Saxony public holiday: What’s the history behind ‘Buß und Bettag’?

November 17th marks more than a day off work in Saxony (and off school for those in Bavaria). We look at why it’s celebrated.

People of the Protestant church celebrating a memorial church service for the
People of the Protestant church celebrating a memorial church service for the "Buß- und Bettag" in Stuttgart. Photo: picture-alliance / dpa/dpaweb | Bernd_Weißbrod

When does it take place?

The “Buß- and Bettag” (Day of Prayer and Repentance) always takes place on the Wednesday before the Ewigkeitssonntag (Eternity Sunday), also called Totensonntag. That’s the Sunday when the dead are commemorated – and it’s a week before Advent starts (on November 28th this year).

In 2021, the Day of Prayer and Repentance falls on Wednesday November 17th.


Let’s take a closer look at the German. “Buße” can wrongly be associated with penalties such as “Bußgeld” (penalty fee) but it actually refers to its religious sense, meaning the reorientation of a human.

This means that a person must show remorse for their sins and reflect on their faith in God (Theism).

READ ALSO: How you can make the most of Germany’s 2022 public holidays


“Buß- und Bettag” is a Protestant memorial day.

It dates back to the Middle Ages, where this day was summoned upon when the country was in a state of crisis or adversity.

Numerous protestants partaking in the church service for the “Buß- und Bettag” in Munich. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Birgit Haubner


Its purpose is to call on people to pray and consider their faith.

There are three parts to the practicing of this holiday.

Firstly, the church intercedes sinners who feel guilty before God. Secondly, this holiday tests one’s consciousness before God. And lastly, the church should show its guardian function and devotion towards its people.

Why is it not celebrated Germany-wide?

“Buß- und Bettag” used to be celebrated across the German-speaking territories and beyond. In 1878, for example, it was celebrated in 28 countries.

During that time, the “Buß- und Bettag” had not yet received a fixed date but was selected individually by the country. It was only in the “Reichs Gesetz” in 1934 that it was deemed a public holiday in the German Reich.

However, it was later abolished by most countries and eventually only Saxony kept this holiday.

How is it celebrated nowadays?

In most German states, holiday laws permit that religious employees can take this day off if they request it.

READ ALSO: These are the ‘special days’ when you can get paid time off in Germany

These employees luckily do not have to take this holiday as part of their numbered vacation days, but they have to forgo their payment for this day.

In Bavaria “Buß- und Bettag” is a public holiday solely for school students, whereas in Saxony, it is a public holiday for everyone.

We updated this story in 2021. 

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Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the ‘die’ and carnival lingo

From the push to reform long-term unemployment benefits to the lingo you need to know as Carnival season kicks off, we look at the highlights of life in Germany.

Living in Germany: Battles over Bürgergeld, rolling the 'die' and carnival lingo

Deadlock looms as debates over Bürgergeld heat up 

Following a vote in the Bundestag on Thursday, the government’s planned reforms to long-term unemployment benefits are one step closer to becoming reality. Replacing the controversial Hartz IV system, Bürgergeld (or Citizens’ Allowance) is intended to be a fair bit easier on claimants.

Not only will the monthly payment be raised from €449 to €502, but jobseekers will also be given a grace period of two years before checks are carried out on the size of their apartment or savings of up to €60,000. The system will also move away from sanctions with a so-called “trust period” of six months, during which benefits won’t be docked at all – except in very extreme circumstances. 

Speaking in parliament, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) said the spirit of the new system was “solidarity, trust and encouragement” and praised the fact that Bürgergeld would help people get back into the job market with funding for training and education. But not everyone is happy about the changes. In particular, politicians from the opposition CDU/CSU parties have responded with outrage at the move away from sanctions.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz has even branded the system a step towards “unconditional Basic Income” and argued that nobody will be incentivised to return to work. 

The CDU and CSU are now threatening to block the Bürgergeld legislation when it’s put to a vote in the Bundesrat on Monday. With the conservatives controlling most of the federal states – and thus most of the seats in the upper house – things could get interesting. Be sure to keep an eye out for our coverage in the coming weeks to see how the saga unfolds. 

Tweet of the week

When you first start learning German, picking the right article to use can truly be a roll of the “die” – so we’re entirely on board with this slightly unconventional way to decide whether you’re in a “der”, “die”, or “das” situation. (Warning: this may not improve your German.) 

Where is this?

Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Residents of Frankfurt am Main and the surrounding area will no doubt recognise this as the charming town of Kronberg, which is nestled at the foot of the Taunus mountains.

This atmospheric scene was snapped on Friday morning, when a drop in temperatures saw Kronberg and surrounding forests shrouded in autumnal fog.

After a decidedly warm start to November, the mercury is expected to drop into single digits over the weekend. 

Did you know?

November 11th marked the start of carnival season in Germany. But did you know that there’s a whole set of lingo to go along with the tradition? And it all depends on where you are. First of all, the celebration isn’t called the same thing everywhere. In the Rhineland, it’s usually called Karneval, while people in Bavaria or Saxony tend to call it Fasching. Those in Hesse and Saarland usually call it Fastnacht. 

And depending on where you are, there are different things to shout. The ‘fools call’ you’ll hear in Cologne is “Alaaf!” If you move away from Cologne, you’ll hear “Helau!” This is the traditional cry in the carnival strongholds of Düsseldorf and Mainz, as well as in some other German cities.

In the Swabian-Alemannic language region in the southwest of the country, people yell “Narri-Narro”, which means “I’m a fool, you’re a fool”. In Saarland at the French border, they shout “Alleh hopp!”, which is said to originate from the French language. 

Lastly, if someone offers you a Fastnachtskrapfe, say yes because it’s a jelly-filled carnival donut. And if you’re offered a Bützchen? It’s your call, but know that it’s a little kiss given to strangers!