Easter in Germany, Ostern in Deutschland, and a special Easter Bunny joins St. Nicholas and Santa Claus as a holiday gift giver. Hanni Hase, "Hanni Hare".
For a few weeks every year he is inundated with letters, sent by children from all over the world, and all mailed to Ostereistedt, "Easter Egg Town". A small Lower Saxony town where each of the thousands of letters is answered.
Although it might be an emailed reply, as "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, where his website describes him as:
A little, long-eared four-footed friend with brown fur and a small snub nose.
And the 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, decorating and coloring eggs to trim their balconies, gardens, homes and schools; or hang from trees, branches, fountains and wells.
Then it will be time to fill those baskets with the colored eggs, chocolate rabbits, candy or small toys in decorated paper mache eggs that the Easter Rabbit will have spent Easter night hiding.
Easter is deeply rooted in German culture: 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 of pre-Christian times. Her sacred animal was the fertile hare, and as soon as the days became longer a light cult held a festival in her honor.
In the second century, after the introduction of Christianity, this was changed 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, and its origins can be traced back to 5000 BC, when Egyptians and Persians painted eggs to eat and give as presents for spring equinox.
The first Christians placed eggs both in and on graves, believing that just as a grave was hiding a life an egg also seemed to be dormant but contained life. German archeologists have found centuries old examples of these offerings.
During the Medieval Era they became a form of payment for everything from debts to rent for fields, and eggs 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, making it 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. Then decorate them with flowers.
The oldest decorated eggs found date from the fourth century, when the Romans occupied Germania, and by the seventeenth century the custom began of hiding 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 Lenten Fast where no eggs were allowed.
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 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 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, Rabbit and Goddess Ostara in Germany’s Easter celebrations. History, Easter symbols, 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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