Eggs and rabbits play an important role in the mix of religious, secular and folk traditions that is Ostern in Deutschland...Easter in Germany. Although the celebration does tend to be a traditional not commercial holiday, and throughout the country Good Friday and Easter Monday, which were originally "free days" for workers to attend church services, are now public holidays.
It all begins with Palm Sunday, Palmsonntag, the Sunday before Easter. The first day of Karwoche, Holy Week, and also for the first communion for many young people. Processions in towns and villages symbolize the journey made by Jesus as he rode a donkey along palm branch covered roads to Jerusalem, and are poignant sights.
Priests and choirs lead young and old, fit pushing the infirm in wheelchairs, families, children in baby carriages and babes in arms, all singing and carrying Palmbuschen. The decorated pussy-willow bouquets that will be blessed during the morning church service, and replace difficult to find palm branches.
These are usually the first Easter decorations in a home, and this blessing was believed to give them protective qualities for home, family, even stables, until next Ash Wednesday.
Thursday, Maundy Thursday, is Gründonnerstag Green Thursday in German speaking countries, which has been celebrated since the 13th century and originally had no connection to the color green, but stemmed from an old German word, "greinen" to groan, mourn or weep. The day commemorated the Last Supper and the betrayal by Judas.
Over time this association was lost, replaced by "green" as the color of hope and symbol for the awaking of nature after winter.
Homes are cleaned and decorated with green branches or ornaments, it is also time for decorated "Easter trees" to appear, while green food, green vegetables: spinach, beans, broccoli, leeks with chives and other herbs, make up the meals of the day. Popular ones are Gruene Bohnensuppe - Green Bean Soup, and Sieben Kräuter Suppe - Seven Herb Soup, because of a custom based on an old superstition that green foods eaten on Gründonnerstag give protection for the rest of the year.
Good Friday Karfreitag is from "kara" - "care", Caring Friday, and the week after Palm Sunday, Holy Week, is known as Karwoche "Caring Week" in Germany. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday used to be dedicated to an account from the bible, but now only Friday is marked by a special liturgy; a day of remembrance for the crucifixion, with church services and religious processions.
Including the Kreuzwegandacht. A walk in prayer along the fifteen "Stations of the Cross", usually held at 3 p.m., the time it is believed Jesus died on the cross.
No church bells are rung, and children are told these have flown to Rome to be blessed.
Fish is usually on the Good Friday menu, and it could be anything from herring salad or fish soup to an extravagant fish terrine.
In many areas bakers mark the crust of the day's bread with a cross; although its four sections might also have represented the quarters of the moon honoring the pre-Christian festival of Eostre, the goddess of spring. This later became Easter, a religious festival controlled by the lunar calendar.
Saturday's Easter Bonfires, "Osterfeuer", in some regions on Easter Sunday or Monday, follow a Christian belief that fire is a sign of the resurrection of Christ. Although the tradition in this form also dates back to at least the 16th century with its origins probably in pre-Christian days, and families, friends and neighbors who gather around bonfires, made mainly from old Christmas trees, are not all Christians but there for simply for enjoyment.
Perhaps accompanied by some grilled Bratwurst, beer or Glühwein, they celebrate the tradition of the light and warmth of fire symbolizing an end of winter and arrival of spring.
Osterraeder, huge flaming wood and straw wheels, are an alternative way of marking Easter and winter's end, and 2,000 years ago they were used to represent the sun. Seen especially in areas of North Rhine Westphalia, they are spectacular; rolling down hills leaving hundreds of meters of burning tracks behind them, with wheels that make it to the bottom of the hill a sign the next harvest will be successful.
Ostersonntag, Easter Sunday, and Karwoche ends. It is a day of celebration for the triumph of life over death, while the Easter rabbit or hare brings colored and chocolate eggs, hiding them or leaving them in nests children have prepared.
This odd combination of rabbit, eggs and a Christian Festival began in the Middle Ages.
Rents due from tenant farmers had to be paid on the Thursday before Easter and, as they were not supposed to be eaten during Lent, Medieval landlords were paid in eggs that had been cooked and preserved. In addition to any hares caught on their property.
Although it was not until the mid 20th century that finally the rabbit/hare was chosen as "Egg Bringer", beating the foxes, storks and cranes that had shared the tradition up until then.
And with all those cooked eggs around Frankfurter Gruene Sosse mit Eiern, Eggs with Frankfurter Green Sauce, using herbs left from Green Thursday, is a favorite dish often added to the Easter Sunday end of Lent meal.
Ostermontag, Easter Monday in Germany, is the final day of Easter celebrations. A public holiday and family day when the extended family can meet for lunch, which used to be lamb but the tradition is no longer as strong as it was; there might be egg rolling competitions, long walks in the countryside or mountain areas, visits to parks, sports events or festivals.
There are special events and processions with one in Traunstein, Bavaria, where Joseph Ratzinger the former Pope Benedikt XVI lived when young.
It is the St. George Parade, a horse mounted pilgrimage in traditional dress, riders in armor and "maidens" in medieval costumes, accompanied by brass bands. The climax of the parade is a blessing given to a gathering of around 500 local horses, which are always a diverse mixture of shapes, sizes, ages and types but none are outshone by "St. George's" pure white steed.
The last day of Easter celebrations, but not the end of Eastertide.
That is Whitsun, Pfingsten, and in Germany many of the trees, branches, wells and fountains decorated with colored eggs, together with greenery remaining from Palm Sunday, will stay in place for fifty days until the celebrations for Pfingsten and Pfingstenmontag have ended.
Frohe Ostern! - Happy Easter
Illustrations: The Stations of the Cross, 9th Station Jesus helped by Simon of Cyrene, photographer Unterillertaler, de.Wikipedia - Osterraederlauf in Luedge, photographer Nifoto, de.Wikipedia - Horses leaving the ancient Ettendorfer Kircherl, Traunstein, on Easter Monday, ChiemgauOnline