Oktoberfest is a classic Bavarian tradition that has expanded to become a global celebration. The festival typically begins in the final week of September and continues through the first week of October.
While many of us are familiar with the party atmosphere and the modern culture that comes with it, the history behind this global phenomenon is certainly worth reviewing. When the fall festival comes around this year, make sure to reach out to your local beer garden and find out what they have in store for Oktoberfest season this year.
Oktoberfest isn’t just an excellent time to enjoy a quality craft brew– it’s an important time to celebrate German folk culture. Dressing up in traditional German garb (“lederhosen”) and enjoying the outstanding dishes that make German cuisine unique are quintessential Oktoberfest experiences.
Many local Oktoberfest festivals- including the events in your area- often provide the opportunity to purchase handmade crafts and other goods that help preserve traditional Bavarian culture. Even if you are not a fan of drinking, there are still plenty of exciting things to experience during this fall-season festival.
A Global Tradition
The outstanding drinks, foods, and craftsmanship associated with Oktoberfest have become a global phenomenon.
However, it wasn’t always such a big deal. What became an international party started as a local festival and has continued to evolve over the course of its nearly 200 years of existence. In this article, we’ll look at the origins of Oktoberfest and examine some of the most important historical moments that have led it to become a party that’s celebrated each fall throughout the world.
A Bavarian Wedding Party
Oktoberfest is a tradition that’s derived from Bavarian culture and started in what is today a part of southern Germany. The original celebration was set up to mark the marriage of Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen to Ludwig I in 1810, the latter of whom went on to become the king of Bavaria.
The week-long marriage celebrations were held on the outskirts of Munich and included an agricultural fair, horse races, and exclusive events for wedding guests that were close to the royal couple. This first iteration of Oktoberfest was not focused on drinking- the party was admittedly a bit more civil.
An Agricultural Festival and Grand Market
The wedding celebrations of Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen and Ludwig I were such a success for the Bavarian population that many aspects of the party were carried over into a repeating festival.
These follow-up events, which essentially were a grandiose market of the region’s finest food and drink, attracted larger crowds each year and became an officially recognized event in 1819. The event planners, farmers, and merchants of the time saw the festival as an opportunity to turn harvest time profit. At the same time, the city’s inhabitants, as well as anyone that came to visit the region, found the festival to be a fun, inviting way to celebrate German culture.
The Early 1900s
By the festival’s 100th anniversary in 1910, the Oktoberfest tradition had evolved to become an increasingly popular time to enjoy a Bavarian-style brew. Along with the food and drink stalls, there were plenty of places to pick up unique German crafts, including everything from tableware to carven art and toys.
For the 100th anniversary, the event planners assembled beer tents that were intended for individuals who intended to celebrate with an alcoholic beverage in hand. With the introduction of electricity, residents and travelers alike could enjoy the festivities late into the evening. Oktoberfest was swiftly becoming a tradition that attracted attention from outside the region of Bavaria.
The effects of World War I and the following era of hyperinflation lead to the cancellation of the formal Oktoberfest celebration for several years at a time. As the value of the German Rentenmark currency continued to drop, and as the Weimar republic continued to crumble, the festival was considered to be an exorbitant expense that simply wasn’t worth the money.
During the Second World War, similar cancellations were in effect due to the ongoing effects of conflict as well as government regulations. Despite all of the cancellations that occurred during the era, the Oktoberfest tradition carried on stronger than ever from the 1950s onward.
The First Keg Ceremony
In 1950, Oktoberfest celebrations were opened with a visit from Munich’s mayor, who opened the first keg to kick off the party. The opening of the first keg quickly became a ritual for opening the festivities- a tradition that had occurred every year since, with the exception of 2020, when Oktoberfest was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The phrase “o’zapft is,” which translates from Bavarian dialect to “it has been tapped” in English, originates from this moment, and has become a signature saying associated with Oktoberfest celebrations.
Oktoberfest has become much more than a Bavarian and German festival. The annual traditions, from drinking German beer to dressing up in lederhosen, are celebrated worldwide, from Europe to the United States and Canada, in addition to New Zealand,
Australia, and South Africa. The global recognition of German culture is something that’s always worth enjoying a pint for. As German breweries have continued to export their products, it has become easier than ever to enjoy an authentic brew on tap- helpful if you can’t quite make it to Munich for the main event!
Conclusion- A Brief History of the Oktoberfest Tradition
While today’s Oktoberfest celebrations are primarily associated with enjoying a pint at your local beer garden, the history of the event is a fascinating look at German, Bavarian, and central European culture. Whether you have German heritage or not, it’s an incredible opportunity to get together with your friends and family and enjoy traditional Bavarian culture alongside an iconic beverage.