It's a holiday here in Germany, a day when the nation truly earns its title of the fatherland.
Officially, it's the feast of the Ascension, or Christi Himmelfahrt. Though it reminds an English speaker of Jesus breaking wind, it literally means the Messiah's Ride to Heaven.
By coincidence, it's also German Father's Day. Why? Ascension occurs in the spring, you see. Farmers would take a day off tilling the fields to wander through them. After determining the prospects for a good harvest, the men would wander back into the village together. As we all know, any chance meeting of two or more men demands beer, and thus began the tradition of Männertag, or Men's Day.
German father's day celebrations have a slightly different flavour from the rest of the world. For one thing, you don't have to be a father to join in. Being a man is enough.
As elsewhere, German mothers generally spend their special day in the bosom of their family, being pampered. Here, men extract themselves from home and escape to the public square for some DIY pampering.
Groups of men wander the streets and lanes, pulling a cart laden with kegs and bottles. They favour beer, but schnapps is not unheard of. Many use the occasion to raise money for sporting clubs, volunteer fire brigades, service or other associations. Though such clubs are open to both genders by law, they tend to be male hangouts.
The feeling reminds me of the volunteer fire department in Port Vue, Pennsylvania, Vigilant Hose Company #1, with its distinctive blue Mack fire truck. My father and his brothers spent many hours playing pinochle on duty. More than a fire brigade, it's a powerhouse of practical compassion. I never saw them so relaxed and emotionally healthy as when they were united in this common purpose. A common purpose that gave them license to form close bonds with each other.
Männertag always gets me thinking. On every International Woman's Day, those clamouring for an International Men's Day rightly get pilloried for false equivalency. But a day set aside for male fellowship is a different matter.
Being a man is often lonely and isolating. We disproportionately choose solitary jobs, which reward self-reliance over collaboration. We retreat within ourselves, ashamed to be close to our male friends. The burden of emotional support falls on our partners, often unreasonably.
I know many men who say they find no safe space to talk about emotions. Männertag may, or may not, perform that function. Messy drunk dudes certainly don't look like they're tending to each other's emotional health. But in a solid, practical way, perhaps they might be.