Martin Luther and the Pumpkin
What holiday is celebrated on 31 October? Halloween, of course. Or is it Reformation Day? On the final day of October, Protestants commemorate the renewal of the church by Martin Luther. According to tradition, in 1517 Luther nailed his 95 Theses on indulgences and penance to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg. Enlarge image Preparing a jack-o-lantern (© picture-alliance/ dpa) Whether a pumpkin had anything to do with this story is doubtful. Nevertheless, the illuminated autumn vegetable is the focus of the day not only in the United States, but also in Germany.
Halloween has its origin in a mixture of customs pertaining to the harvest, cadging and disguise from the Catholic part of Ireland. In the nineteenth century, Irish immigrants brought it to the United States, where the common pumpkin replaced the Irish turnip as a scary lantern. There too began the tradition of children dressed in costumes going from door to door and asking for candy with the threat of “Trick or treat!” Enlarge image Ghost-shaped sweets (© picture-alliance/ Photocuisine) If we are to believe the division of the Association of the German Toy Industry (DVSI) responsible for Carnival, it was them who brought the popular custom to Germany. After Carnival was cancelled in 1991 because of the Gulf War, costume manufacturers suffered huge losses. The initiative of the DVSI sought to redress the balance. Gunther Hirschfelder, however, Professor of Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Regensburg, sees the reason for the holiday’s success rather in the social need for new traditions: Halloween fills a cultural vacuum that emerged in the 1990s.
In any case, it is no longer possible to imagine Germany without the economic factor of this holiday: in 2011 the sales associated with Halloween were estimated at EUR 200 million, a large share of which was accounted for by the confectionary industry. That a business should help a holiday achieve breakthrough is nothing new in Germany: in the 1920s the German Florists Association campaigned for the observation of Mother’s Day.