The original celebration dates back to the 1800s and yes, it kicked off in Germany.

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Every fall, millions of people gather in Munich, Germany to drink beer, eat soft pretzels, and celebrate Oktoberfest. An average of six million people get together each year and drink more than two million gallons of beer—and that's only for the celebration in Munich! In fact, the gathering is so popular that thousands of Oktoberfest celebrations are held all over the world. And while I'll never turn down the opportunity to drink beer and eat pretzels, I have always wondered what the purpose is. 

people clinking large beer steins together at oktoberfest event
Credit: golero/Getty Images

When is Oktoberfest 2021? 

Despite the name, Oktoberfest actually begins in September. Oktoberfest is a two-week-long celebration that always ends on the first Sunday in October, meaning it starts the last week of September. This year, Oktoberfest begins on Saturday, September 18, and ends on Saturday, October 2, 2021.

Keep in mind that these dates are only for the traditional festival held in Munich, Germany. Many places all over the world hold their own Oktoberfest celebrations throughout the months of September and October. 

The History of Oktoberfest

And it turns out, the story behind this lively festival doesn't actually involve beer or pretzels. On October 12, 1810, a party was held to celebrate the marriage of King Louis I to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The festival lasted five days, and included dancing, celebrating, and a horse race. The next year, an agricultural fair was added to the festival as the couple celebrated their first year of marriage, and it quickly became an annual event. 

It wasn't until 1818 that food and drink vendors became part of the festival, and by the 1900s, the vendor booths had transformed into large temporary beer halls. Today, these beer halls can seat up to 6,000 guests each, which is necessary because more than six million people (mostly tourists) flock to Munich each year to take part in the celebration. 

And although it started as a marriage celebration, today, the festival represents a celebration of German culture—with special emphasis on food and drink. At a typical Oktoberfest you'll find beer stein-holding contests, people dressed in traditional lederhosen, and usually a lively German band playing traditional music. 

The Munich Oktoberfest will not be held in 2021 because of the pandemic, but there are a number of celebrations in other parts of the world. For an up-to-date list of the celebrations happening near you, check out this compilation of Oktoberfests in North America

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