Public holidays in Germany are not determined at a national level. Each of the 16 federal states is in charge of making its own decisions when it comes to allowing workers to stay home. In contrast to all of the other 15 states in Germany, here in Saxony you are officially not going to work on the Wednesday, November 16th, and here is why you don’t have to get up early:
The German Buß- und Bettag stands for the day of repentance and prayer and has its origins in the very human nature of searching for divine intervention during times of difficulty. It is said to have stemmed from roman traditions, when in seasons of bad harvests or wartimes, acts of prayer and sacrifice were believed to attract the mercy of the gods. More specifically, the holiday celebrated in the evangelical/Lutheran context as it exists today, has its origins in the fears brought on by the Ottoman Wars in Europe, back in the 16th century.
In fact, until 1934, before religious authorities decided to establish an official repentance day (the last Wednesday before the Sunday of the Dead, called “Totensonntag”), there were about 47 repentance fests falling on 24 different days in Germany alone.
Under the nationalist-socialist regime, the government saw the need for an extra working day, thereby delaying Buß- und Bettag to the Sunday following the holy Wednesday, which in practice abolished the holiday. Long after the war, the public holiday was reintroduced in 1981, in all German federal states.
It was not until 1994 that Buß- und Bettag turned out to be a working holiday, when funds for the reorganization of the federal nursing care system (“Pflegeversicherung”) were needed. The proposal consisted in increasing the labour working time by one day, without a corresponding wage increase. As a result, the Buß- und Bettag holiday would first start in the evening after work – becoming so a working holiday and delivering in this manner the extra labour revenue which would serve for financing the federal nursing care insurance.
All German federal states agreed to the reform, apart from Saxony. Instead, in Saxony a higher charge on labour revenues would substitute the end of the non-working Wednesday. In figures, the charge corresponds to 0.5% more tax for the compulsory nursing care insurance. For many non-religious workers, this may be a real reason for getting repentant feelings.
In short, you are finally enjoying a deserved holiday, but it isn’t really coming for free.