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PUBLIC HOLIDAYS

Three Kings’ Day: What you should know about Germany’s public holiday in three states

Monday marks Three Kings' Day, a public holiday in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Saxony-Anhalt. We look at how and why it's celebrated.

Three Kings' Day: What you should know about Germany's public holiday in three states
Children dressed as star singers in Trier, where Three Kings Day was celebrated with the city's Bishop in 2017. Photo: DPA

When does it take place?

“Tag der heiligen Drei Könige” (Epiphany Day) takes place on January 6th each year, and signifies the end of Christmas time: normally Christmas markets must close by this date and similarly many people take down their Christmas decoration at this time.

READ ALSO: What and where are Germany's public holidays in 2021?

For students, this day also marks start of school and university, and for many Germans in general it marks the start of the new working year, since many take leave from their jobs during the holidays.

How is “Heilige Drei Könige” celebrated In Germany?

On this day, many people light their Christmas tree for the last time, and then pack away their Christmas decorations. The day is an official public holiday in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Saxony-Anhalt, but is also celebrated in Christian and Catholic communities throughout the country. 

Also, many people, especially children, partake in “Sternsingen” (star singing).

Star singers in Obermarchtal, Baden-Württemberg in 2016. Photo: DPA

They go from door-to-door, dressed as the three kings, singing songs and collecting money for charitable causes and people in need.

When at each front door, they write the date and “C+M+B” on that door. This abbreviation stands for “Christus Mansionem Benedicat” and means Christ bless the house (not Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, the names of the kings).

This holiday can not only be viewed as a Christian celebration but also as a symbol for the beginning of a new year, with the coming of the wise men.

Meaning

“Tag der Heiligen Drei Könige” (Day of the Holy Three Kings) is known as Epiphany Day or simply Epiphany, but is often also referred to as “Dreikönigstag” (Three Kings Day), “Drei Könige” (Three Kings), or “Erscheinung des Herrn” (Appearance of the Lord).

How did this holiday originate?

Originally, this day was the feast “Epiphanias”, which is Greek for appearance and revelation.

On this day people would celebrate the birth and divinity of Jesus, and the adoration of the “Weisen aus dem Morgenland” (Wise men of the orient).

Only beginning in the 4th century, this celebration was divided into two separate ones: On the December 25th the birth of Jesus (Christmas) is celebrated, and on January 6th the visit of the wise men from the orient, who came with gifts for the baby Jesus.

During this change, the celebration on the January 6th was renamed to its current name “Heiligen Drei Könige” (but sometimes still referred to as Epiphanias).

What is the story behind the three holy kings?

The three holy kings, or three wise men, stem from the religious story of them being the “Sterndeuter” (asterisks), who followed the star of Bethlehem to where they found the newborn, Jesus, in the stable.

They were the first pagans to recognize the divinity of Jesus, and, therefor, they kneeled before him and presented him with many precious gifts.

Children dressed as star singers in the northern German city of Kiel. Photo: DPA

How did they receive their names?

Presumably, there were three men named Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.

The number of men is based on the fact that there were three gifts for Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

There are several varieties of names attributed to them, and stories on how they received their names.

Many believe that these men were originally named Appelius, Amerius and Damascus, all Hebrew names.

And since the 8th century they believe that they were called Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar because the names stem from the Mithras cult (A mystery cult centered around the Roman deity Mithras).

The men’s names correspond to figures of this cult: Caspar corresponds to Cautes, Melchior to Mithras, and Balthasar to Cautopates.

However, some believe in a different origin.

In this belief, the names are symbolic and derive from other languages. The Persian name Caspar means treasurer, the Hebrew names Melchior and Balthasar translate to King of Light and God will help.
 

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PUBLIC HOLIDAYS

How do Germany’s public holidays compare to other EU countries?

Germany has several public holidays each year. Here's what they are, and how they measure up to other countries around Europe.

How do Germany's public holidays compare to other EU countries?
Tourists at a newly reopened beachside resort in Westerland, Schleswig-Holstein over Whitsun weekend. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bodo Marks

Germany

Public holidays: 9 national, including some falling on a weekend, up to 14 regionally.

When are they? January 1st (New Year’s Day), Good Friday (April 2nd in 2021); Easter Monday (April 5th in 2021); May 1st (Labour Day); Ascension Day (May 13th in 2021); Pentecost (May 24th in 2021); October 3rd (German Unity Day); December 25th (Christmas); December 26th (Boxing Day).

What else do you need to know? If the holiday falls on a weekend, no substitute day is given. Bavaria is the state with the most public holidays.

Late last year, The Local asked readers in Germany if public holidays which fall on weekends should be compensated the coming week. An overwhelming majority were in favour.

READ ALSO: Should Germany ensure workers get a day off for every public holiday?

Many states have extra holidays: January 6th (Epiphany) in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Saxony-Anhalt; March 8th (International Women’s Day) in Berlin; Corpus Christi Day (June 3rd in 2021) in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Hessen; August 15th (Assumption Day) in Bavaria and Saarland; September 20th (World Children’s Day) in Thuringia; October 31st (Reformation Day) in Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Lower Saxony, Bremen, Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein; November 1st (All Saints Day) in Baden-Württemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland and Bavaria; Day of Repentance and Prayer (November 17th in 2021) in Saxony.

READ ALSO: What and when are Germany’s public holidays in 2021?

Austria

Public holidays: 13 national, including some falling on a weekend. Up to 15 regionally.

When are they? January 1st (New Year’s Day), January 6th (Epiphany), Easter Monday (April 5th in 2021), May 1st (Labour Day), Ascension Day (May 13th in 2021), Pentecost (May 24th in 2021), Corpus Christi Day (June 3rd in 2021), August 15th (Assumption Day), October 26th (National Day), November 1st (All Saints Day), December 8th (Feast of the Immaculate Conception), December 25th (Christmas), December 26th (Boxing Day)

What else do you need to know? If the holiday falls on a weekend, no substitute day is given.

Some states have additional public holidays: March 19th in Carinthia, Styria, Tyrol and Vorarlberg; May 4th in Upper Austria; October 10th in Carinthia; November 11th in Burgenland; November 15th in Lower Austria and Vienna.

In addition, three further days are bank holidays but not national public holidays: Good Friday (two days before Easter Sunday), December 24th and December 31st. Depending on your employer, you may get these off work.

Denmark

Public holidays: 10 national, including some falling on a weekend.

When are they? January 1st (New Year’s Day); Maundy Thursday (April 1st in 2021); Good Friday (April 2nd in 2021); Easter Monday (April 5th in 2021); General Prayer Day (April 30th in 2021); Ascension Day (May 13th in 2021); Pentecost (May 24th in 2021); December 24th (Christmas Eve); December 25th (Christmas); December 26th (Boxing Day).

What else do you need to know? If the holiday falls on a weekend, no substitute day is given.

Some industries also have May 1st (Labour Day) as a day off, while June 5th (Constitution Day) is a holiday for banks and government workers, with most shops closed too by law, but optional for the private sector.

Midsummer’s Eve (June 25th in 2021) and December 31st (New Year’s Eve) are not public holidays, but many employers treat them as such.

France

Public holidays: 10 national, including some falling on a weekend. Up to 12 regionally.

Fireworks illuminate the sky at the Eiffel Tower in Paris as France celebrates Bastille Day. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Yoan Valat

When are they? January 1st (New Year’s Day), Easter Monday (April 5th in 2021), May 1st (May Day), May 8th (VE Day); Ascension Day (May 18th in 2021); July 14th (Bastille Day), August 15th (Assumption Day); November 1st (All Saints Day): November 11th (Armistice Day): December 25th (Christmas Day)

What else do you need to know? If the holiday falls on a Saturday, no substitute day is given, but if a fixed public holiday falls on a Sunday, it is celebrated on the following Monday instead.

Pentecost (May 24th) is often a holiday, but employers are free to decide.

Alsace and Morelle have two extra public holidays, one on Good Friday and one on December 26th.

Italy

Public holidays: 11 nationally, including some that fall on weekends, up to 12 regionally,

When are they? January 1st (New Year’s Day): January 6th (Epiphany), Easter Monday (April 5th in 2021), April 25th (Liberation Day), May 1st (Labour Day), June 2nd (Republic Day), August 15th (Ferragosto), November 1st (All Saints’ Day), December 8th (Feast of the Immaculate Conception), December 25th (Christmas Day), December 26th (Boxing Day)

What else do you need to know?  If the holiday falls on a weekend, no substitute day is given.

There are also some extra regional holidays: April 25th (Feast of St Mark) in Venice, April 28th (Sardinia Day) in Sardinia, June 24th (Feast of St John) in Florence, Genoa and Turin, June 29th (Feast of St Peter and St Paul) in Rome, July 15th (Feast of St Rosalia) in Palermo, September 19th (Feast of St Gennaro) in Naples, October 4th (Feast of St Patronius) in Bologna, November 2nd (Feast of St Giusto) in Trieste, December 6th (Feast of St Nicholas) in Bari, and December 7th (Feast of St Ambrose) in Milan. 

READ ALSO: German politicians call for workers to get day off for public holidays that fall on weekend

Norway

Public holidays: 10 nationally, including some which may fall on a weekend, 

When are they? January 1st (New Year’s Eve), Maundy Thursday (April 1st in 2021); Good Friday (April 2nd in 2021); Easter Monday (April 5th in 2021); May 1st (Labour Day), May 17th (Constitution Day), Ascension Day (May 13th in 2021); Pentecost (May 24th in 2021); December 25th (Christmas Day), December 26th (Boxing Day).

What else do you need to know? If the holiday falls on a weekend, no substitute day is given.

December 24th (Christmas Eve) is not a public holiday, but some employers give it anyway and very few people work as this is the main day of Christmas celebrations in Norway.

Spain

Public holidays: 8 nationally, up to 14 locally.

When are they? January 1st (New Year’s Day), Good Friday (April 2nd in 2021), May 1st (Labour Day), October 12th (Spanish National Day), November 1st (All Saints’ Day), December 6th (Constitution Day), December 8th (Feast of the Immaculate Conception), December 25th (Christmas Day)

What else do you need to know? If a national or regional holiday falls on a Sunday, it is up to the regional government whether to have a day in lieu on the next weekday. Additional holidays are chosen at the regional or local level.

Some public holidays are only celebrated in certain regions:

January 6th (Epiphany) in Andalusia, Aragon, Asturias, Balearic Islands, Basque Country, Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castilla-La Mancha, Castile and León, Catalonia, Ceuta, Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Melilla, Murcia, Navarra, Valencia

St Joseph’s Day (March 19th) in Extremadura, Galicia, Madrid, Murcia, Navarra, Valencia

Maundy Thursday in Andalusia, Aragon, Asturias, Balearic Islands, Basque Country, Canary Islands, Cantabria, Castilla-La Mancha, Castile and León, Ceuta, Extremadura, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Melilla, Murcia, Navarra

Easter Monday (April 5th in 2021) in Balearic Islands, Basque Country, Catalonia, La Rioja, Navarra, Valencia

Corpus Christi Day (June 3rd in 2021) in Castilla-La Mancha

San Juan (June 24th) in Catalonia and Valencia

Eid al-Adha in Ceuta and Melilla

August 15th (Assumption Day) in Andalusia, Aragon, Asturias, Canary Islands, Castile and León

On top of that almost every region has at least one regional public holiday: February 28th in Andalusia, March 1st in Balearic Islands, March 19th in Basque Country, April 23rd in Aragon and Castile and León (both regions have it as their regional day), September 8th in Asturias; July 28th and September 15th in Cantabria, May 31st in Castilla-La Mancha, September 11th in Catalonia, September 2nd in Ceuta, September 8th in Extremadura, May 17th in Galicia, June 9th in La Rioja, May 2nd in Madrid, March 13th in Melilla. Each of the Canary Islands has an individual public holiday (July 3rd for El Hierro, August 5th for La Palma, September  8th for Gran Canaria, September 15th for Lanzarote, September 17th for Fuerteventura, October 4th for La Gomera). 

And each municipality usually has a further two or more extra holidays depending on local patron saints.

Reyes Magos, or Epiphany, celebrated in Barcelona on January 6th 2019. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Oesterle

Sweden

Public holidays: 9 nationally, with 3 so-called de facto public holidays.

When are they? January 1st (New Year’s Day), January 6th (Epiphany), Good Friday (April 2nd in 2021); Easter Monday (April 5th in 2021), May 1st (Labour Day), Ascension Day (May 13th in 2021), June 6th (National Day), December 25th (Christmas Day), December 26th (Boxing Day). 

What else do you need to know? If the holiday falls on a weekend, you do not get an extra weekday in lieu.

Midsummer’s Eve, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve are not national public holidays in Sweden, but the majority of employers treat them as such. 

In many workplaces or collective bargaining or agreements, there are additional public holiday policies. The most common include a half-day before certain public holidays (Epiphany, Walpurgis and All Saints’ Eve), or ‘bridge days’, so that if a public holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, the Monday before or Friday after is given as an extra day off.

Switzerland

Public holidays: Only 4 nationally and the communes with the fewest paid public holidays have only 5 in total, up to 16 regionally.

When are they? January 1st (New Year’s Day), Ascension Day (May 13th in 2021), August 1st (National Day), December 25th (Christmas Day). 

What else do you need to know? If the holiday falls on a weekend, you do not get an extra weekday in lieu.

Several public holidays are marked by a majority of regions, but not quite all: Good Friday, Easter Monday, Pentecost and All Saints’ Day.

Some other public holidays are marked by multiple regions: January 2nd (St Berchtold’s Day), January 6th (Epiphany), March 19th (St Joseph’s Day), May 1st (Labour Day), August 15th (Assumption Day), December 8th (Feast of the Immaculate Conception).

And some cantons have their own holidays: March 1st (Republic Day) in Neuchâtel; June 23rd (Jura Independence Day) in Jura; June 29th (Feast of St Peter and St Paul) in Graubünden and Ticino, Jeûne genevois (September 9th in 2021) in Geneva; Day After the Federal Fast (September 19th in 2021) in Vaud, September 22nd in Appenzell Innerrhoden, September 25th in Obwalden, December 24th in Glaurus and December 31st in Geneva and Glarus. 

A few local communes also have additional public holidays.

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