you and then go back to our hot dog. We wear red, white, and blue, but don’t even know what they mean.
Germany paid a heavy price with their loss in WWII. It has surely changed they way their philosophy on life, politics, leadership, government, and even God. May we never be too proud to realize that could have been us, our country, our people.
(If you have a few minutes and want to read some interesting comments on the subject, you can find them here.)