Germany Enters Annual Month of Mourning | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 01.11.2008
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Germany Enters Annual Month of Mourning

In Germany the month of November is one of remembrance and commemoration. Starting with Nov. 1, Germans honor their dearly departed on several different dates. A few festive days pop up as well.

Many lit, white candles

In Germany, November is filled with days commemorating the dead

Every year on Nov. 1, Christians observe All Saints' Day, a general commemoration of the dead.

Introduced as a feast for all martyrs and saints by Holy Roman Emperor Louis the Pious back in 835 AD, it has become the main day on which Christians visit the graves of their loved ones.

The departed were originally commemorated on All Souls' Day, on Nov. 2, a holiday established by St. Odilo, abbot of Cluny (994-1048) in present-day France.

He decreed that all of the Benedictine monasteries in his large congregation offer Masses and psalms for the dead, and also distribute alms to the poor, on the day after All Saints' Day.

In 1915, Pope Benedict XV made the Feast of All Souls a day of mourning for the entire Roman Catholic Church.

Walter Poetzl, an expert on German traditions from the Swabia region, noted that almsgiving was closely associated with practices to honor the dead.

Food for thought

A bakery

Bread, one of Germans' greatest loves, even has its place in rituals of remembrance

He said there was evidence from 1762 that inhabitants of the Swabian town of Oberschoenenfeld hung a "Seelenbreze," literally "soul pretzel," on grave crosses.

Baked goods, including rolls and plait-shaped pieces, have played an important role in All Souls' Day, he said.

The custom of giving one's godchild a "Seelenwecken," or "soul roll," on Nov. 1 has survived in a few areas of Swabia and upper Bavaria.

Made of leavened dough in the shape of an ellipse, the roll is meant to symbolize the soul.

On All Saints' Day in the 15th century, people placed some "soul plaits" or bread loaves on graves, and then passed out others to "poor souls" living in poverty.

Graveyard rituals

The first two days of November are marked by visits to cemeteries, where people decorate the graves of loved ones and place candles, protected by little glass lanterns, around them to burn through the night. They plant autumn flowers and berry bushes, and lay wreaths.

Inhabitants of Bavaria's Allgaeu region have preserved the custom of smoothing the surfaces of grave mounds and sprinkling them with ground charcoal or bog earth.

White sand is then used to depict crosses or "pax," the Latin word for "peace," on the graves.

A twig from a box tree is placed in the holy-water font to bless the gravesite.

November in Germany is a month with many days of remembrance. On Nov. 3, hunters celebrate St. Hubert's Day. Three days later is St. Leonard's Day, when horse processions and horse blessings traditionally take place.

St. Martin's Day, on Nov. 11, is enjoyed especially by children, who take part in lantern processions. Many families still follow the tradition of eating goose on this day.

Wreathes are laid in commemoration of the National Day of Mourning

The National Day of Mourning honors the soldiers and civilians killed in Germany's wars

The Sunday a fortnight before the start of Advent, November 16 this year, is the National Day of Mourning ( Volkstrauertag), which honors the soldiers and civilians killed in Germany's wars.

The following Wednesday, Nov. 19 this year, is the Day of Repentance and Prayer, long a day of penitence and still an important Protestant feast even though it is no longer a public holiday except in the state of Saxony.

The Feast of St. Elizabeth falls on the same day this year. On the last Sunday before Advent, Nov. 23 this year, Protestants mark Totensonntag, literally "Sunday of the Dead," a feast that looks ahead to Judgment Day. It coincides this year with International Children's Rights Day.

The mood gets festive again on Nov. 25, St Catherine's Day, when dancing is allowed before the traditionally solemn pre-Christmas period of Advent.

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