Public Holidays and Vacation

I know. I have gotten so spoiled.

When May is approaching, I start daydreaming about long hikes, weekend getaways, barbeques on the Isar, and days off...

In Germany, and especially in Bavaria, there are more public holidays than I had ever dreamed possible. And in May and June there are two or more long weekends, where the holiday is observed on a Thursday and it is almost assumed that you will take Friday and maybe even Monday off. The Friday is called a bridge day and most people take advantage of the nice weather and holiday to either enjoy the great outdoors in and around Munich or skip out of town for a few days.

This year it did not work out optimally.

There are 13 public holidays recognized in Bavaria, more than anywhere else in Germany. They are:

New Year - Jan 1
Epiphany - Jan 6
Good Friday - April/Varies*
Easter Monday - April/Varies*
1st of May - May 1
Ascension Day - May or June/Varies*
Whit Monday - May or June/Varies*
Corpus Christi - June/Varies*
Assumption Day - Aug 15
German Unification Day - Oct 3
All Saints Day - Nov 1
Christmas Day - Dec 25
Boxing Day - Dec 26

Those marked with a (*) are fixed on a weekday (Thursday, Friday or Monday). For the rest it's luck of the draw. If they fall on a Sunday, or worse a Saturday, for the normal Monday to Friday working folks it is just another weekend day. If it falls on Saturday all stores are closed, resulting in no shopping possible at all for the weekend as the stores are always closed on Sundays.

So, in 2009, as it worked out 10 of the holidays fell on weekdays. So 10 days off! However in 2010, we will only get 8 days off. Bugger. In 2011, it is back to happier days (off) and we will have 10 again.

Now, comparing to the US, the number of holidays is really dependent on your job and employer. Federal employees observe 10 (yes 10!) holidays and generally get a Friday or a Monday off if the holiday falls on a weekend. I guess federal employees are the Bavarians of the US.

Most businesses observe a total of 6 holidays (New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas). Three are always fixed on a Monday and one always on a Thursday so the typical American can expect at least 4 days off each year. Businesses may or may not choose to grant a Friday or Monday off when the holiday falls on a weekend and may also give the Friday after Thanksgiving off. So best case, we are talking 7 days off for the year.

It's worse for those working in retail. For them, usually the only guaranteed holidays are Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, when the stores are actually closed.

So, in America, the worst case is 2 days off and best case is up to 10.

Combine the public holidays with the average number of vacation days per country (US a measly 13 and Germany a generous 35) and it becomes a major quality of life point in favor of Germany. Even in my line of work, where we are under heavy pressure to achieve project deadlines, taking vacation time is treated as sacred and not to be challenged unless under the most extraordinary of circumstances.

In the US, my vacation time piled up each year because there was never an ok time to go. The spoken and unspoken pressure and implied consequences of actually chilling out for a few weeks meant that few manage more than a week or maybe two each year even when they have a more generous vacation package. You can understand then a little bit better the crazy American tourist, who feels compelled to visit 6 countries in 7 days. There is no time for loafing around, even on holiday.

When I first moved to Switzerland I found it shocking how much time we spent discussing and planning holidays into our project schedules and how forbidden it was to consider denying, delaying or cancelling vacations when project schedules and budgets were billowing out of control. Four years later, I am more than happy to have the time to recharge throughout the year. I come back with new ideas, more energy, a fresh perspective and more productive then I was when I was on the death march in the US. You can argue whether or not Europeans are more productive with their fewer hours in the office I suppose. I don't have any data to support either position. However, I personally have come to appreciate my work-life balance and still feel I manage to achieve my goals at work.

So, after a very intense period at work recently, I will be enjoying life European style for the next two weeks and recharging a bit. Tomorrow I fly to England to meet up with Mr. Kilt and we will tour parts of Scotland for a week. The week we return, I am headed for a long weekend (oh yes, including a bridge day) in Sicily. The camera is cleaned up and tuned and I am hoping to capture lots of nice photos of the trips and also just enjoying time with Mr. Kilt and relaxing!

Posted from Munich


Juelle-Ann said...

A mid-career federal employee would probably get 10 holidays (assured, as those that fall on a a week-end day, are "celebrated" as you noted on Fri or Mon) plus 15 days vacation. In some agencies, and dependent upon possible union bargaining agreements, possibly 3-5 days of "personal" leave. That's a total of 28 -30 days per calendar year. HOWEVER, if you attempt to take time off in the middle of a large important project, you sill be scorned. So much for work-life balance.

I think there's lots to be said for the German view of life and work.

Expat Traveler said...

When I hear the word holidays I get utterly jealous, probably partially because I enjoyed my time in Europe and the quality of life I got out of it. I enjoyed the travels so much even if it was a short distance...

Now we travel down town and for a walk near the home or for a bike ride. Um, utterly boring!

We probably get about 13 holidays as well with my provincial job. I only took 5 days of vacation last year so I'm really over due for something... like a new job? Oh yes I start monday...

Ok - I cannot wait to see all of the photos and enjoy the beautiful areas you see!

CanadianSwiss said...

Enjoy your well deserved vacation :)

Snooker said...

All I know is that I have trouble even THINKING about going back to America with it's pressures and lack of free time. Germany's attitude toward the "free time makes a better worker" suits me just fine.

C said...

I think those of us in the Carneval capital would take issue with the notion that Bavaria has the most number of holidays in Germany ... we do, after all, get two official holidays out of Carneval season and two "it's okay to drink on the job today" days :)