Celebrating Mariä Himmelfahrt Day in Oberammergau, Germany

As the clock edged toward nine thirty in the morning, the stream of villagers dressed in traditional German folk costume passing by our window in Oberammergau, Germany grew. Ladies in elaborate Dirndls and men in Lederhosen pedaled by on their bikes. Some navigated their bikes’ handlebars with one hand, with elaborate wildflower bouquets in the other.

Curious as to why the locals were dressed in Trachten, I headed to the nearby St. Peter & Paul Church and Cemetery, from which the sounds of a choir and small orchestra streamed out. Some villagers placed bouquets on the graves of family members buried in the church cemetery. They had come to the church to celebrate Mariä Himmelfahrt Day, or the Feast of the Assumption, a Catholic holiday that is also celebrated publicly in some German states every August the 15th. Many government offices and businesses are closed.

A resident holds a bouquet of herbs and flowers on Maria Himmelfahrt Day.

Inside the church, about half of the congregation was dressed in traditional Bavarian attire. Women and young girls donned puffy-sleeved white blouses and long, vibrant aprons that one would commonly associate with Oktoberfest, and older ladies wore elaborate hats and antique gold jewelry. Men and boys sported Lederhosen, checked button-down shirts, and woolen jackets. The stringed instruments hit high notes as locals sang familiar songs by heart.

Women holding bouquets of flowers on Maria Himmelfahrt Day in Bavaria.
Edelweiss and red begonias (left), and women carrying bouquets of flowers and herbs to be blessed (right).

Those who celebrate Mariä Himmelfahrt Day collect flowers and healing herbs from their gardens or the countryside. Herbs such as St. John’s Wort, Thyme, Chamomile, Verbena and Clover are traditionally included in the floral arrangements. They then carefully arrange them into a bouquet called a Kräuterbüschel, taking the bundle of blooms to the church to be blessed during the August 15 service. The origin of the practice is uncertain, but legend has it that when Mary ascended into heaven, a beautiful fragrance emerged from the flowers. The practice is said to be one thousand years old.

A father and son walk through the church grounds (left). In the late-morning light, Edelweiss flowers twinkle with water droplets (right).
People celebrate Maria Himmelfahrt Day in Germany.

After the service had ended, an informal procession poured out of the church, with families and older couples carrying bouquets ranging in size from one that would easily fit in the palm of the hand, to floral arrangements as tall as adolescent boys. When another onlooker asked a teenage boy to pose with the bouquet he was carrying, he hid his face behind the flora in an embarrassed fashion. The older ladies, however, looked regal as they passed by, obviously well-practiced in carrying out the tradition. Participants then strolled back through the village to their homes, where they would place the bouquets to bless their dwellings.

A headstone in Oberammergau's cemetery, and people celebrating Maria Himmelfahrt Day.
A praying figure atop a headstone, with Oberammergau’s Forstbetrieb, or Forest Management office in the background (left). On the right, a boy carries an especially tall bouquet.
Oberammergau’s buildings are elaborately painted. In German, these paintings are called Lüftlmalerei (left). On the right, church members leave the Maria Himmelfahrt ceremony at St. Peter and Paul Church.
Headstones and flowers in Oberammergau, Germany's St. Peter and Paul Cemetery.
Flowers and headstones inside the cemetery of Saint Peter and Paul.
A woman leaves the ceremony (left). On the right, A dried bouquet of herbs, known as Kräuterbüschel. It was given to my mother by a friend last year.


Where in the World?

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

20 thoughts on “Celebrating Mariä Himmelfahrt Day in Oberammergau, Germany

    1. Greetings Virginia, how has your summer been going? I’ve been enjoying spending the summer in this traditional part of Germany, and seeing such cultural practices just literally outside of our backdoor!

      Are your son and daughter-in-law now in Southeast Asia?

      1. Tricia, yesterday was Andrea’s birthday, so last night dinner here on The Farm. Andrea had spent the day shopping for clothes for the trip. They are both excited. They leave around the middle of October. We have had an exception summer – day after day of sunshine. I love it. XX V.

      2. Virginia, so nice to hear that Mother Nature has been good to you this summer. :) Are you putting in any special requests for souvenirs for them to pick up while in Southeast Asia? With your creative flair, I can imagine you loving some of the crafting-worthy materials there.

    1. Cornelia, sorry, it wasn’t my intent to make you homesick. :) You’re right that it is a tad chilly here (as evidenced by the ladies wearing light sweaters). Do you remember summers being this way when you lived here?

      We’re headed to the Gartenfest des Volkstrachtenvereins Oberammergau later today. I’ll do a symbolic toast to you then. How is summer in California, by the way? I do miss hotter summer weather, but the cool nights make for very comfortable sleeping here.

      1. Both are such wonderful cities. We were just speaking about Würzburg and its Residence, vineyards and fortress yesterday. Would love to get back there in autumn! Lucky you. :)

      2. We were there for several days in 2011 visiting friends and we are staying with them again this time. It will be lovely. We haven’t been to Cologne before and I’m looking forward to seeing it very much.

    1. I remember you saying that you felt quite at home in this part of the world, Ruth. :) Yes, we’re again visiting family, but haven’t yet made it to Partnachklamm. Today, we’re staying local in Oberammergau (about 30 min. from Garmisch) and going to a fest.

      Wishing you a wonderful weekend on your side of the Atlantic!

    1. Juliann, it was a lovely event to stumble upon! Have you picked up any traditional Bavarian costumes during your travels to Germany? I’m also easily swayed by clothes with an ethnic twist, and since I was a little girl have had a Dirndl or two. :)

    1. Whenever we walk about town, I exclaim to Shawn how lucky we are to visit here for a while. :) The air is so fresh, and I love watching traditions like this. We already have our calendar marked with upcoming cultural events, several of which focus around the harvest.

Join the conversation.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: