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Festivals of Western Europe

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Perseus
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« Reply #60 on: April 29, 2009, 03:22:42 pm »

In many parts of the country, particularly in western and southern Germany, salt and chalk are consecrated in church on this day. The salt is given the animals to lick, while the Three Kings' traditional initials, C.M.B., for Caspar (also, Gaspar, Kaspar), Melchior, Balthasar (or Balthazar) are chalked above house and stable doors. This is thought to keep evil from entering and harming man or beast. In the Bavarian Forest peasants write above the lintel the legend, "Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, protect us this day from all danger of fire and flood."

    Epiphany parties are frequent, with the traditional cake as a special feature of the celebration. A bean, or sometimes a coin, is hidden in the cake. Whoever finds the symbol in his portion becomes king of the feast.

    In Upper Bavaria peasants wearing horrible-looking wooden masks go about cracking long whips and symbolically driving out Frau Perchta (also known as Berchta, or Bertha), nature goddess of ancient Germanic mythology and custodian of the dead. According to folk belief the mysterious witch wanders about and harms mortals on the Twelve Days between Christmas and Epiphany. On Perchiennacht, or Epiphany, Perchta and her cohorts, symbolizing powers of both good and evil, are thought to fructify the fields and to frighten naughty children.

    The Perchta masks which are handed down from one generation to another, are terrifying in their fantastic ugliness. Some have protruding fangs for teeth, bulging eyes, sinister wrinkles and hairy faces. Those who wear the masks dress in slovenly kerchiefs and dirty aprons, and march through the streets with brooms, chains, and hatchets, fully looking the part of the relentless furies they are intended to represent.

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« Reply #61 on: April 29, 2009, 03:22:52 pm »

FASTNACHT (Shrove Tuesday) The Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday

    Fastnacht, as Shrove Tuesday is called, is celebrated throughout Germany with masquerades, carnival processions and ceremonials that vary in character according to locality and folk custom. In the Rhine district where many of the carnivals originate in religious rites, there is strict adherence to the sacred pattern. In Mainz, on the other hand, companies of guards pitch camp along city thoroughfares--especially in the cathedral area--and form a bodyguard to Prince Carnival. In Cologne, Prince Carnival presides over a Fool's Court. He is surrounded by councilors wearing high peaked hats and the badge of the Order of Fools. The Sparks, as Prince Carnival's bodyguard is called, wear the uniforms of old Cologne's City Guards and carry wooden muskets over their shoulders.

    In Munich Shrovetide observances are marked by much of the pageantry and splendor of the Middle Ages. Actors dressed in court costumes of former days perform ancient guild dances, while historical floats and ceremonies portray much of the picturesqueness of Munich's past.

    Eastern Saxony boasts some of the most charming carnival celebrations of all Germany. In this region a symbolic battle is fought between representatives of Winter and Spring. Winter always is vanquished and Spring welcomed with laughter, merrymaking, and song. In some localities this kind of carnival celebration occurs somewhat later than Fastnacht. The character of the spring drama varies from district to district. In Eisenach, for example, where the battle of the seasons has been observed since 1286, "Summer is won" by burning Winter in effigy after his defeat by Dame Sun.

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« Reply #62 on: April 29, 2009, 03:23:01 pm »

People of Baden-Warttemberg call Fastnacht "Fastnet" in local dialect. For over five hundred years Rottweit on the Neckar has celebrated a Fastnet parade with all kinds of traditional figures such as three huge cocks, known respectively as Guller, Federhannes, or Feathery John, and Biss, or Bite. Another feature of the parade are groups of Fools, wearing costumes decorated with ball-shaped bells, who dance about and recite verses of "fools' wisdom" to the crowd.

KOPENFAHRT (Kope Procession), in Luneburg, State of Lower Saxony Shrove Tuesday

    The Kope Festival, observed at Carnival time by Luneburg's salt miners, dates back to the Middle Ages. According to a chronicle of 1471, an early duke of Luneburg granted journeymen salters--the sons of master salters--the privilege of holding the annual celebration which has been observed for almost five hundred years.

    The Kope, a stone-filled wooden barrel, originally was dragged through the town's narrow byways by strong horses which were mounted by Salzjunker, or young journeymen salters. Horses and riders were followed by festively-garbed local officials such as aldermen, councilors, and scribes. Then came a long line of salt mine laborers, townsfolk, and trumpeters. Through the centuries the Kopenfahrt, or Kope procession, has become a folk, rather than a historical, event. Today, as in the beginning, the trumpeters still blast loudly on their instruments in an attempt to unnerve the spirited horses. Great skill is therefore required on the riders' part in order to guide the animals safely through the streets and bring them to the mouth of the salt mine. There the Kope is ceremoniously dumped on a huge pile of wood and set on fire.

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« Reply #63 on: April 29, 2009, 03:23:14 pm »

Following the bonfire the procession returns to the market place and with solemn rites enacts the ceremony of initiation of the Salzjunker into the Guild of Master Salters. For a thousand years Luneburg, famed for its salt-mining industry--the source of the town's prosperity--has paid high tribute to this important Guild. Following initiation ceremonies there is a great banquet.

    According to some authorities the Kopenfahrt originated in pagan, rather than medieval times. Consequently the flames of the great bonfire are thought to symbolize the Sun God's triumph over forces of darkness, while the rolling of the Kope through the streets represents the relentless passage of time. Quite aside from such speculation, the ancient festival was revived in 1950 following a period of interruption, and once more the event is a characteristic feature of the old salt town's annual carnival merrymaking.

BRAUTELN (Wooing a Bride), in Sigmaringen, State of Baden-Wurttemberg Shrove Tuesday

    Brauteln is the name Sigmaringen gives to a Carnival custom which started in 1648, at the close of the Thirty Years' War. In that year bachelors who dared to become engaged were honored with a peculiar ceremony. According to local tradition Sigmaringen's young men were hesitant about assuming the responsibilities of marriage and family life, due to widespread hunger and pestilence following in the wake of the war. Accordingly, the town's population diminished so rapidly that the Schultheiss, or Mayor, decided to take drastic steps.

    Finally the Schultheiss conceived a unique plan: He would honor the first young man who was courageous enough to become engaged with the Brauteln, or "Wooing a Bride" ceremony. This meant that the bachelor would be carried at the head of a brilliant procession about the pump in the market square. No pains would be spared to make the event a memorable affair. The man would be accorded so much prominence that other bachelors would be encouraged to take wives.

    The mayor's plan must have worked since the ceremony still continues. Annually on Shrove Tuesday every man is brautelt who has married within the last twelve months, has moved to town for the first time, or celebrated his twenty-fifth or fiftieth wedding anniversary.

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« Reply #64 on: April 29, 2009, 03:23:25 pm »

The yearly two-day carnival ceremony is impressive. Heralds dressed in three-cornered hats, black breeches, and white shirts and stockings, go about the town with the Sigmaringen standard. Accompanied by drummers and pipers, the heralds stop at the house of each eligible bachelor on their list and invite him to be brautelt, by dancing before the door. Woe to the man who refuses to participate in the ceremony, for he must pay a ransom!

    To the accompaniment of a lively tune the heralds briskly carry eligible candidates about the town pump, while their victims treat the jubilant spectators with apples, pretzels, and sausages.


And thus it always will be
As long as laughing and kissing go on;
As long as the Danube flows;
As long as the girl gets her man,

according to one old brautel song.

    Yet another Sigmaringen song has come down through the centuries. The words, which doubtless were applicable in 1648 when husbands were scarce, are hardly appropriate for the modern young woman. The song is jolly, however, and therefore worth repeating:


Let's live long and be merry.
Semmering girls set caps for the lads.
But all, alas, is useless!
Not a single girl gets a sweetheart!
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« Reply #65 on: April 29, 2009, 03:23:36 pm »

PALMSONNTAG (Palm Sunday) The Sunday before Easter

    In most parts of Germany Easter festivities start on Palm Sunday. Customs vary widely from place to place, but everywhere they symbolize resurgence of life and joy in the budding spring.

    In the Black Forest, for example, people decorate tall poles with ****-willows, heart or cross motifs, and long multicolored ribbon streamers. These gay Eastertide emblems are set up before village houses and later carried in procession to church, where they are consecrated by the priest.

    In Bavaria on the other hand, the poles are transformed into glittering trees, with branches cut from twelve different kinds of wood. The branches are bent and fastened to the poles in semicircular shape, then gaudily decorated with colored glass beads. Villagers carry the trees in joyous procession to the church. After the blessing the peasants set up the trees in the farm fields to ensure fertility to crops, protection from hail and drought, and preservation from all other disasters.

    Most unusual of all Palm Sunday customs, perhaps, is the Palm Esel, or wooden Palm Donkey, symbolic of the animal upon which Jesus entered Jerusalem two thousand years ago. The Palm Donkey, survival of a rare folk custom, is reverently carried to the village church. Devout parishioners believe that by touching the wooden image they, too, may share the same mystic blessing which people doubtless thought emanated from the humble ass when it carried the King of Israel.

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« Reply #66 on: April 29, 2009, 03:23:49 pm »

GRUNDONNERSTAG (Green Thursday) (Holy, or Maundy Thursday) The Thursday preceding Easter

    Anyone refusing to eat green salad on Grundonnerstag, or Green Thursday, is in danger of "becoming a donkey," according to old Saxon tradition. To be on the safe side children eat an entire green vegetable dinner on this day. Often the meal is supplemented by a special dish prepared from cottage cheese.

    Many interesting egg superstitions are associated with the Thursday preceding Easter. One saying is that an Antlassei, or Holy Thursday egg, stays fresh for the entire year. Another claim is that such an egg, when ploughed into the first furrow, ensures a plentiful harvest. It is also believed that an Antlassei is just the thing to prevent ruptures. And to keep one on hand in the house will safeguard the premises from lightning during the next twelve months.

KARSAMSTAG (Holy Saturday), in South Germany, Hesse, and the Rhineland; KARSONNABEND, in Berlin and North Germany The Saturday preceding Easter

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« Reply #67 on: April 29, 2009, 03:23:59 pm »

On Holy Saturday housewives dressed in their most elaborate peasant costumes carry the Easter foods to church for consecration by the parish priest. It is customary for each woman to line a large basket with snowy linen and decorate it with gay ribbon streamers. She then fills the basket with a variety of Easter foods--the long braided loaf of holiday bread, the colored eggs, a portion of bacon or ham and, most important of all, butter molded into the form of a lamb--the Lamb of God--with a ribbon tied around the neck and a banner on a long stick inserted into the flank.

    After the food has been blessed housewives take their baskets home and start preparing the feast day dinner.

OSTERN (Easter)

    Eastertide customs, many of which originated in early Germanic pagan rites, are largely concerned with eggs, fire, and water.

    Eggs, the ancient heathen fertility symbol and the early Christian emblem of the Resurrection, inspire all kinds of games and customs for both children and adults. Modern children generally accept the idea that the Easter Hare brings their holiday eggs and hides them in many out-of-the-way nooks and corners. In the past the stork, the fox and the cuckoo, rather than the Hare, were credited with dispensing eggs.

    In many places, especially in Swabian villages, pretty little "rabbit gardens" are made ready for the Hare. In the Deister mountains near Hannover, he finds carefully prepared nests of moss awaiting his visit. Of course, the Hare prefers to hide his eggs in gardens and out-of-door nooks; but in stormy weather he manages, somehow, to find curious indoor places for boys and girls to search for his offerings. The Hare brings not only dyed hens' eggs of purple, green, and yellow; sometimes there are toothsome chocolate eggs with wonderful little pictures inside, which may be viewed through openings in one end. Sometimes the Easter visitor even leaves elaborate little pink or blue satin eggs, containing exciting presents of sweets, perfume or tiny lace trimmed handkerchiefs.

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« Reply #68 on: April 29, 2009, 03:24:11 pm »

Eggs are not only presented to friends but are important in all the Easter games. Friends give each other beautifully hand-painted eggs which are made according to distinctive traditional designs. The exquisite patterns are passed down from one generation to another in certain towns and villages. Often a special legend or verse accompanies the decoration. In many places, on the other hand, it is customary for village girls to present their suitors with red eggs. Should the girls fail to have their gifts ready, however, the boys spank them with canes!

    Eggs play an important role in the Easter sports. In northwestern Germany, for example, peasants have formal contests to see who can devour the greatest number of eggs. Egg duels, known as Eier-Spacken, or Eier-Doppen always are immensely popular. Contestants face each other, holding hard boiled eggs by the round ends. Each stabs his adversary's egg with the pointed end. The player who succeeds in cracking the greatest number of his opponent's eggs wins, and receives all the damaged eggs as prize.

    Eierlesen, or egg gathering, and Eierschieben, or egg rolling, are two of the season's most popular sports. The egg gathering contests, particularly, require great agility and skill. Eggs are placed at intervals along a racing track. Running down the track at a starting signal, the boys try to see who can gather tip the most eggs in the allotted time. The game is even more exciting when, as in the Black Forest and some other areas, contestants ride down the line on horseback or bicycles.

    In Germany as in the United States, egg rolling contests are confined chiefly to children. This sport usually comes on Faster Monday. Boys and girls play their game on a hillside. The child whose egg rolls the greatest distance wins. In some villages the girls play Caningeln, a game in which an egg is rolled through a ring. This feat requires great agility and skill.

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« Reply #69 on: April 29, 2009, 03:24:25 pm »

By far the most ancient and dramatic of all German Easter customs are the bonfires and fiery wheels which are common to sections of the Harz, the Rhineland, Oldenburg and Westphalia.

    The fires, built on mountain tops and ridges, are survivals of pagan sacrificial rites, while the flaming wheels, symbolic of the sun, are reminiscent of early Germanic fire worship. In some neighborhoods young people go about singing traditional rhymes and asking for contributions of fuel or money for the Easter fires. Generally these fires take the form of huge piles of tar-soaked barrel staves, tree limbs and roots.

    In the vicinity of Luegde, a Westphalian village, the usual bonfire consists of huge seven-foot oak wheels with straw-packed spokes. Each family in the village contributes straw to the gigantic wheels which weigh approximately eight hundred pounds. The wheels, poised at the top of a hill, are set afire. Thousands of spectators gathered about Easter bonfires on adjoining hills watch and cheer as the tremendous wheels start on their course down the hillside into the valley below. Each time a wheel reaches the bottom of the hill ablaze, a shout of Joy rises from the breathless villagers who regard this as portending special blessing to the land and a rich harvest to the farmer.

    Water no less than fire is important in Easter rites, especially among young girls of the Harz, Thuringia, and many other regions. The girls, rising at dawn stealthily go out to the river bank and dip up "Easter water." If they do not utter a single word and then bathe in the water, they will be rewarded with beauty throughout the year. For those who cannot go to the river bank there is, of course, the Easter morning dew which, when used for bathing the face, is sure to make it look fresh and charming.

    Spring flowers and grasses are important in Easter ceremonies, especially in the Black Forest. There blossoms and leaves are fashioned into symbolic crosses and hearts and taken to church for blessing. The Easter sunrise is considered important, too; for if the sun dances and you can see it, you will be blessed with good luck throughout the year.

    Easter brings special Joys to shop and factory workers who don knapsacks and go out into the country; and to young and old of towns and villages, who put on new spring finery and join the ranks of Sunday afternoon participants in the traditional Easter parades.

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« Reply #70 on: April 29, 2009, 03:24:39 pm »

GEORGIRITT (Saint George's Parade), in Traunstein, Upper Bavaria April 23

    Saint George, the great soldier saint of the Middle Ages who reputedly was martyred on April 23 about the year 300, is honored annually at Traunstein and some other Bavarian villages by the Georgiritt, or Saint George's Parade. For George, who represented the flower of knighthood, became protector of horses and their riders. On his day the parish priest blesses both beasts and men and sprinkles them with holy water.

    According to Jacobus de Voragine, thirteenth-century author of The Golden Legend, Saint George arrived at Lybia's pagan city of Sylene just as a dragon which demanded human tribute was terrifying the entire countryside. Saint George, finding Sylene's citizens in deepest mourning, soon discovered that it was the turn of the King's daughter to be sacrificed to the demon's appetite. Dressed in wedding garments of purest white, the young girl calmly sat down by a stagnant pool outside the city. Fortunately the story had a happy ending. Saint George came upon the Princess and awaited the monster's arrival at her side. At last the charging dragon appeared. Saint George stuck his sword down the fiery throat. The Princess then tethered the beast to her girdle and triumphantly led him into Sylene. There the saint promptly slew the dragon--once Sylene's fifteen thousand citizens had agreed to be baptized into the Christian faith.

    Throughout the centuries the story of Saint George has symbolized the victory of good over evil. Many claim that the legend, which finds its counterpart in the Siegfried cycle and other mythological stories, represents renewal of life in early spring and the conquest of Summer over Winter.

    Today the ancient victory of the saint on horseback is commemorated when Traunstein farmers mount their gaily garlanded horses and ride them across the fields and three times around the parish church. After receiving the priest's blessing on the horses, as well as other farm animals, and on crops and gardens, the procession, accompanied by drums and trumpets, turns toward the village. The festival finally ends with ritualistic sword dances which, like the Saint George legend, have come down from medieval to modern times.

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« Reply #71 on: April 29, 2009, 03:24:52 pm »

HIMMELFAHRTSTAG or HIMMELFAHRT (Ascension Day) The fortieth day after Easter

    Many picturesque local customs mark the celebration of Ascension Day which is the holiday when everyone tries to get into the country for picnics and outdoor festivities. In the villages of Fienstedt, Godewitz, Salzmunde, Zornitz, Gorsleben, and Krimpe, in the Mansfeld district of the State of Saxony-Anhalt, the drinking of "Ascension beer" is traditional to the day.

    According to thirteenth-century documents of these hamlets, villagers are commanded to drink beer on this day in memory of the Countess Elizabeth; for it was she, in olden times, who relieved the inhabitants of the payment of tithes.

    Himmelfahrtstag (which always falls on a Thursday) is the accepted time for men to get together with other men on excursions to the country. According to one informant, this custom started in Berlin. In the nineteenth century the male merrymakers hired a horse-drawn Kremser, or charabanc, to take them out of town. Later, buses, trucks, motor launches, and little steamers--all decorated with festive streamers, garlands, and pennants--were chartered for the men's day of freedom. Often clubs hike part of the way to some point of scenic interest.

    Hearty refreshments of food, beer, and wine are features of the excursions; and even if hubands return home at night a little the worse for wear, wives are not expected to complain.

PFINGSTEN (Pentecost or Whitsun) The fiftieth day after Easter

    Pentecost, even more than Ascension Day, is a great spring holiday which everyone tries to spend in the country. In both urban and rural communities houses and doorways are decorated with birch branches in honor of spring. Characteristic Pfingsten ceremonies and customs take place in many different parts of the country.

    Near Schramberg in the Black Forest, for example, shepherds assemble on the Fohrenbuhl Hill to do a brisk business in buying and selling cowbells. Bells of varying sizes and tones are tried out, both singly and together, for every shepherd wants to acquire a harmonious set of bells.

    Once the day's business is transacted, the shepherds choose partners and dance the Hanzmeltanz, a traditional country dance which is performed around a sheep. The dancers hand a staff back and forth between them. Suddenly a bell rings. The shepherd who happens to be holding the staff at the moment receives the sheep as prize.

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« Reply #72 on: April 29, 2009, 03:25:09 pm »

 In parts of the Harz Mountains, noted for the breeding of song birds, members of the local Finkenklubs, or Finch Clubs, enter their birds in singing contests. The winning bird's cage is decorated with flowers. Later in the day the villagers assemble to sing the old folk songs of the district.

    A Pentecost Bride and Bridegroom are features of the celebration at Kotzting, in Franconia, which is noted for the colorful procession of some two hundred horsemen, who perform the annual Pfingstritt, or Pentecostal Ride. The horsemen, led by the priests carrying church banners and crosses, make a pilgrimage to the Steinbuhl church in the Zeller valley.

    Deldesheim in the Rhenish Palatinate, is famed for its annual auction of a buck goat at Pentecost. This custom dates back to the early fifteenth century. According to tradition Kaiser Rupprecht commanded, in 1404, that the city of Lambrecht should each year provide a buck as tribute for use of the Deidesheim forest and pasture lands. The ancient custom has been observed for over five hundred years.

DER MEISTERTRUNK (The Master Draught), in Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, State of Bavaria Whitsuntide

    Each Whitsuntide the ancient city of Rothenburg honors the memory of Georg Nusch, the man who, in 1631, took one of the most famous drinks in history and so saved the town's councilmen from death and her inhabitants from humiliation. The celebration takes the form of a historical pageant in which over a thousand of Rothenburg's citizens reenact, in colorful period costume, the drama of the siege of their city in the Thirty Years' War.

    According to legend General Tilly's victorious army stood within Rothenburg's walls and declared that all members of the town council were to be hanged. Moved at last by the entreaties of the councilmen's wives and daughters, the enemy general finally changed the sentence and declared that only four councilmen, chosen by lot, would be put to death.

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« Reply #73 on: April 29, 2009, 03:25:22 pm »

The whole history of Rothenburg might have been changed had not the Pokal, the huge state beaker, which was filled to the brim with the town's best wine, been brought in at this moment. The drinking vessel, which held three quarts, was quaffed again and again by Tilly and his aides, who passed it from hand to hand around the table. Some of the liquid still remained, even after repeated draughts.

    Then Tilly suddenly had an idea: If there was a Rothenburg man, he declared, who could drink the contents of the goblet at a single draught, and who would be willing to do so, knowing that the wine was poisoned, that man could save the council members from hanging!

    A deep hush fell over the room. Finally the silence was broken by Georg Nusch, an ex-burgomaster, who volunteered to accept the challenge.

    The story goes that Georg Nusch, in the presence of the amazed General Tilly and his companions as well as his fellow Rothenburgers, drained the three-quart Pokal and then fainted. According to recently discovered documents, the wine was not really poisoned; but the brave Nusch, willing to sacrifice his life for the councilmen, believed that it was.

    It was the ex-burgomaster's heroic exploit which saved four men from hanging and Rothenburg from occupation. The historic event, which now has become almost a folk legend, is reenacted each Whitsuntide, and once or twice during the summer, in the ancient town of Rothenburg.

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« Reply #74 on: April 29, 2009, 03:25:35 pm »

FRONLEICHNAMS-FEST (Corpus Christi Day) The Thursday following Trinity Sunday

    Corpus Christi Day is celebrated throughout Catholic Germany with picturesque processions through streets that are charmingly decorated with flowers and garlands of green. Crucifixes and pictures of Christ are prominently displayed from window ledges and the steps of cottages and village fountains. In many places people display bright hangings and spread carpets before their houses in honor of the Sacrament and the large crucifix that are carried through the parish. One of the most beautiful features of the processions is the group of children, dressed in white with flower chaplets on their heads and nosegays of fragrant blossoms in their hands. Girls and women in magnificent regional costume add further distinction to the joyous event.

    Probably the most dramatic of all Corpus Christi processions are those of Lakes Staffelsee and Chiemsee, in Upper Bavaria, which take place on the water, rather than in the streets.

    Boats adorned with flowers and garlands and carrying church banners and holy symbols, glide across the lakes and are reflected in the crystal clear waters. Devout worshippers following in other boats chant liturgies which fill the still air with music and echo solemnly across the lakes.

SOMMERSONNENWENDE (Summer Solstice) June 23

    Bands of young people march singing to hills and open places to build enormous bonfires in honor of the summer solstice. First comes a picnic supper, which is eaten in the early summer twilight. Then the Johannisfeuer, or Saint John's fire, is lighted. Boys and girls dance and sing old folk ballads about the huge bonfire. The more hardy lads leap through the flames, while young lovers join hands and try to jump over the fire together. If they succeed, they never will be parted, according to current folk belief.

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