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