Why Does Oktoberfest Start in September?
Why doesn’t October get all the glory?
Oktoberfest is a German tradition known around the world for its beer, delicious food, and celebration of German culture. It’s a chance to put aside differences, raise a glass, and shout, “Prost!” (That’s “Cheers!” in German.)
Given the name, one would think that it would also be a chance to celebrate the great month of October. And it is. What’s shocking, though, is that this festival’s namesake month barely gets to take part in the festivities.
That’s right—the majority of Oktoberfest takes place in September, which makes Oktoberfest seem like one of the biggest misnomers we use all the time. The entire festival runs 16-18 days, depending on the year, and most of them are in September. For example, the 2019 dates were September 21–October 6. Sadly, the 2020 festival was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, when Oktoberfest began in 1810, it did take place entirely in October, from the 12th to the 17th.
The first Oktoberfest was a celebration of the marriage between Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. It lasted five days, during which the citizens of Munich were invited to eat and drink to their hearts’ content while listening to live music and watching parades. The party ended with a horse race at the edge of town.
It was such a success that this celebration grew to become an annual festival, complete with every attraction that made the first so enjoyable. As the festival got longer, the starting dates were moved into September because the days were longer and the weather was warmer. Visitors could stay out later to enjoy the gardens and the famous fields that make up the festival grounds without getting chilly.
In keeping tradition with the original dates, the last weekend of modern Oktoberfests always takes place in October, usually ending on the first Sunday of the month. If the first Sunday in October is the 1st or 2nd of the month, the festival is extended slightly to run until Monday or Tuesday, whichever October 3 is. This is so that it can coincide with the public holiday Tag der Deutschen Einheit, or Day of German Unity. Germans call this a “good” year, and we can’t argue with that.