The Complex History Of Oktoberfest, And How It Is Influenced By Paganism

Influenced By Paganism

Like many other holidays, Oktoberfest stems from an ages-old pagan seasonal celebration in this case, the bringing in of the harvest, and the consuming of the last of the summer beer stock. It’s a time for families and communities to give thanks for another successful crop and to joyously clear the kegs for winter brewing.

The History of Oktoberfest

There are two conflicting accounts of how this ancient celebration developed. Some claim that it began as a Christian ritual to remember the baptism of Christ, but that story would’ve predated the first German settlement of Austria by at least a thousand years. But the other legend the old Germanic harvest celebration is far more plausible. The celebration was, like many other late summer pagan festivals, a time of drinking, dancing, and fun.

Why is Oktoberfest Held in October?

As autumn in Europe began, with the harvest and fall temperatures, certain Germanic tribes who were Christian or nominally Christian began celebrating the ancient Germanic festivals of Samhain and Yule in celebration of the end of the “darker half” of the year. The festival of Samhain, or the festival of the dead, is marked by the festival of Hogmanay in Scotland and the November celebrations in Ireland, and is one of the oldest and most ancient festivals celebrated in Western Europe.  Advertisement – Continue Reading Below  As the Gaelic and Germanic cultures fell under the control of Roman rule, the festivals became more secular.

What Exactly is the Meaning of “Oktoberfest”?

On the one hand, the two most well-known components of Oktoberfest, the parade and the Beer tent, are what many people consider the official reasons why this unique beer festival began, and still exists in today’s modern setting. The Oktoberfest festivities, beginning a week before the Septemberfest that precedes it, are meant to celebrate the beginning of the harvest season in Germany, as well as to celebrate the marriage between Bavaria’s most prominent princess, Princess Christine of Swabia, and King Ludwig I of Bavaria, a process that lasted almost three years.  Unfortunately for anyone who thought the events of Septemberfest were strictly about lager, there are several German customs surrounding the holiday that help to give it a clear religious overtones.

How do Germans Celebrate?

In fact, the German festival is one of the most widely celebrated celebrations on the planet not only does the world celebrate it in Europe, but also in Germany, Japan, Poland and the United States. While it has evolved over the centuries into its modern form, the origins of the festivities are the celebration of the fertility of the earth, summer harvest and reuniting of the tribes during their yearly migration back to the North.  The original Oktoberfest known as the “Weiherzogen” or weihnachtlicher Brauch was celebrated from the last week of October to the first week of November, and each town would hold its own celebration at a different location. As the festival became popular throughout the land, it became the common time that the locals would celebrate.

Is it Just a Beer Festival?

Though it is generally known for beer, in ancient times it was known as “the festival of the field.” When the first Germanic people settled in Bavaria, they built large wooden round towers over sacred and historical sites, so that they could take shelter from lightning strikes, and they hoisted large flags, also called “krauts,” to show their nationality. These were the same krauts that the Saxons and the Scandinavians had used before they were defeated by the Germans.  Although Oktoberfest is normally thought of as a festival that emphasizes beer and sausages, it is much, much more than that. The festivities at the Bavarian festival also include games, dancing, and music. They are intended to raise money for charity, as well.


So, is your favorite German or Austrian beer a great substitute for that Pilsner you can’t bear to give up? While it’s unlikely there’s any real substitute for the more traditional brews, it’s certainly possible to enjoy the many fine options currently being offered by craft beer and microbreweries from all over the world, at home or in the local bars, without falling into despair at the thought of ending your brew streak.

Linda Green

Linda Green

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