How about some yummy German Halloween vocabulary with your candy corn?
When you think of Halloween, you probably don’t think of Germany.
But you do think of candy corn, right?
I bet you didn’t know that the Germans had a hand in the popularization of Halloween’s signature sweet.
Although Philadelphia candymaker George Renninger invented candy corn in the 1880s, an immigrant family from Germany established the Goelitz Confectionery Company, which manufactured the treat and turned it into a mainstay of Halloween candy cornucopias everywhere.
The irony of this fact is not lost on many who know that it took the Germans until the 20th century to actually recognize and celebrate Halloween.
But celebrate it they do.
And while a segment of the German population takes issue with this holiday, the signature costumes and festive parties you’ll find every October 31st in Germany make it fairly clear that Halloween is here to stay.
Here are more than 25 German Halloween vocabulary words to kick off your spooky celebrations.
A Little Background on German Halloween
While history can be a mixed bag on the subject, the popular thinking as to the origins of Halloween dates back 2,000 years ago to the Celts. Popular belief has it that this ancient tribe marked the end of harvesting season and the start of the new year (November 1st) with an elaborate festival on the evening of October 31st known as Samhain (pronounced Sow-en).
Samhain was also believed to be a time that the barrier between the world of the living and dearly departed got a little fuzzy. As a consequence, spirits were said to roam freely among the living.
In an effort to appease their ghostly guests, the Celts offered up food, lit bonfires and donned scary masks in an attempt to blend in seamlessly with their otherworldly visitors.
The years since Samhain have seen a mix of cultures adopting and re-imagining its elements into their own beliefs. It’s thanks to the Irish and Scottish migrations to America that we celebrate the Halloween we know today. For generations, Halloween in the U.S. has involved kids in creepy costumes consuming copious amounts of candy.
But it might (or might not) surprise you to know that the Germans took up until the early 1990s to decide Halloween was a holiday worth celebrating.
Halloween is said to have been introduced to the German population due to start of the Gulf War, which led to the cancellation of Germany’s beloved Carnival. Affected businesses looking to recoup their financial losses apparently banded together to debut Halloween, which in turn put the Germans in a festive, partying (and spending) mood.
Now, if and when you find yourself in Germany on October 31st and ready to get your Halloween on, it’s important to note that the Germans do things a little differently from Americans.
Costumes tend to lean heavily towards the scary side, therefore your princesses and pirates are best left for Carnival season.
In addition, the practice of going door-to-door on the hunt for candy is not as popular an activity in Germany and typically relegated to the larger, more urban areas. And while stateside kids yell “trick-or-treat” when the neighbor’s door opens in their quest for candy, German kids will respond with “Süßes oder Saures” / “Süßes, sonst gibt’s Saure” (sweet or sour) instead.
Speaking of “Süßes oder Saures,” perhaps you’re considering a stay in Germany during the Halloween season and are wondering what key words you’ll need to navigate your way.
Well, one promising point for the native English speakers among us is the amazing similarity between German and English when it comes to this key list of German Halloween vocabulary. The long history these two languages share makes learning these key words a snap and ensures a ghoulishly good time for all.
German Halloween Vocabulary: 25+ Freaky, Fun Words
And now, a witches’ brew of words and phrases that will usher in a hauntingly good time.
1. Das Buh (Boo!)
The single most important word for any self-respecting Geist (ghost) to commit to memory and use with frequency during the Halloween season.
2. Der Dämon (Demon)
This word dates back to the time of the ancient Greeks and represents the idea of a “divine being.” History, however, saw rise to the word being associated with all things evil, hence its place in the Halloween we now celebrate.
3. Der Friedhof (Cemetery)
If you dare… no Halloween is considered fully realized without a visit to the local cemetery. While the hope in taking such a trip is that the Toten (dead) stay dead and buried, scary movies have proven time and time again that Halloween is the perfect time of year for a Zombie (zombie) invasion.
4. Das Geisterhaus (Haunted house)
An easy and important compound word to add to your Halloween vocabulary list. Geister is simply the plural of the word Geist, and Haus is one of those great cognates easily committed to memory.
5. Der Ghul (Ghoul)
Another frightening addition to any and all Halloween experiences.
6. Der Grabstein (Tombstone)
Remember those Zombies we mentioned earlier? To remember this one, imagine that a Grabstein is what they’re knocking over and out of the way in their quest to get their hands on (grab) you!
7. Die Fledermaus (Bat)
A nocturnal Blutsauger (blood sucker).
8. Das Halloween
Note that the origins of the word “Halloween” date back to the 8th century, when October 31st was called “All Hallows Eve,” which then morphed into “Hallow Evening” and, well… I think you get the picture. Since the Germans adopted the modern-day equivalent of Halloween from America, they decided to leave well enough alone, give it a das and call it a day.
9. Die Hexe (Witch)
Four hundred years ago, the Germans were in the midst of witch hunt frenzy, which saw many men and woman accused of casting Zaubersprüche (magic spells), riding around on a Besen (broom) and turning themselves into a schwarze Katze (black cat).
10. Der Horror (Horror)
Horror, as we know, goes really well with Halloween.
11. Das Kobold (Goblin)
These ghastly creatures date back to the European Middle Ages, with tales of their deeds sprinkled throughout folkloric history. Mischievous in nature, they’re also said to have been bestowed with magisch (magical) powers.
12. Der Kürbis (Pumpkin)
No Halloween is complete without lots and lots of pumpkins. Einritzen means “to carve,” and that’s exactly the first thing one does in order to make room inside for the Kerze (candle) that will ultimately transform your pumpkin into a functioning Kürbislaterne (pumpkin lantern).
13. Das Kostüm/die Verkleidung (Costume)
Remember, when it comes to German Halloween, they like to keep their dress-up on the scary side. With all these new scary vocabulary words you’ve learned, you should have no problem fitting right in.
14. Die Mumie (Mummy)
Just like in English, it sounds a lot like “mommy,” but this is definitely not something you want kissing you goodnight at bedtime.
15. Der Schädel (Skull)
The skull and crossbones appear to have transcended Halloween. Designers across the globe have transformed this classic symbol into the latest “it” thing.
16. Das Skelett (Skeleton)
Going back to the ancient roots of “All Hallows Eve” and its remembrance of the dead, skeletons allow for an easy association to modern-day Halloween.
17. Die Spinne (Spider)
The verb spinnen means to spin. Spiders spin webs. How simple is that?
18. Die Süßigkeiten (Candy)
No Halloween is complete without indulging in one’s fair share of candy, and this is no different in Germany. With holidays such as Easter, St. Nikolaus Day and Christmas also being heavily celebrated with candy, plus the country’s general love of all things chocolate, Germans have managed to rank #3 in the world for overall candy consumption. Now that’s what we call satisfying one’s sweet tooth!
19. Spuken (To haunt)
It’s not difficult to make an English connection with the word spuken. Just think “spooky.” Also note that a synonym for spuken is geistern (remember Geist = ghost), and translates to the concept of “walking around in a ghostly manner.”
20. Der Streich (Prank)
Even though we learned that the Germans go candy hunting door-to-door, little pranks such as tossing eggs at houses have also been known to happen in Germany during this time of year!
21. Der Vampire (Vampire)
Known to only come out at Nacht (night), suck your Blut (blood) and take shelter from the sunlight in a Sarg (coffin), the Vampire is the quintessential Halloween scare.
22. Die Vogelscheuche (Scarecrow)
The noun Vogel means “bird” and the verb scheuchen means “to shoo”—exactly the intention of a scarecrow. So now, instead of one word, you’ve learned three.
23. Der Teufel (Devil)
The word Teufel mixes well with other words in the German language to express some form of outrage, concern or alarm. Teufel noch mal, for example, means “dammit.” Was zum Teufel means “what the hell?” Pfui Teufel! is “ugh, disgusting!” You can have fun with this one.
24. Der Werwolf (Werewolf)
“The Werewolf of Bedburg” is the story of Peter Stubbe, a German man accused of being a werewolf back in the 16th century. The tale is a disturbing one and the perfect addition to any Halloween party.
25. Unheimlich (Eerie)
Depending on where you get the translation, unheimlich is also known to translate to words such as “creepy,” “sinister,” “weird” and “spooky.” So basically, you’re covering a lot of disturbing ground when you exercise your use of this word.
So there you have it. Some key German Halloween vocabulary words to manage your way through a howling Halloween… German-style.
Oh, and for those candy corn lovers out there, just in case you’re feeling cheated by the fact that Halloween comes only once a year…
National Candy Corn Day takes place on October 30th. Be there.
Kendall Griffin is a former New York City publicist and current American expat living in Cologne, Germany. You can read about her life abroad on her blog www.harlemhausfrau.com.