Father’s day in Germany is so much more than gifting a tie. This public holiday is a day off work for everybody, and a chance for men to act like boys. Known as Vatertag (also Männertag), it involves drinking lots of beer, riding a beer bike, and, unfortunately, little responsibility.
Germany’s Vatertag coincides with Ascension Day (Christi Himmelfahrt in German). It happens every year on the fortieth day after Easter on a Thursday in May.
But in Germany you’re more likely to see day-drinking debauchery than pious reverence for the holiday (unless you’re in Bavaria) and it’s not just because people are excited not to work. It is a national holiday around the country and the Friday following is usually a Bruckentag (bridge day) providing for a 4-day weekend. That means you can have one drunken day out and three days to recover.
The holiday actually has noble beginnings in the Middle Ages as a religious ceremony honoring Gott, den Vater (God, the father). Towards the 1700s, the day transformed into Vatertag, a family day honoring the father of the household. Men would be carted into the village center and the father with the most children would earn a reward, often a large ham.
It fell completely out of favor for a while, but made a comeback in the 19th century as Männertag. Losing the focus on dear old dad, it was billed as a “boys’ day out” or by its more positive euphemism for “gentlemen parties”. How that has transformed to today’s celebrations where there is nary a gentlemen to be seen is still a question.
While celebrations are generally men only, it is not limited to fathers. Any male with Männlichkeitswahn (machismo) and a desire to indulge in their caveman side can participate in Vatertag.
Popular activities for Father’s Day in Germany
- Pub tour of your favorite bars (Männerrunde)
- Indulge in the drinks, eats, and atmosphere of Germany’s many Biergartens
- Group bike ride with a Bollerwagen (hand wagon) of booze or by beer bike
- Reserve spots in a beer hall for your group to drink and sing your way through the day
- Gather in a park with games like Boules, a grill and crates of beer, schnaps and mixers
If you’d like to honor your father, gifts are of course appreciated. Something as simple as a call is expected, or you can get creative. Better yet, buy papa a German beer to fit the spirit of the holiday.
Whatever the day brings, alcohol is likely to be involved. Männertag’s reputation as a Sauftag (drinking day) has made it unpopular among some segments of the public and – understandably – with the Polizei (police).
According to the UDV (German insurers accident research institute) there are three times as many alcohol-related traffic accidents on Männertag. Please remember: wherever the day takes you, it is your responsibility. Abide by all laws and regulations and be respectful of the authorities. Männertag is only one day a year, you don’t want to pay for it with the other 364.
For those that want to opt out of the celebrations, it is still a day off in May that offers the chance to enjoy beautiful weather. Stay out of the bars, avoid roving groups of men, and enjoy your holiday.