E.t is so unfair: some of the people in Germany had Thursday off this week. Many schools have a flexible vacation day on Friday, people have taken a single day of vacation – and with four days without classes or work it feels like mini vacation. And the others? For them, this week is just like any other – with the exception of the one with Ascension Day, also a free Thursday, or the one with Whit Monday.
All of these days are Christian holidays, so they have to do with the beliefs of the people that are most widespread in our country. But while Ascension Day and Pentecost – like Christmas and Easter – are among the festivals on which shops are closed in all federal states and people are free, Corpus Christi, the Thursday on which not everyone is free, is only one in six federal states National holiday. Two others are differentiated from community to community, and the remaining eight simply do not officially have this holiday.
Anyone who now believes that this is perhaps because not all Christians find this holiday equally important is on the trail of the matter. In fact, it’s a festival that some Christians find really important and others rather strange.
This is because there are many different groups in Christianity. They are sorted into religious communities, so-called denominations. Different beliefs exist in many religions. They form when believers cannot agree on certain religious issues, under political influence on the religion or simply over time because a religion, even if it is ancient, changes over the years and in places that are not in are in constant exchange with each other, can also simply grow apart.
The two most important denominations in Germany are the Catholic and the Protestant Church. This does not mean churches as buildings, with organs and altars and steeples, but religious denominations. About five hundred years ago the Evangelical Church separated from the Catholic one.
Corpus Christi is a Catholic holiday. The priest carries a magnificent vessel through the streets on him, helpers hold a protective sheet over him like a four-poster bed on poles, the congregation follows, there is singing and praying on the way. It is celebrated that at a moment of mass, a Catholic service, wine and a piece of dough called the host are transformed into the blood and body of Christ. This transformation also occurs in the Bible: the evening before Jesus was crucified, he gave his companions, the disciples, wine and bread. The wine is his blood that is shed for them, he told them, the bread his body that is given for them. And he asked them to share bread and wine in this way later, to think of him. This is also done in the service and is called the Lord’s Supper in memory of this evening with Jesus and the disciples.
For Catholics, this transformation at the Eucharist, as they call the Lord’s Supper, is a miracle. The feast of Corpus Christi celebrates this miracle. If you were to ask a Protestant, as the believers of the Evangelical Church are called, what he thinks of it, he might answer that believing in such a miracle seems a bit strange to him. And also a festival with a street parade on this occasion. Protestants simply celebrate the memory of Jesus at the Lord’s Supper. Without believing that something will really change in the process.
In federal states with a predominantly Catholic population, the holiday of Corpus Christi is a matter of course. It does not exist in those with a Protestant majority. It wasn’t too long ago that Protestants not only said they thought this holiday was funny if asked, but they showed it to everyone on Corpus Christi day. By doing laundry and hanging it up so you could see that it was a normal working day for them. Some farmers even chose this day to drive manure onto the fields. Then you could smell that too. In return, the Catholics showed everyone that they did not take a major Protestant holiday so seriously – Reformation Day at the end of October, for example, or even Good Friday.
Some grandparents may remember such situations from their childhood. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen anymore today. If you don’t want to celebrate, you don’t have to offend the people who celebrate this holiday right away.