I love Easter in Germany. It’s full of decorations, rituals and get togethers – almost like a mini Christmas but with better weather promising the arrival of spring.
It is a bigger celebration than anything I experienced in the UK. This could be because in my childhood we were not frequent churchgoers, but I don’t think it’s just down to that. At nursery and school we didn’t do much for Easter either – the odd Easter egg competition but that was that. Mostly, we were concerned with chocolate.
But as at Christmas, the Germans, whether actively religious or not, stay loyal to older, family-oriented traditions, which start before the official Easter-time from Good Friday onwards begins.
1. Blowing Eggs
The first Easter-related activity is decorating eggs. This takes place a good couple of weeks before Easter and involves blowing out the contents of the egg through a tiny pin prick in the bottom and top. The egg shells are rinsed and left to dry. They are then carefully painted by children and grown-ups alike in a cacophony of colours.
2. Osterstrauch (eggs on trees)
Once dry, the now colourful eggs are threaded and hung up, either on a tree outside or on a branch (or collection of branches) inside. This is supposed to represent new life. Drive through any village in Germany around Easter-time and you’ll see the decorated trees in every front garden. Obviously, some people forgo the first step and buy colourful plastic or wooden eggs instead, but few forgo the actual decorating.
3. Grüne Sosse
This family meal, which I’ve written about elsewhere on this blog, on Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday) consisting of a big pot of green-coloured creamy, herby sauce scattered with hard-boiled eggs and Salzkartoffeln (boiled potatoes) is really a speciality specific to Hessen. But these days (and probably because it’s so delicious), you’ll find people eating it all over Germany. Legend has it that this particular dish is eaten on Maundy Thursday because of the day’s German name: Gründonnerstag.
Easter fires are tradition in much of North-Western Europe, including Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Austria and Germany. Most common is for these great big public bonfires to take place on the evening of Easter Sunday, but there are plenty on Good Saturday (the one we went to at Wildpark Schorfheide, just outside of Berlin for example) and Easter Monday as well. This sort of communal festive fire is thought to be a Saxon, pre-Christian tradition, intended to celebrate the triumph of spring over winter. It was also a symbol of fertility; the ashes from the fire being scattered on the fields as a fertilizer once the fire was over. These days they are a good reason to get together (again) during the long holiday weekend, drink a beer and eat a sausage.
I am yet to meet a German child who is simply handed a great big chocolate egg on the morning of Easter Sunday (as their English counterparts might be). The hunt for Easter eggs is just as important (for the parents at least) as the consumption itself. All over Germany in parks, fields and gardens, friends and families group together on Easter Sunday. One or two parents slope off to scatter chocolate delights in trees, behind bushes, underneath stones. Then someone gives a heavy hint that he has just seen the Osterhase (Easter bunny) and wouldn’t it be a good idea to go and have a look around. The children armed with (often homemade) baskets, scurry off to see what they can find. The joy of hunting is immense as is the joy of eating afterwards.