A Quick Guide to German Holidays and Phrases

A Quick Guide to German Holidays and Phrases

Learning the practical aspects of a language is important, but it can feel like you don't have any practical use in those early days. That's one reason why some language teachers introduce students to holidays.

There are so many reasons to celebrate all year, and that gives you something you can start to use almost from the beginning. You don’t' have to understand the grammar to know what you are saying. Celebrating a holiday or event makes it really easy to understand the sentiment behind the words.

From birthdays and anniversaries to German holidays, this article covers the phrases that you will certainly use during the first year of learning the language. And you will get to use it every year after you learn. Years from now, these are the phrases you will probably still remember, if you have forgotten the rest.


The Familiar and The New

Many of the holidays and events that you already celebrate are celebrated in Germany too. Then there are a few holidays that they have that are unique to their culture.
Here is a quick list of most of the big holidays and celebrations in Germany in following table.

English Holidays German Holidays
Birthdays Geburtstag
Anniversaries Hochzeitstag or Jubiläum
St. Nicholas Day Nikolaustag
Christmas Eve Heiligabend
Christmas Weihnachten
Second Day of Christmas Zweiter Weihnachten
New Year's Eve Silvester
New Year Neujahr
Epiphany(another bigger holiday in Germany) Heilige Drei Könige
Groundhog Day Candlemas
Valentine's Day Valentinstag
Mardi Gras Fashing or Karneval
April Fool's Day Erster April
Easter Ostern
Mother's and Father's Days Muttertag and Vattertag
Michaelmas(Feast of St. Michael the Archangel) Michaelis der Michaelistag
Thanksgiving(this is different than the one in the US and falls in September) Erntedankfest
Memorial Day and Veteran's Day National Day of Mourning(comparable to Memorial Day and Veteran's Day)
Day of German Unity Tag der Deutschen Einheit
Halloween, All Saints' Day, and All Soul's Day Halloween, Allerheiligen, Allerseelen

A quick look at the list, and you probably feel that their holidays are incredibly familiar - and they are. Many European countries and countries heavily influenced by them (like the US and Canada) have the same holidays and many of the same traditions.

We all love St. Nick, for example.

This makes it a lot easier to remember the phrases because you already know what those phrases mean. Some of the best language learning apps even include specific lessons during these times of the year, giving an easy way to learn phrases when you need them.

decorating Christmas tree

Established German Holidays

Many of their holidays are tied into the Christian religion, and the dates are the same. Christmas and New Year are set on the same day around the world. The movable holidays, like Easter and Mother's Day, fall on the same calendar days in Germany as in English speaking countries. Though their traditions are different, the intentions and meaning behind these holidays are the same.

Others holidays and celebrations, such as Thanksgiving and the Day of German Unity, are specific to German culture. Yes, most countries have a Thanksgiving, but no countries celebrate it the same. Nor does it have exactly the same meaning.

Of course, Oktoberfest is familiar to most people today, and that is because many countries fell in love with the German celebration of the fall. It's also one of the few times where you will see English speaking countries adapting the German name in its entirety. This will help you to remember the slight difference between spelling October in English, and spelling Oktober in German.

hand holding flowers

A Bit about Holiday Traditions

Europe has been borrowing holiday traditions from each other ever since Rome fell. Many of the most familiar traditions of Christmas come from Germany, including the Christmas Tree. The celebration of St. Nikolas is much bigger in Germany than in the US, largely because he was born very close to Germany. The saint was born in Patara, Lycia, now modern-day Turkey, which was really close to Germany.

In many German speaking countries, St. Nikolas visits on 6 December, not Christmas Eve. Presents are left in children's shoes. Yes, this means that they start getting presents at the beginning of the month. However, they celebrate many other Christmas specific traditions beyond Christmas Eve, Day, and St. Nikolas.

In German speaking countries, Christmas is more like a season, starting with Advent. Every day, you pop open a door of a calendar counting down the days until Christmas. Behind the door is a piece of chocolate. The Advent calendar is one month's worth of chocolate, so they get to feel excitement every day for a month leading up to Christmas day. This is in addition to a day dedicated to St. Nick.

When it comes to opening Christmas presents, children get to do that on Christmas Eve (Heiligabend), not the next morning. Then they have two full days of celebrating Christmas. The full celebration does not end until 6 January with Heilige Drei Könige (Epiphany). This is a day off of work and school in Austria and several large areas of Germany.

Halloween is not nearly as well celebrated in German speaking countries, thought it has been growing in popularity over the last couple of decades.

Oktoberfest is a lot different in Germany than in English speaking countries too. It has changed a lot since it started. It used to be a way for workers to get together to celebrate after harvesting the crops. When the 200th anniversary of the celebration occurred in 2010, it was significantly different. Today it is more a celebration of the German culture and history, giving people a reason to try a special beer and enjoy each other's company right before the winter really sets in.

cake and flowers

Holiday Phrases

There are many phrases for the diverse range of holidays, but most of them are going to have an English equivalent that will help you learn them a bit faster.

Happy Birthday! - Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag! or Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!
Happy Anniversary! (wedding) - Alles Gute zum Hochzeitstag!
Happy Anniversary! (work or personal anniversary, not a marriage anniversary) - Alles Gute zum Jubiläum.
Have a wonderful winter vacation!! - Schönen Winterurlab!
Happy Holidays! or Season's Greetings - Frohe Feiertage! or Frohe Festtage!
Merry Christmas! - Frohe Weihnachten!
See you next year! - Bis zum nächsten Jahr!
Best wishes for the New Year! - Die besten Wünsche für das neue Jahr!
Happy New Year! - Herzlichen Glückliches Neues Jahr!

These should be enough to help you get through the biggest holidays, and you will get a chance to use several times a year. Especially around the winter holidays.

speechling freestyle model

How to Speak German Phrases Naturally

To better use the phrases, take the time to review YouTube videos and other apps, then practice them before you use them in the real world. Of course. if you have a German friend who can help – even better. You can also look for an online teacher or find a language exchange buddy to help get some practice before using them out in public.
Speechling also has many of the necessary tools to help you practice what you learned here so that you can speak them naturally. When you use its Freestyle Mode (Say anything) in skill-tree, you just need to type them in and speak them aloud. Make sure to record what you said and upload it for your German coach, who will help you improve your pronunciation.
Whatever method you use, feedback by a native German speaker helps to master the holiday phrases.