Oktoberfest beer soft pretzels
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Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Oktoberfest 2020 has been cancelled, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still celebrate at home.

Normally, Oktoberfest occurs sometime in mid to late September and runs through early October, and to most (myself included), that means cracking a beer or six for no reason except that, hey, it’s Oktoberfest. But, while you’re knee-deep in beer, food you can’t pronounce, folksy music, and carnival-style games, do you ever stop and wonder: “What the hell is this all about?” Well, I’m here to tell you every single thing you need to know about Oktoberfest!

The Origins of Oktoberfest

Let’s start with a little history lesson. How did this whole Oktoberfest thing get started? Well, back in—you guessed it—October of 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria, Germany married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Imagine the price of customizing those invitations. Anyway, they invited literally everyone in Munich to their wedding and threw a whole shindig on a field Therese so humbly called “Theresienwiese.” These are the fields right in front of the Munich gates that Oktoberfest is still celebrated on today, except now they’re called “the Wiesn” for convenience.

Six days after the Prince and Princess got married, a bunch of rich people got together and organized a horse race (probably in their honor, but no one really agrees on that), which I guess the people of Germany were really fond of, because they decided to hold an annual horse race right on the Wiesn. Every year, the horse races got more and more popular, and people started adding more games and celebration. That celebration is what we call Oktoberfest today! It’s all just a never-ending wedding reception.

How Is Oktoberfest Celebrated?

Now let’s get to the fun part: How is a traditional Oktoberfest celebrated today (at least in normal times)? Well first, you’ll notice that the first beer of the festival is not served until noon. That’s because tradition says that at noon, the Lord Mayor opens the first beer barrel of the entire festival and declares “O’zapft is,” which means “it’s tapped.” It also means Oktoberfest is officially a go.

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Next, on the first Sunday of Oktoberfest, you’ll (usually) notice a lot of people—I’m talking like, 8,000 people—in traditional Bavarian clothing, waving flags and playing traditional music (polka, yodeling, the like). That’s because a bunch of notable Bavarians and excited denizens put on one of the largest parades in the world, all to honor the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Therese with the Long Name. Finally, Oktoberfest is one giant festival. There are rides, a Ferris wheel, game booths, and food stalls—just like your local carnival, only a million times bigger.

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Obviously, that’s a bad idea during COVID-19, but the food and drinks can be enjoyed at home any time you want! Speaking of…

What Kind of Food Is Eaten for Oktoberfest?

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Finally, the real reason you’re reading this article. What about the food?! What about the beer?!?! Let’s dive on into that! So, you’re drinking a lot. I’m not judging you, I’m just saying you’ll need some hearty food to keep you going. You’ll find a lot of traditional German dishes to do the trick: sauerkraut, cabbage, schnitzel, soft pretzels, pork knuckles, grilled whitefish, smoked sausages, and spaetzle, just to say the least.

Related Reading: Our Best German Recipes for Oktoberfest

For dessert, gingerbread necklaces are a very popular delicacy and souvenir. Since Oktoberfest really is a celebration of love after all, it’s common for gingerbread cookies to be iced with romantic messages that people can give to their significant others. Really cute stuff going on here.

And What About Oktoberfest Beer?

Let’s get to the beer now. As you may well imagine, Oktoberfest takes its beer very seriously. Turns out, there are only six breweries in Munich (Paulaner, Spaten, Hacker-Pschorr, Augustiner, Hofbräu, and Löwenbräu), and if the beer isn’t from any of those breweries, you’re not finding it at Oktoberfest. The beers all have at least a 6 percent alcohol content and, for the most part, are served in one-liter steins. Finally, in 1516, a Reinheitsgebot—or “purity”—law was passed to make sure all German breweries were producing the highest quality beer. All Oktoberfest beers must meet these standards, so you know you’re drinking the best of the best.

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Related Reading: A Guide to German Beer Styles | Why Is Oktoberfest Beer Brewed in March?

So, now that you’ve got all this knowledge, you can channel your zest for Oktoberfest into an at-home celebration. Use these next few weeks to eat, drink, and be merry!

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The original version of this post was written in 2017. It has been updated with current information.

Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Toniann is a full-time legal assistant who expresses her love of food and eating by blogging for Chowhound. Her passions include spicy foods, hard seltzers, and Ariana Grande. Toniann spends her free time doing bar trivia, playing competitive volleyball, and studying for the LSAT (because foodies can be lawyers, too!) Follow her on Instagram @toniannpasqueralle and Twitter @NOTtoriann.
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