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Festivals of Western Europe

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Perseus
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« Reply #60 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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