Word of the Week: Sonnenwendfeier

Jun 22, 2012

Every Friday, Germany.info and The Week in Germany highlight a different "Word of the Week" in the German language that may serve to surprise, delight or just plain perplex native English speakers.


© picture-alliance/dpa Enlarge image (© picture-alliance/dpa) Many Germans - like the Scandinavians - celebrate the "Sonnendwendfeier", an annual midsummer festival marking the summer solstice, or longest day of the year, on June 20 or 21.

The marking of the summer solstice dates back to pre-Christian, pagan times across northern Europe. Stonehenge, for instance, was erected in England to mark the "Sonnenwende" (solstice), which occurs twice per year - the "Wintersonnenwende" (winter solstice) on December 21 or 22, and the "Sommersonnenwende" (summer solstice), marked from June 20 to 23 (or a later date, depending on the country in question).

A traditional "Sonnenwendfeier" involves the lighting of a big, blazing bonfire. Villagers, for instance, might gather around such a fire on a field in the northern German states of Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony or Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. They will hang out together at the fire, which might become the center of a local "Volksfest" with sausages, beer and other items for sale. (In the same vein, many Germans set up "Osterfeuer" (Easter fires) in their own backyards, which they observe with friends, family and neighbors.)

In the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia, many cityfolk will drive out into the surrounding countryside and light such summer solstice fires, around which they will launch lively outdoor celebrations that last late into the night. (Legend has it that many children are also conceived on this particular night!)

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