Germans observe Pentecost Sunday, Monday

by Petra Lessoing
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Courtesy photoIn Deisdesheim, the billy-goat auction, a Pentecostal tradition, takes place 5:45 p.m. Tuesday.
Courtesy photo
In Deisdesheim, the billy-goat auction, a Pentecostal tradition, takes place 5:45 p.m. Tuesday.

Germans will observe “Pfingsten,” or Pentecost, Sunday and Monday. The religious fest takes its name from the Greek word “pentekoste,” which means 50th. Christians celebrate Pentecost, also called Whitsun, the 50th day after Easter, because they believe that’s when God sent down his Holy Spirit.

After receiving the Holy Spirit, the Apostles started spreading the new Gospel to the world. That’s why the fest is also to celebrate the foundation of the church.

In Old Testament times, the fest had the character of a harvest fest and in late Judaism, Pentecost was the day to commemorate the foundation of the Israelites in the Sinai, 50 days after the exodus from Egyptian oppression.

Pentecost Monday is considered an official holiday in Germany. Stores, banks and official institutions will be closed.

Some areas in Germany observe specific Pentecostal customs. In Bavaria, people dress in the national costumes of their region, walk in processions to church and pray for a good harvest. In Franconia, horsemen perform the annual Pentecostal ride. Led by priests, they carry church banners and crosses to church.

In the KMC, the towns of Schmalenberg and Schopp stick to some Pentecostal traditions. In Schmalenberg, boys and men cut branches from pines, birches and brooms and create three skirts, which the so-called “Quack” has to wear from his neck down during the parade through town. He also wears a hat made of thin rods. The Quack figure symbolizes spring. Sunday afternoon, children go from house to house and collect flowers, which they tie to the hat as well. The men spend the night in a barn, watch the green costume and from time to time they go through town singing the traditional “Quack” song. Monday at 9 a.m., the parade with the “Quack” in his costume and children carrying colored Pentecost rods, go through  Schmalenberg led by a colorful decorated horse. A village fest with eating of wood-stove bread is scheduled to start after the ride. Visitors can taste bread baked in the historical village baking oven.

In Schopp, the Pentecostal ride through the village usually starts at 6 a.m. Pentecost Monday.
The biggest traditional Pentecost event in the vicinity is the historical auction of a billy goat in Deidesheim every Tuesday after Pentecost. For the 606th time this event takes place  this year. According to a document from 1404 by King Ruprecht, residents of Lambrecht, which is a neighboring town of Deidesheim, had the right to use the Deidesheim forests as pastureland.

Contracts between the former monastery of Lambrecht and the town of Deidesheim mention that people in Lambrecht had to pay with a good-looking billy goat for the use of the forests. The youngest citizen of Lambrecht had to take the billy goat to Deidesheim and tie it to the town hall before sunrise the Tuesday after Pentecost. He then received a bottle of wine and a cheese sandwich. In the late afternoon, the billy goat was put up for auction to fill the town’s cash-box.

Throughout the years there was a lot of arguing about the shape and the condition of the billy goat. In 1808, Napoleon even got involved and signed an edict saying the pasture rights would be granted for a “well horned and capable billy goat.” Between the years 1851 and 1857, the billy goats were not accepted. The case had to be taken to the Zweibrücken court, which decided that in 1858 eight billy goats had to be delivered.

Today, it’s up to the most recently married couple to deliver the billy goat. Together with the Mayor of Lambrecht and other officials they walk to the Deidesheim town hall. According to new regulations they don’t have to arrive before 10 a.m. Tuesday. Here, the Deidesheim city council, school children and groups in national costumes greet the Lambrecht group.

A fest with music, folk group dancing, drinking and eating starts in the afternoon. The traditional auction is from 5:45 to 6 p.m. The prices paid for the billy goat reflect the people’s economical situation. In good years, people paid up to €5,000 for the billy goat. Last year, a private person bought the goat for €2,600.

Deidesheim is located on the German Wine Street between Bad Dürkheim and Neustadt.