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A few days ago, my brother turned 25. Socks were hung up everywhere to make it clear: He is now an Alte Socke (“old sock”)!
The Alte Socke receives a Sockenkranz (sock wreath), which is hung up outside the house, so everyone can see that a member of the household has turned 25. Old Socken are filled with Stroh (straw) or something else like Altpapier (waste paper), and hung up on a line. This Sockenkranz stays for several weeks. Hanging up the Kranz and taking it down are accompanied by parties, and drinking alcohol (read: beer) is an important part of that. This tradition is widespread in Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) and Nordrhein-Westfalen (North-Rhine Westphalia).
My brother got a Sockenkranz. Additionally, we also made him a 25 made of Stroh, decorated with even more Socken. An (embarrassing) picture of my brother cannot be missing!
We screwed two beams of wood together, fixed metal rods in the shape of a 2 and a 5 on them, and then bound Stroh on them with wire. This whole process took us around 4-5 hours. During this exhausting task, my brother, as the Alte Socke, was supposed to bewirt (host, cater) the makers with refreshments. This just means a Kasten Bier (crate of beer), usually. But we wanted to surprise him, so that did not happen.
Traditionally, the socks stand for the Ehelosigkeit (celibacy) of the man at a “high age” (times have changed!). So in some regions, the Sockenkranz tradition is omitted if the man is already married. But because it is fun, and a great reason to have a party, the tradition is mostly upheld anyway!
As you can see, I talked about my brother, and how he turned 25, and is now an old sock. Women, on the other hand, do not become Alte Socken, but Alte Schachteln (“old boxes”). They receive a Schachtelkranz, made up of cigarette packets.
Sometimes, the man is not given a Sockenkranz, but a Flaschenkranz, in case he is quite the drinker.
In Schaltjahren (leap years), the roles are reversed, and girls receive a Sockenkranz, and boys receive a Schachtelkranz. I know what you’re thinking: it is 2016! A leap year! Your brother should have received a Schachtelkranz, then! And you are right. But we just didn’t have that many cigarette packets!
Additionally, there are many ways to celebrate. Most of them involve a lot of drinking for the birthday kid! For example, before the Kranz is hung up, the Alte Socke or Alte Schachtel is supposed to guess the length of the Kranz in Bierflaschen (beer bottles) as a measuring unit. The difference betweent he actual length and the estimated length needs to be drunk!
Are there any such crazy birthday traditions where you are from?