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Holidays & Celebrations Vatertag Explained

Anyone from countries that celebrate Father’s Day by bringing dad breakfast in bed and playing football in the yard may be confused by the German tradition.

Celebrating Vatertag

Vatertag in Hamburg

Although it might be difficult to believe, Germany’s take on Father’s Day is historically connected to the Christian holiday of Ascension. As early as the 16th century, people took to the fields on Ascension Day to pray for a fruitful harvest. After prayers, celebrations were common, with beer, mead and ale flowing freely.

By the 18th century, another component was added to the celebration. The men of a village would be driven to the local plaza in carts, where the mayor would hand out prizes (often ham) to the men who had fathered the most children. By the late 19th century, religious elements of the day were already fading. Especially in urban centres like Hamburg, men were using the day the meet friends, hike and picnic.

After the introduction of Mothers’ Day in the early 20th century, Germany’s men (fathers and non-fathers alike) officially claimed Ascension Day as their own. While most religious elements of the historical Ascension celebration had since faded with time, men adapted the remaining traditions to suit their needs.

Today, men still take to the fields (and now parks, beaches and forests as well). But rather than pray for a bountiful harvest, they get to the drinking right away. And they do so with great passion and creativity. It is traditional for groups of men to carry their beverages of choice through nature in handcarts, which are often decorated elaborately for the occasion and outfitted with a stereo or portable speaker. Passersby might even spot the occasional fully furnished bars on wheels, complete with a tap system and barbecue grill!

In Hamburg, many of these groups will concentrate around the Alster lakes, the city park and the other larger parks in the city.

While everyone is welcome to celebrate in the great outdoors on this public holiday, families may want to head for more out-of-the-way greenery to avoid the noise that often comes with the rowdy groups of men on this day. 

Vatertag 2021

German Father's Day takes place on 13 May, 2021. Please remember that all COVID-19 related restrictions must still be observed on this day.

Vatertag Explained