Monday, February 2, 2015

The Pfingsten Paradox

My second year students started a new unit last week on Feste and Feiertage (Festivals and Holidays).  With Mardi Gras / Fat Tuesday / Faschingsdienstag coming up February 17, it's a good time to visit this topic.  Plus, we need something cheerful to focus on when it's the middle of winter, we haven't had any snow days, and Spring Break is still too far away to think about.

It's also a good opportunity to revisit vocabulary for seasons, months, and dates / ordinal numbers, which we covered in 1st year but could use a review.  Our vocabulary list includes several of the major holidays celebrated in German-speaking countries.  After introducing those, students added them to a calendar in their notes:

Pfingsten (Pentecost) is one of the holidays we discussed, and I was surprised to find that in three sections of German 2, no one knew what Pentecost was.  I had a few students refer to Pentecostal Christianity or Pentecostals, but other than a vague idea of it being a religious holiday, they were stumped.  

To some extent it makes sense, because unlike Christmas or Easter, Pentecost does not really have a secular component to it in the United States.  It's ironic, though, because in Germany, which has far lower religious participation than the United States, Pentecost Monday is a public holiday.  School students have at least a long weekend, and some have two weeks of vacation.  The majority of my students would identify as Christian, but they were completely unfamiliar with Pentecost.  It's interesting to me that the United States is much more religious than Germany, even though we have a strict separation of church and state.  Germany has freedom of religion but not the same separation of church and state - many religious holidays are also public holidays, and religion is a public school subject.  Yet Germany as a whole is a much more secular country than the U.S.  The Pfingsten Paradox.

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