Buß- und Bettag

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Buß- und Bettag
Observed by Saxony, Germany
Date Second Wednesday before the First Advent
2021 date 17 November  (2021-11-17)
2022 date 16 November  (2022-11-16)
2023 date 22 November  (2023-11-22)
2024 date 20 November  (2024-11-20)
Frequency annual

Buß- und Bettag (Day of repentance and prayer) was a public holiday in Germany and is still a public holiday in Saxony. In Germany, Protestant church bodies of Lutheran, Reformed (Calvinist) and United denominational affiliation celebrate a day of repentance and prayer. It is now celebrated in November on the penultimate Wednesday before the beginning of the Protestant liturgical year on the first Sunday of Advent. However, it is not a statutory non-working holiday any more, except in the Free State of Saxony. In the Free State of Bavaria, it is a school holiday only. In Germany since 1952, Volkstrauertag has been a public holiday commemorating not only those dying in armed conflicts, but also victims of oppression.

Meaning and origin

The tradition of repentance and prayer is rooted in the Book of Jonah of the Bible,[citation needed] where God sent out the prophet Jonah (יוֹנָה) in order to announce the inhabitants of Nineveh, that God is to overthrow the city (Book of Jonah 3:4-10):

And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

As a feast day for Protestants

In mediaeval times Christians practised two kinds of days of repentance, those scheduled on particular events of emergency and those celebrated on the Ember days. After the Reformation the Protestant congregations continued that tradition. The first day of prayer, scheduled by Emperor Charles V, was celebrated in 1532 by Protestants in the Holy Roman Empire in Strasbourg on occasion of the Ottoman invasion at the eastern border of the Empire. In the following centuries different feast days of repentance and prayer were fixed within the many different Holy Roman German states of Protestant population.

As a statutory non-working holiday

In 1878 there were, in some Provinces of Prussia and the component German states of the Empire (1871–1918), 47 different such feast days, celebrated at 24 different dates. In 1893 Prussia ended this plurality for the different territorially organised Protestant church bodies within its territory.[1] In all of Prussia the last Wednesday before November 23, or eleven days before the first Sunday of Advent, was fixed as Day of Repentance and Prayer, being also a statutory holiday. Later Protestant church bodies in other German states followed, and in 1934 it was fixed nationwide for the date now usual.

In 1939 the Buß- und Bettag was abolished as a statutory non-working holiday, in order to gain more working days during World War II, and thus it was celebrated on the Sunday following its actual date. After the war Buß- und Bettag was again celebrated on afore-mentioned Wednesdays, being again a statutory holiday in most states of Germany in all four sectors of Berlin and all four Occupation zones (except of the Free State of Bavaria in the American zone). In 1952 also prevailingly Catholic Bavaria made Buß- und Bettag a statutory non-working holiday — first only in its prevailingly Lutheran counties, as of 1981 in all the Free State. In 1966 Buß- und Bettag was abolished in the communist East German Democratic Republic and in East Berlin as statutory non-working holiday in the course of reducing the working week to five days.

After October 3, 1990, the day of unification of East Germany, East and West Berlin with the West German Federal Republic of Germany, Buß- und Bettag became a statutory non-working holiday in the East German states again. In 1994 the Federal Government of Germany passed a law organising the financing of the federal nursing care insurance. It needed more funds thus the federal government proposed to increase the working time of the German labour force for a day, without increasing the wages, but using the revenues of the unpaid additional labour day to secure the financing of the federal nursing care insurance. For this purpose the federal government, then led by Christian Democratic Union (CDU), proposed the German states, competent for the definition of religious feast days as statutory non-working holidays, to abolish the Protestant Buß- und Bettag as statutory non-working holiday.

All German states agreed, except of the Free State of Saxony, which chose instead a higher charge on labour revenues, so that only there Buß- und Bettag remained a statutory non-working holiday as of 1995. In Bavaria Buß- und Bettag remained a day off in all schools and most kindergartens.


  1. The territorially organised Protestant church bodies in Prussia were the Evangelical State Church of Prussia's older Provinces — comprising Old Prussia in the wide sense of this term, the Evangelical State Church of Frankfurt upon Main (German: Evangelische Landeskirche Frankfurt am Main), comprising the former Free City of Frankfurt upon Main, the Evangelical State Church in Nassau (German: Evangelische Landeskirche in Nassau, comprising the former Duchy of Nassau), both merged with the Protestant church body of the People's State of Hesse in September 1933 in today's Evangelical State Church of Hesse and Nassau (German: Evangelische Landeskirche Nassau-Hessen), today's Evangelical Lutheran State Church of Hanover (comprising the Province of Hanover), Evangelical State Church of Hesse-Cassel (German: Evangelische Kirche von Hessen-Kassel, for the former Electorate of Hesse-Cassel, merged in 1934 in today's Evangelical Church of Electoral Hesse–Waldeck (German: Evangelische Kirche von Kurhessen-Waldeck), and the former Evangelical-Lutheran State Church of Schleswig-Holstein, which in 1977 merged with others to become part of the then new North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church. In 1882 most Reformed congregations in the Province of Hanover founded the Evangelical Reformed Church of the Province of Hanover (German: Evangelisch-reformierte Kirche der Provinz Hannover, since 1925 Evangelical Reformed State Church of the Province of Hanover (German: Evangelisch-reformierte Landeskirche der Provinz Hannover), which merged in 1989 in today's Evangelical Reformed Church in Bavaria and Northwestern Germany (German: Evangelisch-reformierte Kirche — Synode evangelisch-reformierter Kirchen in Bayern und Nordwestdeutschland).