Oktoberfest is a German tradition known around the world for its beer, delicious food, and celebration of German culture. It’s a chance to put aside difference, raise a glass, and shout, “Prost!” (That’s “Cheers!” in German. Here’s how other countries say cheers.)
Given the name, one would think that it would also be a chance to celebrate the great month of October. And it is. (Learn these mind-blowing facts about autumn around the world.) What’s shocking, though, is that this festival’s namesake month barely gets to take part in the festivities.
That’s right—the majority of Oktoberfest takes place in September. The entire festival runs 16-18 days, depending on the year. For example, the 2017 dates are September 16–October 3. However, when Oktoberfest began in 1810, it took place entirely in October, from the 12th to the 17th.
The first Oktoberfest was a celebration of the marriage between Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. (Learn more about the origins of Oktoberfest—and why it’s not all about beer.) It lasted five days, during which the citizens of Munich were invited to eat and drink to their hearts’ content while listening to live music and watching parades. The party ended with a horse race at the edge of town.
It was such a success that this celebration should become an annual festival, complete with every attraction that made the first so enjoyable. As the festival got longer, the starting dates were moved into September because the days were longer and the weather was warmer. Visitors could stay out later to enjoy the gardens and the famous fields that make up the festival grounds without getting chilly.
In keeping tradition with the original dates, the last weekend of modern Oktoberfests always takes place in October. If the first Sunday in October is the 1st or 2nd of the month, the festival runs until October 3, so it can coincide with the public holiday, Tag der Deutschen Einheit, or Day of German Unity.