Word of the Week: Rübengeister

Oct 31, 2014

Rübengeist Enlarge image (© LoKiLeCh / Wikimedia Commons) It's Halloween! If you live in the US, you're probably carving scary faces into pumpkins and sticking a candle in the middle. But if you live in Germany, maybe Jack-o'-lanterns aren't your choice: instead, some Germans decorate their homes with so-called Rübengeister ("root vegetable ghosts")! Sounds festive, right?

Rübengeister are funny or scary-looking faces carved into root vegetables such as turnips, sugar beets, or mangelwurzel (Germany has quite a variety of root vegetables). Typically, Germans will use a spoon to carve out the inside of the vegetable, as well as its face. Similar to Halloween pumpkins, Germans will place a candle inside their Rübengeist.

It's not clear when the tradition of carving Rübengeister originated, but some believe it was initially associated with the German Erntedankfest ("harvest festival"). But Rübengeister pop up during many occasions at various times of the year, and have little to do with the Americanized version of Halloween.

During the Swabian-Alemannic Fastnacht, a carnival before Lent, children wear masks and carry Rübengeister from house to house while singing songs and asking for donations.

"Wir sind die Rübengeister und geh'n von Haus zu Haus, wir bitten um 'ne Gabe, dann geh'n wir wieder nach Haus!"

"We are the Rübengeister, we go from house to house, we ask for a donation, and then we'll go back home!"

In many regions across Germany, children will also create Rübengeister in honor of Allerheiligen (All Saint's Day) on November 1. Generally speaking, most Rübengeister pop up during autumnal festivals in Germany. In some places, they can also be seen on St. Martin's Day.

pumpkin Enlarge image (© picture alliance ) But looking at pictures of Rübengeister, you can't help but see the similarities they have with our American Jack-o'-lanterns. If you want to spice up your Halloween this year, maybe you should carve a Middle European root vegetable instead of a pumpkin! Happy Halloween!

By Nicole Glass, Editor of The Week in Germany

© Germany.info

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Word of the Week: Allerheiligen

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (about 1223-24), National Gallery, London

The spooky and sugar-charged good times had by all on Halloween precedes "Allerheiligen," or All Saints' Day, which is observed in many Christian countries on Nov. 1. Check out the Word of the Week to read more about this annual holiday.