Editor’s Note: This article was published in a previous edition of the Kaiserslautern American and the information has been updated to honor this year’s events.
Easter holidays are just around the corner. In Germany, Easter week starts with Holy Thursday, 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.” Some people keep up the tradition and eat green vegetables that day, preferably spinach.
The following 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.
A few 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 forsythia branches, willow catkins, and other trees, which are put up in vases, or grow in backyards. In some towns and villages, Easter trees are put up in public places, fountains are decorated with eggs, flowers, and garlands, and Easter markets with selling booths and merry-go-rounds are held.
Easter Sunday usually starts with the hunt for Easter eggs and Easter baskets, bringing joy to 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 garden. Another tradition is the Easter walk through the woods, where little ones may find some more eggs the Easter Bunny 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 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, hens started laying eggs again.
It has not been explored why eggs play such a big role on Easter. One reason might be that the Church had, at one point, prohibited eating 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.