- Culture & Society
Easter in Germany
15 Apr 2022
Easter is one of the most important festivals in Germany - right after Christmas (Check out how Christmas is celebrated in Germany here). Easter in Germany has Christian origins. However, in Germany it is no longer celebrated only as a Christian festival, but by many as a celebration for spring with Easter bunnies and Easter eggs. In this article we explain how Germany celebrates Easter and where different Easter traditions come from.
The Christian Easter festival begins on the Thursday before Easter, which is also called Maundy Thursday (Gründonnerstag). On this day, the Last Supper is commemorated, which Jesus held with his disciples before he went on the Way of the Cross the next day. On this day, Good Friday, the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross is commemorated. This is why many German states still have a ban on dancing on this day. The burial rest on the next day, Holy Saturday, is followed by the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. This is the most important day of the Easter festival. Easter Monday is a public holiday in Germany as well.
There are many symbols associated with Easter, many of which are based on Christian traditions. Others derive from pagan customs that represent fertility and new life at the beginning of spring.
The Easter candle comes from the Christian tradition, where it represents the light of Christ overcoming darkness. The Easter candle was traditionally lit in churches and the light was then distributed into people's homes. But candles and fire also played an important role in pagan customs as a symbol of sun and life. So the Easter fire can also be interpreted as both a Christian and a pagan tradition. Usually, a large fire is lit in the night from Saturday to Sunday, where people gather and celebrate. In pagan tradition, the arrival of spring and the awakening of nature were celebrated in this way. In some parts of Germany, instead of large fires, Easter wheels are lit and pushed down a hill.
The Easter lamb has its origins in the Old Testament, where it stands as a classic sacrificial animal. The vulnerability and defencelessness is then transferred to Jesus, who died innocent and defenceless. This is why he is also called the Lamb of God. Today, the Easter lamb is often sold in the form of cakes. The pastry in the shape of a lamb is particularly rich in sugar and butter and therefore perfect for breaking the fast that begins 40 days before Easter.
Eggs are considered a symbol of fertility and growth in many cultures and religions. In early Christianity, eggs were even used as grave goods, as they were supposed to symbolise the resurrection of Christ. The colouring of eggs probably dates back to the 10th century, when Egyptian Copts gave each other red eggs for Easter. The red colour stood for the blood of Jesus. However, painted eggs were also considered a pagan fertility symbol in pre-Christian times.
Probably the best-known Easter symbol is the Easter bunny. The hare as a symbol can be traced back to various traditions. In connection with the Greek goddess of love Aphrodite, it symbolises fertility, and as a companion animal of the West Germanic goddess Ostera, it brings spring. The German word “Ostern” is derived from the goddess's name. The hare as a symbol of Jesus brings new life with his resurrection. Since the 17th century, the custom of the Easter bunny bringing Easter eggs has been established in southern Germany. In other parts of the country, other animals such as the stork, fox or raven initially brought the Easter eggs. The hare, however, prevailed and became really famous at the end of the 19th century through industrially produced toys and chocolate figures.
How Easter is celebrated in Germany
You can still find all these Easter symbols in decorations for Easter and in the festivities. Whether people celebrate Easter as a Christian holiday or as a spring festival, some traditions have become particularly entrenched. Decorating with Easter eggs, for example, is a firm part of German Easter tradition. Many people paint the eggs themselves after they have been carefully blown out. There are many ways to decorate the eggs - dyeing, painting, printing, decorating with wax and others. The decorated eggs are then usually hung on Easter bushes by a thread. In many front gardens you will also find colourful plastic eggs hanging from bushes. Boiled eggs are also dyed and for those who shy away from any effort, colourful boiled eggs are sold in every supermarket.
On Easter Sunday, families and friends gather to celebrate Easter. For this purpose, Easter eggs, sweets and small gifts are hidden to the delight of the children (and adults). Then the big search begins. There is a festive meal, trips to the countryside and Easter walks. However, every family has its own customs at Easter.
Special Easter traditions have developed in different parts of Germany. In Brandenburg, for example, there is egg-rolling, where boiled eggs are rolled down a hill. In Bavaria, the egg bobbing competition is very popular. Two boiled eggs are beaten against each other with the tip. The egg that breaks first loses. In Baden-Württemberg, so-called Easter palms are erected. These are long wooden sticks with palm branches and ornaments at the top that are carried through the villages in processions on Palm Sunday (one week before Easter). In Saxony-Anhalt, it was the custom for the fox to bring the Easter eggs. However, he has long since been replaced by the Easter Bunny and the fox has almost fallen into oblivion. In Hesse, Easter marches have been a tradition since the 1950s. These are demonstrations, rallies or peace marches that have their origins in protests against nuclear weapons. In Thuringia, countless Easter postcards with spring-like motifs were still sent out until World War 2. However, the war put an end to this tradition and today it is hardly known.
Do you know other Easter traditions from Germany? Feel free to write us in the comments or directly to [email protected]! Happy Easter!
Written by: Tanja Holbe
Cover Photo: Annette Rider
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