Finally, winter is over, and everything seems to be awakening from a long sleep. Nature is bursting into bloom, spring fever is taking us over and Easter is just around the corner. In Germany, there are many different traditions to dismiss winter and celebrate the arrival of springtime and the Easter feast. If you’re not familiar with all these traditions, don’t worry. This article will give you a short introduction to the most important traditions and explain all you need to know. Maybe you’re interested in taking part in one of the festivities. Go ahead, it’s definitely an experience you don’t want to miss!
The “Burning of Winter”
Especially in the Southwest of Germany, the “burning” of winter is an old tradition that has been brought back to life recently in many communities. Its purpose is to chase winter away for good and conjure a long summer followed by a fruitful harvest season.
But how does one “burn” winter? First you make a man out of straw to symbolize winter. This straw man is then brought in a handcart to a community meeting place where it is then burned. In some villages, however, instead of the straw fellow, it is the Christmas trees collected all around town that are burned as a way to represent winter’s passing. Traditionally, the burning of winter takes place on the Sunday three weeks before Easter, in the middle of the Lenten period. Often, the burning is preceded by a little procession, led by a symphonic band.
In Germany, on May 1 or the night prior, the so-called May Tree is erected in the village square. The May Tree is constructed using the stem of a tree, which is then wrapped in wire. Over the wire, garlands or ribbons of crepe paper are tied. This tradition usually goes along with a little village festivity, at which people come together in the main square to meet others, to eat and drink. Oftentimes, a choir sings or an orchestra plays while the tree is put in the right position. The May Tree is traditionally erected by young men who also have the task to guard the tree during the night to prevent it from being stolen.
Walpurgis Night is a traditional European festivity that is derived from the memorial day of St. Walburga on May 1, the day of her canonization. Many festivities, especially the Dance Into May, grow out from this tradition. Usually, a May fire is ignited to banish evil spirits. In nearby areas, such as in the Palatinate, Eifel and Saarland, on the evening of April 30, children are allowed to wander the streets and steal the May Tree and anything else that is not nailed down, along with other so-called May pranks. This tradition is called Hexennacht, or Witch’s Night. So be careful what you leave outside that night — it may disappear the next morning!
Food and drinks on Easter
In Germany, there are many traditions surrounding food and beverages and cooking and baking during the Easter season, and some people strictly stick to those “rules.” On Gründonnerstag, or Green Thursday, people eat something green, most likely spinach and eggs. On Karfreitag, or Good Friday, people usually avoid eating meat. Instead, the common meal on this day is fish or, alternatively, vegetables. People often meet in their communities to eat a fish meal together. On Good Friday, other pleasures are forbidden as well, for the day is regarded as a “silent holiday” — dancing is not allowed, and most public events, such as sports, are prohibited.
On Easter Sunday, the traditional meal in Germany is lamb — in every version you can think of. Eating lamb is part of Christian belief, where the easter lamb was slaughtered as the Lamb of God. In Germany, it is also a popular tradition to bake a sponge cake in the shape of a lamb or bunny, which often forms the center of the Easter table.
On Karsamstag, or Easter Saturday, especially in rural areas of Southern Germany and Austria, very large bo fires are ignited. Again, people meet to eat and drink together.
On Easter, children in Germany also look forward to the great Easter egg hunt in either the garden or in the house. These eggs are hidden by the Osterhase, or Easter bunny. Children and parents either make or buy Osternester, or special Easter baskets, in which the eggs and other sweets are placed. Also, it is tradition to decorate bushes in the front yard with hollowed-out eggs. Both the hollowed as well as the intact eggs can be purchased at local grocery stores, but often people dye them at home for themselves.
There are also other fun things to do with Easter eggs in Germany —local rifle clubs often organize Easter egg shootings, where participants shoot at paper targets to win colored, hard-boiled eggs.Now you have learned a great deal about how to welcome spring or celebrate Easter in Germany. As you may have noticed, Germans use every opportunity to celebrate the arrival of spring together with food, drinks and music.
While you’re in Germany, try taking part in one of these events and celebrate spring, the German way.