Germans observe Easter traditions

by Petra Lessoing
Ramstein Public Affairs

Easter is just around the corner. It starts with observing Holy Thursday on April 9, which Germans call 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 to eat green vegetables that day, preferably spinach.

The next day, Good Friday, April 10, 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.

Several weeks before Easter, decorations are put up inside the house and outdoors. It is most common to hang up Easter eggs and other ornaments on branches from forsythia, willow catkins and other trees, which are put up in vases or grow in the backyards.

In some towns and villages, Easter trees are put up on public places, fountains are decorated with eggs, flowers and garlands, and Easter markets with selling booths and merry-go-rounds are held.

Ramstein-Miesenbach is holding its annual Easter market from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 11 on Marktplatz. Besides  the vendors and farmers of the weekly market who will present their products such as fruit, vegetables, cheese, pasta, meat and wurst specialties, eggs, flowers and plants, a regional trout farm will demonstrate how the fish smoked. The Marktbrunnen (market fountain) will turn into the biggest Easter nest of the Pfalz. Starting at 10 a.m., three life-sized Easter bunnies will give out 1,000 Easter eggs to visitors.

Easter Sunday usually starts with the hunt for Easter eggs and Easter baskets; it’s  the biggest joy for children who still believe the Easter bunny delivers eggs, chocolate and candy. Parents hide the Easter surprises in the most spectacular places such as the oven, washing machine, closets and, of course, in the gardens. Another tradition is the Easter walk through the woods, where little ones may find some more eggs the Easter bunny may have accidentally “lost.”

A popular meal served on Easter 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.

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 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; storks, foxes and donkeys were also 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 began around 1850, the long-eared bunny became an Easter trademark.