German traditions can be quite confusing – especially when there’s more than one holiday on a single day! This is why we’d like to explain why groups of males do hiking tours on Ascension Day.
Ascension Day is the Thursday forty days after Easter and it’s traditionally a Christian Holiday which commemorates the bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven. That’s the religious background and as it’s a federal holiday in Germany lots of employees use a “Brückentag” (bridging day) to extend their weekend. Even some schools are closed on the Friday following Ascension Day.
To find out why groups of males do hiking tours – and often get drunk – on this day, we need to travel back a bit in time:
In the 18th century, people began to do processions in the farmlands on Ascension Day. These Ascension Day’s processions meant that men, who were seated in a wooden cart, were carried to a village’s main square. There the mayor awarded a prize to the father who had the most children – usually that prize was a big piece of ham. This is why the day is also called Father’s Day.
During the 19th century the religious component became less and less important and in the 20th century the consumption of hearty food and lots of alcohol had become a major part of the tradition.
Today, Father’s day is in some regions also called Men’s Day (“Männertag”) or Gentlemen’s Day (“Herrentag”) and the men, who go on hiking trips, don’t necessarily have to be fathers, although pre-teenage boys are usually excluded. Nowadays, the tradition still includes wagons, but they are only small handcarts – called “Bollerwagen” – that are filled with wine or beer and traditional regional food, the “Hausmannskost”.
Did you know? Hausmannskost can be translated as home cooking, but then the traditional meaning behind the word gets lost: The “Hausmann” or “Hausvater” means head of the family, whose status privileged him to get more and better food than the rest of the family. During the last centuries “better” food meant that it consisted of more meat and fat and was far more substantial than the meagre meals of the lower classes. Nowadays, Hausmannskost refers to hearty meals that not only contain lots of meat, but also sound like typical German clichés: Sausages or knuckle of pork, sauerkraut, dumplings, lumps etc.
So if you see groups of men, pulling their Bollerwagen as they hike through the landscape, you now know what this tradition is all about.