Learn about the traditions and history behind Oktoberfest in Texas!
Like many places in the United States, Texas has a wonderful tapestry of cultures and people that make it a special, unique place to live. Somewhere in that quilt of cultures that is Texas, there is a large patch that looks something like Germany!
For that reason, during the fall season (especially October), you're likely to hear about Oktoberfest. Perhaps a nearby brewery hosts an event, or maybe a local church or other charitable organization will organize such a festival. Whatever the case may be, Texans from many different communities and cultures come together to enjoy food, drinks, music, dancing, and revelry in the joyus jubilee of German traditions known as Oktoberfest.
But where did this celebration come from? Why do so many Texans flock to these fall festivals and which Texas towns take part Oktoberfest? In preparation for this festive time in Texas, we'll take a look at the history of Oktoberfest, how and why it came to Texas, and where you can go to join in. Read on!
What is Oktoberfest?
Oktoberfest is a type of Volksfest
, which translates to "people's festival" in German. These are popular festivals that feature traditional German food and drink, like sausages, pretzels, potato cakes, sauerkraut, wine, and especially beer. In fact, Oktoberfest has its very own style of beer that is served each year at the festival. In addition to the culinary attractions, people can enjoy amusement rides, games, parades, shops, music, and dancing.
It is held every year just outside Munich around mid September and lasts for 16 to 18 days until the first Sunday of October. Oktoberfest is not just any Volksfest, however. It's the largest Volksfest in the world! Each year, more than six million people from all over the world come visit the festival.
So where did this celebration come from? When did Oktoberfest start, and what exactly is being celebrated? Let's take a look!
History of the original German Oktoberfest celebration
Oktoberfest is a giant celebration, but what exactly is being celebrated? The very first Oktoberfest
dates all the way back to 1810 when King Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen decided to throw a huge party for their wedding. On October 18th, the citizens of Munich were invited to the fields just outside the city gates for a rousing day of horse races, parades, and general merrymaking to commemorate their royal union. The fields became known as "Theresienwiese," or "Theresa's Meadow," in honor of the princess - a name that persists to this day.
The very next year, it was decided to hold the event again, this time adding an additional element: a show to commemorate and promote Bavarian agriculture. Unfortunately, in 1813, the celebration was cancelled due to the Napoleonic Wars, but it picked right back up afterwards, continuing to grow with each passing year. A large parade was added, and in 1818, local breweries and restaurants became an integral part of the celebration
, offering food and drink at booths across the fairgrounds.
Although Oktoberfest has been cancelled on several occasions for reasons such as wars and epidemics, it has largely been held every single year since 1810. Over the course of the 200+ years, it has grown from a local festival into a world-renowned event where generations of people come together to take part in these time-honored traditions and festivities.
Traditions and festivities
Oktoberfest is nothing if not a celebration of traditions. As you can imagine, it has gone through a number of changes throughout the 200+ years of its existence. Although many of the more popular aspects are well over 100 years old, very little of the current festival was present during the first few iterations, and many of the most famous Oktoberfest traditions were added somewhere along the way.
Food, wine, and beer
Culinary and agricultural elements, such as food and wine, are important parts of all Volksfest celebrations. However, it is traditional German beer that is the most iconic and recognizable part of the Oktoberfest celebration.
Beer brewing is serious business in Germany, and Oktoberfest is no exception. Only beers brewed in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot of 1516
- a series of laws regulating the ingredients used in beer brewing in Germany- are allowed to be served during Oktoberfest, and only breweries in Munich may sell their suds to thirsty patrons.
Oktoberfest even features its very own traditional style of beer, called Oktoberfest Beer, or Märzenbier
. For generations, only these six breweries have been able to contribute their take on this special style to Oktoberfest, some dating back to the original event in 1810:
On the first day of the festival, tradition says that no other vendor may serve beer until Munich's mayor taps the first keg. That's why one of the most important events during Oktoberfest is the beer barrel tapping ceremony. In one of the large tents, called Schottenhamel, the mayor performs this ceremony at noon as patrons gather to watch and count the number of hammer swings.
Yes, there is even a tradition surrounding the number of hammer swings it takes the mayor to successfully tap the keg! Once complete, twelve gunshots ring out through the fairgrounds, which is the signal to the other vendors to start serving beer and officially declaring Oktoberfest opened.
Parades are a huge part of Oktoberfest, too, and some date back to the very first wedding celebration in 1810. Dressed in traditional Bavarian costumes, thousands of people and decorative floats travel through the center of Munich towards the fairgrounds every year. Most of the parades during Oktoberfest are lead by the Münchner Kindl, which means "Munich Child," in the Bavarian dialect of German. The Münchner Kindl is essentially the mascot for Oktoberfest and the city of Munich, as it is based off of the traditional Munich coat of arms
Yet another traditional parade dates back to 1887 when restaurateurs and brewers loaded their wares onto horse carts and marched to the festival. This still takes place today, and involves much of the some pageantry, including horse carts and brass bands. Brewers and other vendors participate, following the mayor as he walks to the tent for the tapping of the first keg, signalling the start of Oktoberfest.
Another parade began in 1835 in celebration of Ludwig I and Princess Therese's silver wedding anniversary. This is a huge parade filled with rifle clubs, musical bands, marching bands, carriages, and horse carts - as many as 8000 participants! Although they are mostly from the home state of Bavaria, people from Austria, Switzerland, and even Italy join in the march.
Tents, games, and other attractions
Most of the Oktoberfest events take place in tents, although they truly stretch what you might think of as a tent. These are temporary structures often built months in advance and range in size from small coverings to truly extravagant beer halls fit for hundreds of dancing patrons.
The major breweries have their own tents, but there are hundreds of others dedicated to the various food vendors, restaurants, and events, such as carnival games, competitions, and even petting zoos.
Music is another big part of Oktoberfest. Brass bands play folk music in parades and in beer tents throughout the fairgrounds. More modern music can be found, too, and dancing often takes place in many of the tents and halls.
Although the original festivities prominently featured horse racing, as well as tree climbing and bowling, horse races were phased on in 1960.
Today, Oktoberfest is just as popular in Germany as ever, but it has since popped up in countries all over the world. Oktoberfest celebrations can be found in many countries across the globe, from Argentina and Australia to Colombia, India, Russia, South Africa, Russia, China, South Korea, Vietnam, Canada, and the United States.
Even within the US, many states and local communities have their own version of this world famous Volksfest. Today, you can find Oktoberfest celebrations, or some similar version, in New York, California, Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Washington, Virginia, Missouri, Nebraska, Mississippi, New Mexico, Colorado, and of course, Texas (just to name a few)!
How did Oktoberfest arrive in Texas? A brief history of German immigrants in Texas
In the United States, you can usually expect to find Oktoberfest celebrations wherever German immigrants historically settled. While Germans found new homes all across the US, Texas was a particularly attractive destination for settlers.
Although German immigrants came to Texas at many different points in history, the largest movement began in the 1830s
when Texas was still The Republic of Texas and had not yet been annexed by the United States.
Land grants, such as the Fisher-Miller Land Grant
, gave German immigrants large swaths of land to settle between Llano River and Colorado River. More Germans came to Texas
following the German Revolutions of 1848, and settled other communities, such as New Braunfels and Fredericksburg.
Like many immigrants that came to the US throughout its history, Germans brought with them important elements of their culture and built familiar aspects of their homeland into the communities they grew together. For Texas Germans, this included language, food, and traditions - like Oktoberfest!
Where can you celebrate Oktoberfest in Texas? Find a Texas Oktoberfest celebration near you!
We've talked a lot about the Oktoberfest celebrations and traditions; the food, the parades, the music, and of course, the beer. If any of that starts to sound like something you might enjoy, you're probably asking yourself, "Where can I find an Oktoberfest celebration near me?"
Fortunately, if you live in Texas, you don't have to look far! Let's take a look at some of the Oktoberfest and German Volksfest celebrations you can find across Texas.
New Braunfels, TX - New Braunfels Wurstfest
New Braunfels is perhaps one of the more well-known German communities in Texas, and plays host to Wurstfest each year. Although the name differs from "Oktoberfest," and derived from the titular German sausage, it bears many similarities to Oktoberfest.
Wurstfest began in 1961
and has been a staple of the community ever since. Like Oktoberfest, it features carnival rides and attractions, tents, beer halls, music, dancing, and other traditional attractions.
Each year during the first weeks of November (5-13), thousands of people attend this 10-day festival, making it one of the largest German Volksfests in Texas.
Fredericksburg, TX - Oktoberfest in Fredericksburg
Yet another prominent German community in the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg is known for many things, such as the agritourism
surrounding its famous peaches. But starting during the first week of October, the small town prepares for a surge of visitors who come from all across the state to celebrate Oktoberfest!
Oktoberfest in Fredericksburg
includes the traditional German food and drink, as well as multiple stages for live music and dancing, complete with a yodeling contest! Games and rides for the kids can be found at their Kinderpark, and adults have the chance to meet the masters behind some of Texas' local German-inspired breweries. There are artisans selling handcrafted goods, plenty of fun contests, and ample opportunities to experience and celebrate the wonderful things that German heritage brings to Texas.
Houston, TX - Houston's Oktoberfest
As the largest city in Texas, it stands to reason that Houston would play host to one of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations in the state. Everything about Houston's Oktoberfest
is steeped in authentic German-Texan traditions, from polka music and dancing to some of the best German food that Houston has to offer. With a giant menu of both local and imported beers, patrons can enjoy Oktoberfest staples, like Hofbräu-München, local Texas craft brews, and favorites from across the globe.
You can also play games and join in the Annual Oktoberfest Olympiad - a friendly German-style competition with prizes. Games include the beer barrel roll, brat toss, stein race, and the stein hoist - a game where competitors test their strength by holding a full liter beer stein out in front of them for as long as possible.
Finally, while there is plenty of fun for adults, the Houston Oktoberfest is a family event! Kids Fun Zones are available, featuring games like giant Jenga and giant Connect 4, and competitions like a costume contest and a chicken dance-off!
Round Top, TX - The Round Top Shützen Verein Oktoberfest Celebration
Although New Braunfels and Fredericksburg may boast the largest Oktoberfest celebrations in Texas, giant gatherings of people aren't for everyone. Fortunately, for Texans who want to keep it low key while still enjoying Oktoberfest festivities, Round Top throws a celebration each year!
Taking place on the 4th Saturday each October, this local celebration of German heritage is put on by the Round Top Shützen Verein, or the Rifle Club
, who are also responsible for holding the famous annual Round Top Fourth of July Parade
. Held at the rifle hall, traditional German beer and food, such as Kassler, Wurst, and Kraut. There's also a free concert under the outdoor pavillion, featuring past guests like the Round Top Brass Band and other German folk music performers.
This all-day event runs from 11 AM to 8 PM, but make sure to show up at noon for the traditional keg tapping ceremony!
Oktoberfest celebrations across Texas
You're sure to find an Oktoberfest celebration almost anywhere you find people in Texas! While these events may vary from year to year, especially in light of the current COVID-19 concerns, all of these communities are eager to celebrate the vibrant German heritage found here in the Lone Star State.
Check this list to see what Texas towns are celebrating Oktoberfest near you!
San Antonio, TX Riverwalk Oktoberfest
- Enjoy German food, beer, and events on the famous San Antonio Riverwalk.
"German Fare with a Texas Flair
" - Featuring halls for music and dancing, games, food, and drink, including a biergarten sponsored by one of the German Oktoberfest originals, Paulaner.
Cedar Park, TX
- A short drive from Austin, Whitestone Brewery in Cedar Park hosts a German-inspired Oktoberfest
, complete with the ceremonial keg tapping, stein hoisting contests, plenty of food, and live music.
- There's no shortage of Oktoberfest offerings in and around the Texas capital, with plenty of German-inspired fun to go around. Take a look at this list of all the Oktoberfest events Austin has to offer
Corpus Christi, TX
- A "coastal spin" on the German celebration, featuring a homebrew competition, stein hoisting, contest, live music, food, and more.
- A family event
with local events, activities and games for the kids, delicious restaurants, live music, contests, brats, and brews.
Fort Worth, TX
- Sponsored by one of the original Oktoberfest breweries, Spaten, this celebration takes place on Panther Island
and features German food, music, dancing, games, shopping, and biergartens.
Galveston, TX Island Oktoberfest
- For the past 39 years, the First Lutheran Church of Galveston has held their annual Island Oktoberfest, featuring music, food, rides, arts, crafts, and games. Like the original Oktoberfest in Germany, this festival begins with the tradition of tapping the first keg. Better still, the proceeds from this festival go towards several outreach and charity programs benefiting the local community!
Boerne, TX Barktoberfest
- Organized by the Hill Country Animal League, this annual event is possibly one of the furriest and cutest version of Oktoberfest you'll find in Texas! It features local beer vendors, music, food trucks, raffle prizes, pet adoptions, a petting zoo, doggy dash races, and more!
La Grange, TX
- At this Texas Oktoberfest celebration
held at the Fayette County Courthouse Square, you can listen to great local music, sample more than 80 craft beers, shop at local boutiques, and enjoy local food including homemade German schnitzel.
- Home to Shiner beer from the Spoetzl Brewery, you can often find Oktoberfest and other German Volksfest activities here.
Although Oktoberfest is a distinctively German tradition, it has long been a celebration for everyone, no matter who you are! In that sense, it is a true Volksfest - a festival for the people. It is just one of the many important ways that Texans come together to contribute to the rich cultural diversity of our state, and celebrate one another's heritage.
That's why this particular blog is the first in a series meant to highlight all of the various important cultural events, holidays, and traditions brought here over the course of history.
So, stay tuned as we take a deep dive into all of the various cultural celebrations that our fellow Lone Star State neighbors hold dear and help us Celebrate Texans!
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