Colored eggs and rabbits play a large part in an Ostern in Deutschland, Easter in Germany, together with many other religious, secular and folk traditions and customs, while Good Friday and Easter Monday, originally "free days" for workers so they could attend church services, are public holidays throughout the country.
Palm Sunday, Palmsonntag, the Sunday before Easter, is a time for young people to take their first communion, and often combined with church parades in towns and villages symbolizing the journey made by Jesus, as he rode a donkey along palm branch covered roads to Jerusalem. A poignant sight.
Processions led by priests and choirs, young and old, fit pushing the infirm in wheelchairs, families, children in baby carriages and babes in arms, singing and carrying Palmbuschen, decorated pussy-willow bouquets in lieu of the difficult to find palms, to be blessed during the morning church service. The blessing was believed to give Palm Bouquets protective qualities, as well as being a sign of protection for the home and family until Ash Wednesday of the following year. They are also often the first Easter decorations in a home.
The next Thursday is Maundy Thursday, Gruendonnerstag Green Thursday, celebrated since the 13th century and originally with no connection to green but stemming from an old German word, greinen to groan, mourn or weep, because it commemorated the Last Supper and the betrayal by Judas.
Over time this association was lost, and been replaced by "green" as the color of hope and symbol for the awaking of nature after the winter.
Homes are cleaned and decorated with green branches or ornaments, 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 Kraeuter Suppe, Seven Herb Soup, because of a custom based on an old superstition that green foods eaten on Gruendonnerstag give protection for the rest of the year.
Good Friday, Karfreitag is from kara - "care", Caring Friday. The week after Palm Sunday used to be known as Karwoche, "Caring Week", and Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were dedicated to an account from the bible, but now only the Friday is marked by a special liturgy, as a day of remembrance for the crucifixion, with church services and religious processions.
Including the Kreuzwegandacht, which is a walk in prayer along the 15 Stations of the Cross, and usually held at 3 p.m. The time it is said Jesus died on the cross.
No church bells are rung and children are told they have flown to Rome to be blessed.
Fish is often on the menu on Good Friday, and it could be anything from herring salad or fish soup to an extravagant fish terrine.
In many areas the bakers mark the crust of the day's bread with a cross, although its four sections could also have represented the quarters of the moon honoring the pre-Christian Eostre, the goddess of spring, which later become Easter. A religious festival controlled by the lunar calendar.
Easter Bonfires, "Osterfeuer", are a custom that takes place on the Saturday, or in some regions on Easter Sunday or Monday, based on a Christian belief fire is a sign of the resurrection of Christ. Although the tradition dates back to at least the 16th century its origins are probably from pre-Christian days, and the families, friends and neighbors who gather around bonfires, which are made mainly from old Christmas trees, are not all Christians but there to have "fun", the tradition and the light and warmth of fire symbolizing the 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 just as they were used to represent the sun 2,000 years ago, especially in parts of North Rhine Westphalian. A spectacular sight, they roll down hills leaving behind hundreds of meters of burning tracks, and if the wheel makes it to the bottom of the hill this is a sign that the next harvest will be successful.
Ostersonntag, Easter Sunday, a day of celebration for the triumph of life over death, when the Easter rabbit or hare brings colored and chocolate eggs, hiding them or leaving them in nests already prepared by children.
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 had not been eaten during Lent Medieval landlords were paid in eggs that had been cooked to preserve them. As well as with hares caught on their property.
Nevertheless it was not until the mid 20th century that the rabbit as Egg Bringer finally won out over the foxes, storks and cranes that up until then had shared the tradition.
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 that is often added to the Easter Sunday end of Lent meal.
Ostermontag, Easter Monday in Germany, is the final day of Easter celebrations and a public holiday. It's a family day when the entire extended family could meet for lunch, this used to be lamb but the tradition is no longer as strong as it was, and then there might be egg rolling competitions, visits to the countryside, to sports events or festivals.
Many towns hold special festivals and processions and one of these is Traunstein in Bavaria, where Joseph Ratzinger, the former Pope Benedikt XVI, lived when young.
It is the scene of the St. George Parade, a horse mounted pilgrimage in traditional dress, accompanied by brass bands, with the riders in armor and maidens in medieval costumes. The climax of the parade is a blessing given to a gathering of almost 500 horses from the neighborhood, a complete mixture of various shapes, sizes, ages and types, none of whom are outshone by "St. George's" pure white steed.
It is 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 end of the celebrations for Pfingsten and Pfingstenmontag.
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
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