Easter celebrations originate in ancient times

Petra Lessoing
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***Throughout the community, Easter is present for weeks. Little trees in backyards are decorated with Easter eggs; special Easter wreaths hang on entrance doors, and in houses, Germans put branches of forsythias, willow catkins and other trees in vases and decorate them with Easter eggs and ornaments.

In department and grocery stores, the shelves are filled with Easter candy — chocolate and sugar bunnies or chicks, eggs in all variations — filled or unfilled, marzipan or rock almonds — and Easter baskets and nets are filled with treats.

For children, the most famous symbol of Easter is the Easter Bunny, who is as fascinating as Santa Claus. But while they get to see Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny stays invisible. Children believe that the Easter Bunny and his helpers dye the eggs, bring them to their homes and hide them in the house or in the backyard for them to find. The hunt for Easter eggs is the main feature of Easter for children.

The Easter egg had its beginnings in the ancient past. Early philosophers gave special significance to the oval shape of elemental things, from the raindrop to the seed, and the oval Easter egg is an outgrowth of ancient pagan rites associated with the rebirth of nature.

For the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, the egg was a symbol of fertility and life. They put clay and marble eggs in graves to facilitate the dead passing into another world.

In China 5,000 years ago, it was tradition to give away decorated eggs for the beginning of spring. In Finland, people claim that the universe derived from one giant egg. In Persia, eggs were only combined with spring festivities, because during the season of the new sun, poultry started laying eggs again.

It has not been explored why eggs play such a big role on Easter. A reason might be the strict prohibition by church to eat eggs during Lent.

In former times, decorated eggs were given as gifts throughout the year. Later it was just done on Easter. It was not only the Easter Bunny giving away eggs, but also storks, foxes and donkeys were the bearers of eggs in mythology. In 1682, the Easter Bunny was mentioned for the first time. When the production of Easter chocolate and bunnies as well as the printing of Easter picture books and postcards began around 1850, the long-eared bunny became an Easter trademark.

In Germany, Easter celebrations start the Thursday before Good Friday, called “Gründonnerstag,” or green Thursday. The word green is not associated with the color but rather with the old German verb “grienen,” which means “to bemoan.” It’s a custom in German families to eat green vegetables that day, preferably spinach.

The following day, Good Friday, is an official German holiday. For Protestants it is one of the most important religious holidays, while Roman Catholics strictly observe it as a day of fasting.

Germans celebrate Easter on two days, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. A popular meal served is roast lamb. According to Christians, the lamb is the symbol for the crucifixion and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Easter lamb has its origin in a 2,000-year-old Jewish custom, and in 1265, the lamb appeared as a pastry for the first time. Today, bakeries offer Easter lamb pastries as well as Easter leavened wreaths with a hard-boiled colored egg in the middle.

In some towns, Easter markets are set up, where vendors sell handcrafted decorations, candles, artificial flowers, stuffed animals and candy. The Easter market with merry-go-round in Kaiserslautern is set up around Stiftskirche through March 26. The Easter market in Ramstein-Miesenbach takes place Saturday.