Easter is a predominantly Christian tradition celebrating the crucifixion and rebirth of Jesus. It is also the time of year when people celebrate the coming of the spring and the reawakening of life in the world. Germany has a wealth of Easter traditions many of which have been adopted by other countries over the years.
One of the grandest and most unusual traditions is that of the Easter bonfire. In the UK bonfires are associated with long dark winter nights so imagining them as a way to welcome the spring seems a little odd. The bonfires were lit originally by pagans to welcome the spring and ward off evil spirits. They rather romantically believed that any house which the light of the fire shone upon would be protected from sickness and misfortune for the coming year. These days the big fires are a jovial affair where friends come together to drink beer and sing well into the early hours of the morning.
As the Easter fires abate some mischievous furry friends hop,skip and jump onto the scene. Der Osterhase, the Easter bunny, originated in Germany. The hare was used to judge whether children had been well behaved on the run up to Easter a little like Santa Claus. His basket is depicted as being filled with eggs, toys and sweets which he leaves for children on Easter morning.
The bunny proved to be just too adorable and is now the Easter egg delivery agent of choice across the globe. There are other creatures in Germany who are responsible for delivering gifts to children yet they haven’t been as popular and as a consequence are becoming less known even in Germany. The Osterfuchs (Easter Fox), Easter Stork and the little known Easter Rooster have been usurped by the bunny who is perhaps a more ruthless character than his fluffy little face lets on.
No celebration would be complete without a cake and in Germany the cake of choice at Easter is Das Gebackene Osterlamm. This is a cake shaped like a lamb with a cream filling and a bready consistency. For those who can’t be bothered to make their own Gebacken Osterlamm then a trip to the local Ostermarktis a must.
Der Ostermarkt is similar to the famous German Christmas market. There are food stalls, toy makers, artists, chocolatiers and all manner wonderfully colourful and fragrant treats to be found on the Easter market. The markets glisten in the spring sunshine with sparkly, multicoloured Easter eggs as they do in homes across the country.
The egg has been used throughout history to symbolise fertility and new life. In Germany children blow out eggs and paint them with vibrant patterns and use them to decorate their houses. The Easter bunny hides eggs and chocolate for children to find on Easter morning.
The colourful eggs aren’t only for children. The Ostereierbaum translates as the Easter Tree and it is just that. Across Germany trees are decorated with beautifully painted eggs in celebration of the coming of spring. People may pause to marvel at a Ostereierbaum as they embark on an Easter Sunday stroll. Meandering with friends and family is the perfect way to walk off the traditional heavy Easter Sunday lunch of roast lamb or chicken and a pretty good way to enjoy the signs of spring emerging all around.
Do you know of any German Easter traditions not mentioned here? We’d love to hear about them.