Easter Feast – Frohe Ostern!
Easter (besides Christmas) is the most important holiday in Germany. On this day all Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ from the grave. This is the greatest and most joyful event of the year for the believers, when the tragedy of Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday was healed by the message of the angel at the empty tomb “He is not here. He is risen!”
There is a belief that the name “Easter” originates from an ancient Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn named “Eastre”, “Eostre”, or “Ostara”.
The time of celebration is very special and determined by the Church on the Sunday, following the Vernal Equinox. Thus Easter is always the first Sunday, after the first full Moon, after the Vernal Equinox. If Easter Sunday were to fall on the Full Moon itself, Easter will be postponed to the following Sunday instead. Thus, honoring of Christ coincides with awakening of the nature to the new life after the wintry sleep. In German households there is Spring cleaning and decorations are brought into the home, budding twigs, crocuses and daffodils, willow and birch, the first shoots of grasses, or wheat sprouts. Easter trees, small trees or branches, decorated with eggs, have long been a part of German Easter celebration. An inseparable part of the holiday is the gorgeous Easter meal taken after a long period of severe fasting.
A few weeks before Easter Sunday in Germany, you can also see in many towns an Easter Market, called Ostermarkt in German, where they sell decorated Easter eggs, chocolate eggs and bunnies, spring ornaments and more Easter crafts. Germans love to decorate their house and garden with Easter decoration. But be careful about chocolate Easter eggs in Germany: many contain alcohol and are not suitable for young kids.
Many of these Easter decorations come directly from the pagan Frühlingfest’s (spring fête) symbols of fertility such as the egg (Ei) and the rabbits (Hasen) that became the Ostereier (Easter eggs) and the Osterhasen (Easter bunnies). It is the Germans who brought these customs with them when they immigrated to North America.
On the other hand, Easter in Germany does still have a few customs of its own such as the “Osterbaum” (the Easter Tree) and the “Osterbrunnen” (Easter Fountain).
These Easter trees are either made of branches cut from pussy willows or other flowering bushes or are small living trees and bushes that are already planted around the house.
In the case of the cut branches, they are usually brought in the house and put in a vase to be decorated with hand painted wooden eggs, hollowed out real eggs and little garlands. In the same way, the living trees and bushes outside the house are also decorated with plastic, wooden or real painted eggs and wreaths. It makes for a splash of colour in otherwise often gray spring days, giving the towns and cities a more festive atmosphere.
Of course little Easter chocolate eggs are also left by the big Easter Bunny (Osterhase) around bushes and trees for kids to find on Easter Sunday. Another tradition introduced in North America by Germans settlers.
The customs of the Easter fountain (or well) is found only in the German region called Franconia (Franken in German) which comprises: the northern part of Bavaria, North-west Baden-Württemberg and Südthüringen. It is an old tradition designed to celebrate the importance of water as a life giver and it is believe that the water that has been blessed on Easter Sunday has special powers.
Throughout the year, women collect hollowed eggs, hand-paint them and string them together to make colourful garlands that will be used to decorate the villages’ central fountains. They also make arches and crowns of evergreen branches decorated with a few eggs and some times with little rabbits as well as roosters or hens. The crowns and arches are usually placed on the tip of the fountain. All these decorations come up a week or so before Easter Sunday and stay on the fountain for about a week after, making the town center a very colourful and festive sight, especially on Saturday’s Market with all the vendors stalls around it.