Halloween first came to Germany in 1994.
Prior to 1994, I was one of the few Germans who knew about Halloween, because I grew up in the USA. In October I would carve a small pumpkin and place it in my window with a candle to remind myself of how much fun I had in my childhood.
I will never forget the time, I think it was 1992, when an older couple stopped directly in front of my window and stared at my little carved jack-o-lantern.
"What is that?" the woman asked the man. "I have no idea" he replied. "I don't know either," she said, "but it's sooooo cute!" In Germany today there are Halloween decorations and carved pumpkins everywhere, just like in USA. But before the mid-1990's, there was nothing and nobody knew anything about Halloween.
The celtic tradition of All Hollow's Eve has its origin in Ireland and it was the Irish immigrants to America who introduced Halloween there in the 19th century. The celtic practices to drive out evil spirits also influenced German culture in the festival we call carnival or in my region Fastnacht which takes place in late winter/early spring right before Ash Wednesday.
In Germany, the traditions around the festival Karnival date back to the 13th century. By the 18th century, Karnival was well established as a festival where people would get dressed in costumes, dance and party and have a great time.
In southern Germany where I live, the Swabian-Alemannic version of carnival called Fastnacht didn't get well-established until the 20th century. It is uniquely characterized by witch costumes featuring carved and painted wooden masks which are featured in today's blog.
So how did Halloween come to Germany and why was it in 1994?
Now that you know how much Germans love to get dressed up in costumes and party, can you can imagine what it was like the year Karnival got cancelled??
You don't cancel a festival which has been going on every year for centuries without a really good reason. In 1991, a few days before Karnival, German soldiers were killed in the Golf War and the government decided, out of respect to the families of the soldiers, that it was inappropriate to allow people to party as usual, so they cancelled Karnival at the last minute.(*1)
It cost the candy, costume and party industry millions. The trade association representing all the different Karnival-related industries did not want to ever suffer such losses again. So they did some brainstorming to find ways to make up for lost revenues and came up with the idea to introduce Halloween in Germany and started a massive marketing campaign over the next years.
24 years later, in 2018, German retailers and manufacturers earned 320 million Euro in additional revenue from Halloween. (*2) From a business perspective this was a brillant move to have two events per year instead of just one.
Today there's an entire generation of young German parents who have always known Halloween in Germany. Tonight, on October 31st, parents throughout Germany will be taking their kids "trick or treating" and ringing my doorbell just like in America, all because of marketing.
You might also enjoy my blog Carnival in Germany 2019