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BellaOnline's German Culture Editor


German Easter Tradition - Rabbits, Eggs and Ostara

Easter in Germany, Ostern in Deutschland, and a special Easter Bunny joins St. Nicholas and Santa Claus as a holiday gift giver in Germany, Hanni Hase, "Hanni Hare", who for a few weeks every year is inundated with letters sent by children from all over the world. All mailed to Ostereistedt, "Easter Egg Town", a small Lower Saxony town where each of the thousands of letters is carefully answered.

Although there might be an emailed reply because "Hanni Hase" is an Easter Rabbit who has kept up with the times. Helped by the German postal service he has been online since 1996, and his website describes him as:

A little, long-eared four-footed friend with brown fur and a small snub nose.

And his message as Easter approaches:

Hallo liebe Kinder, hallo meine lieben Freundinnen und Freunde!
Bald ist Ostern!
Ich bin schon ganz aufgeregt! Ihr auch?

Hello dear children, hello my dear girls and boys!
Soon it will be Easter!
I am really excited! You too?

One of the most popular holidays of the year, German children are excited as Easter draws closer, and until Easter Sunday they decorate and color Easter eggs, to use to trim their balconies, gardens, homes and schools, or hang from trees, branches, fountains and wells.

Then it will be time to find those baskets filled with colored eggs, chocolate rabbits, and candy or small toys in decorated paper mache eggs, which the Easter Rabbit will have hidden sometime during Easter night.

Easter is deeply rooted in German culture: as a time of celebrations, customs and traditions across the country.

The word Ostern is believed to have come from the German Spring and Fertility Goddess Ostara, whose sacred animal was the fertile hare, and in pre-Christian days a light cult held a festival in her honor as soon as the days became longer.

With the introduction of Christianity this was changed in the second century to a celebration for the resurrection of Jesus.

As a source of new life the egg had been a symbol of creation, spring and fertility since ancient times, long before Christianity, with its origins traced back to 5000 BC, when the Egyptians and Persians painted eggs to eat and give as presents for spring equinox.

The first Christians then placed eggs both in and on graves, believing that just as a grave hid a life the egg also seemed to be dormant but contained life, and German archeologists have found centuries old examples of these offerings.

Later the Medieval Era saw them become a form of payment for everything from debts to rent for fields, and any that were given in this way to monasteries and churches were passed on to the poor of the neighborhood.

As there was a ban on eating eggs during Lent they were dyed with different mixes made from fruit, vegetables and herbs, so it was possible to tell the ones that had been boiled from those that had not.

Red was the first color, a symbol of the blood and suffering of Christ, but this was soon joined by Yellow for wisdom and Green for innocence, Orange strength, passion and warmth, and White for purity.

Coloring and decorating eggs became a custom, and while the wealthy covered their eggs in gold leaf, everyone else continued to dye theirs with the juice from fruit and vegetables, and decorate them with flowers.

The oldest decorated eggs found date from the fourth century, when the Romans occupied Germania, and by the seventeenth century a custom had begun to hide them to be found later.

Even after Martin Luther broke away from Rome and Catholicism, German Protestants continued the Catholic tradition of eating colored eggs for Easter, despite not following the Catholic Lent Fast when no eggs were allowed. Nevertheless by Easter there were still eggs in abundance.

As a shape with no beginning and no end, together with the question of which came first the chicken or the egg, "eggs" became a symbol for infinity, and in almost all ancient cultures eggs were held as an emblem of life.

In Germany many different traditions grew up around the simple egg, including:

As a powerful symbol of fertility.
Often used in rituals to strengthen a woman’s ability to have children.
To predict the sex of an unborn child an egg was suspended over a pregnant woman, and a future girl or boy forecast by how it rotated.

Egg rolling is a game nowadays, but there also lay a reason behind its origins. It was believed that the egg's fertility would be transferred into the ground and so ensure a good harvest.

Eggs painted for Easter guaranteed good health when eaten, especially when "Green" colored eggs were on the Gruendonnerstag, Green Thursday, menu, and eggs laid that day also promised everything that was good.

While eggs laid on Good Friday and cooked on Easter Sunday promised fertility of the trees and crops. As well as protection against sudden deaths.

The Egg, the Rabbit and the Goddess Ostara in Germany’s Easter celebrations, History, Easter symbols and Pagan and Christian traditions interwoven by the passage of time.

Frohe Ostern! - Happy Easter

Illustrations: Photo of Hanni Hase, courtesy Hanni Hase Ostereistedt - "Ostara" (1884) by Johannes Gehrts. The goddess Eostre/Ostara flies through the heavens surrounded by Roman-inspired putti, beams of light and animals, while Germanic people look up at the goddess from below, courtesy de.Wikipedia - Easter Bunny and young admirer, courtesy Spiegel.de

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Easter in Germany - Eggs and Easter Trees
Easter in Germany - Recipes
Easter in Germany - Traditions
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This content was written by Francine McKenna-Klein. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Francine McKenna-Klein for details.


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