Bavaria’s history, which dates back more than 15 centuries, makes it one of Europe’s oldest cultural landscapes. Mainly connected to traditional farming culture or Christian holidays, Bavarian festivals are the time when many traditions can be observed, including costumes, music and activities.
Bavaria is probably most well-known for its Oktoberfest celebration. The annual two-week festival, which is held every fall in Munich, attracts over 6 million visitors annually from around the world. Another popular festival time is Fasching, or Carnival. Fasching comes from the medieval word vaschnc (Fastnacht in present-day German) and relates to the fasting period, which begins immediately after Fasching and is also known elsewhere as Lent. Fasching customs in Bavaria differ a lot, depending not only in which region it is being celebrated, but sometimes even from town to town.
At many festivals, the traditional Bavarian folk costumes can be seen. Known as tracht, which is the traditional German styles of clothing, accessories and even hair styles or beards, it includes things like the dirndl (apron dress) for women and lederhosen (leather pants) for men. In addition to festivals, this attire is often worn at weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, holidays or religious celebrations.
Strength competitions are an age-old tradition and are popular at Bavarian festivals. For the maßkrugstemmen, or the horizontal beer mug hold, competitors have to hold a full beer mug out at full arms length for as long as possible. For fingerhakeln, or finger wrestling, competitions, competitors attempt to pull their opponents across a table just by using their finger.
No Bavarian festival would be complete without the Schuhplattler dance, which was originally a 19th century Alpine courting dance in which young men performed to impress ladies with their skills. The dance is now a tradition at festivals, with male dancers rhythmically striking their thighs, knees and soles, clapping their hands and stomping their feet.
One of the most popular traditions in Bavaria is putting up the Maypole. The maypole is a tall, wooden pole usually erected as part of an annual Maifest celebration on May 1. The festival celebrates the arrival of spring. While the maypole's origins are unknown, it has been a tradition in Germany that dates back to the 16th century.
As in Tyrol, September is the month that Bavarians celebrate the return of the cattle that have grazed in the mountain pastures all summer. Adorned with cowbells, the cows are led on a procession through the village back to their owners. The lead cow is decked out with a headdress of plaited twigs, flowers and ribbons as a sign that all the animals have come safely through the Alpine summer. This occasion is celebrated with traditional Bavarian music, dancing and beer drinking.