The season of falling leaves and nippy weather is here.
Coming soon is the holiday favored by lovers of tingling spines and sugary delights.
Yes, Halloween is just around the corner, and what with your diligent German studies and your interest in cool German vocabulary, you might want to spice up the holiday with a bit of Deutsch!
Maybe you’re going to be abroad in Germany around the autumn season and can witness the holiday in the flesh, or maybe you want to add some spooky flavor to your at-home self-studies.
No matter your reason, it’s always a great idea to broaden your word bank as much (and in as fun a way!) as possible, and checking out the special vocabulary used during certain holidays is a fantastic way to do so.
That said, you’re probably wondering… what’s German Halloween like?
How October 31st Works in Germany
For all of its cultural fascination with spooky stories, Germany doesn’t actually have a strong inclination to celebrate Halloween, as this is generally considered an American holiday.
There are a few Halloween-focused parties and events, often sponsored by a local community or done individually, such as horror movie fests and small-scale parades. You might see some young trick-or-treaters wandering the streets or adults participating in costume-themed festivities.
One of the usual excuses to celebrate is the fact that November 1st is Allerheiligen (All Saints’ Day), an actual religious holiday in Germany that can give some folks a reason to dress up the night before or shops to start selling some spooky gear.
However, amongst some Germans, there’s also the opinion that Halloween is an unwanted hassle upon existing and established German holidays that take place in the same season.
For example, Martinstag (Saint Martin’s Day), which is on November 11th, is a day hosting bonfire and lantern-carrying processions to celebrate the historical Saint Martin of Tours. There’s even an event quite similar to trick-or-treating, where children may receive treats while singing songs at doorsteps. This holiday is often cited to be a victim to the more commercialized Halloween.
Nevertheless, Halloween and its festivities appear to be growing in popularity in Germany, so there’s good reason to learn some vocabulary that’s commonly used on a German October 31st.
One of the best ways to learn German Halloween vocabulary—as well as authentic words and phrases that you can use the whole year round—is through the curated, native-speaker videos you’ll find on FluentU.
Each video comes with interactive captions that can give you instant definitions of any unfamiliar German words or phrases, complete with pronunciations, memorable images and additional usage examples. You can toggle the German captions and English subtitles on or off to suit your learning needs.
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Without further ado, here’s our list of German vocab you’ll be wanting to use on the holiday of ghosts and ghouls.
18 Fun German Halloween Words and Phrases
Frohes Halloween (Happy Halloween)
There isn’t a special German word for Halloween, so a simple Frohes Halloween is all that’s needed to wish someone a lovely, spooky day.
Froh by itself means “merry” and, in the correct gender case, can be tacked on to the beginning of a certain holiday for a celebratory greeting (for example, Frohe Weihnachten for “Merry Christmas”).
Süßes oder Saures! (Sweets or sours!)
The German equivalent to “Trick or treat!” and what candy-craving German children chime at doorsteps on Halloween. One can also say Süßes, sonst gibt’s Saures (“Sweets, or there will be sours”) to be slightly more menacing in their approach.
A good word to know whether it’s Halloween or not, as it can also just serve as a general warning of “Watch out!” If you want to be more specific, you can say Vorsicht vor ___ (“Beware of ___”).
Ruhe in Frieden (Rest in peace)
Naturally, as with the English R.I.P., you’ll also find this phrase on gravestones, although not shortened as R.I.F. as you might think!
Der Jack O’ Lantern / Halloweenkürbis (jack o’ lantern)
The name “jack o’ lantern” and the practice of decorating candle-lit pumpkins derives from an Irish folktale and there isn’t a unique German word for it.
Der Halloweenkürbis literally just means “Halloween pumpkin.” There are actually a number of pumpkin-carving events in the German-speaking world, a popular one being the Kürbisfest in Retzer Land near Vienna.
Die Gruselgeschichte (scary story)
This word is a simple combination of the adjective gruselig (“creepy” or “horrifying”) and die Geschichte (“story”). Germany has its own tradition of eerie tales, so you’ll definitely want to hear some of them on Halloween night.
Der Alptraum / der Nachtmahr (nightmare)
Der Alptraum is a word derived from a combination of der Alb (“elf” or “goblin”) and der Traum (“dream”), as it was once believed that nightmares were caused by an elf sitting on your chest.
Der Nachtmahr comes from die Nacht (“night”) and der Mahr (which is essentially the same thing as der Alb), and the English word “nightmare” originates from this German word.
However, Nachtmahr is considered a bit outdated. Alptraum is more commonly used nowadays to describe those frightful dreams that haunt your sleep.
Die Fratze (grimace, ugly face)
No Halloween is complete without some horrific face-making. Die Fratze can mean your standard grimace or a grotesque face, either of which you’ll want to perfect for October 31st.
Das Kostümfest (costume party)
A staple of Halloween, costume parties have made their mark in German celebrations of the holiday. It’s also good to know that the Germans prefer to keep their attire fittingly scary for the occasion. If you’re going to attend one of their costume parties, you might want to switch out your Superman costume or cute animal suit for something truly frightening.
Der Aberglaube (superstition)
Germany has its own fair share of superstitious beliefs, and some may sound quite familiar (the fortune of four-leaf clovers being one such example). Aberglaube is a combination of an antiquated aber, which essentially meant “after” or “against,” and the word der Glaube, meaning “belief.” Thus, Aberglaube loosely means “against belief,” and is understood in context to mean “against Christian belief.”
sich verkleiden (to dress up)
You’ll want to wear your spooky best for a German costume party on Halloween. Remember that this verb is a reflexive one, so don’t forget to use the proper sich form!
For example, if you’re going to a serious costume party that won’t take anyone slacking in their attire, you might hear:
Alle Gäste müssen sich verkleiden. (All guests must dress up.)
jemandem Streiche spielen (to play tricks on someone)
Playing tricks will always be a staple of any Halloween, even in Germany. The usual suspects will likely be some particularly mischievous youths.
naschen (to eat sweets)
Naschen can just mean “to nibble,” but it’s commonly used in reference to sweets consumption. There’s even an idiom, gerne naschen, that means “to have a sweet tooth.”
verfolgen (to haunt)
Verfolgen can also just mean “to follow” in a non-Halloween context. The verb spuken has a similar meaning to verfolgen and is more associated with the spooky, otherworldly kind of stalking.
spukhaft (spooky, ghostly)
The spuk part of this word (Der Spuk is a noun that means “haunting”) will be a pretty easy clue for English speakers as to what it means.
A word that just rolls off the tongue. The adjective is a combination of über (“above” or “super”) and natürlich (“natural”), just like its English translation!
This is a word you’ll be tossing around all day on Halloween. Gruselig is an adjective that can encompass varying levels of scary and can be used to describe something as just “creepy” to flat-out “horrifying.”
schauerlich (nightmarish, gruesome)
Der Schaeur can have a few different meanings, including “thrill,” “shiver” and “chill.” When this is combined with the general suffix -lich (the English equivalent being “-ish”), you get an adjective to help you describe something truly spine-tingling or unearthly.
So there’s our list of some fun and essential vocabulary for a German Halloween—see if you can put it to good use this upcoming October 31st.
We hope you have a safe and spook-tacular holiday!
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