Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Himmelfahrt in Germany

Tomorrow is Himmelfahrt (Christ's Ascension into heaven), a national holiday throughout Germany. Government offices, stores, and businesses will be closed. Public transportation and museums will operate on a holiday/Sunday schedule. 

Himmelfahrt reminds us that forty days after his resurrection, Jesus returned to his Father. Even though Himmelfahrt is both a national and religious holiday, its current observance has more to do with custom than religion.

Traditionally, Himmelfahrt was a day to ask God for a good harvest. Stuffed pigeon and bird-shaped breads were eaten to remind people of the Holy Spirit. Germany isn't particularly religious, and many Germans have turned Himmelfahrt into a sort of "Father's Day." It's a day when men get together and go hiking or fishing, and of course, drink lots of alcohol. 

"Himmelfahrt in Friedrichshain"
by Norbert Bisky
In the United States, Himmelfahrt or Ascension Day is generally unobserved. The USA prides itself on its separation of church and state. Yet, most Europeans view the United States as "Jesus Land," a country heavily influenced by religious extremists.

Unfortunately, I can't disagree with that assessment. Over the past 30 years, religious intolerance has spread its nasty tentacles into various aspects of American culture and policy. Religious zealots continue to undermine the efforts of gays and women to attain equality. They exert undo influence over our educational and political systems, and have managed to link religion with patriotism. (You can't be an American if you don't believe in God.)

In celebration of Himmelfahrt, I've included three works of art with Himmelfahrt as their theme, including a work by local Berlin artist Norbert Bisky. His painting, "Himmelfahrt in Friedrichshain" refers to my neighborhood. It really captures the essence of this part of Berlin.  

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