Easter Celebrations in Germany
Easter (Ostern) is a more prominent holiday in the German calendar than it is in the United States. This is not to say that it has a deeper religious meaning. But the fact that the Easter holiday is a three-day affair in Germany clearly makes it more prominent on the calendar itself. Good Friday (Karfreitag), the Friday before Easter, is a national holiday, as is Easter Monday (Ostermontag), the Monday after Easter. Consequently, Easter is a long, four-day weekend for most Germans. Many of them spend a sizable portion of their mini-holiday sitting in traffic, as Good Friday is notorious for producing some of the most severe traffic jams on German highways. The German Automobile Club offers a traffic jam predictor for every weekend, so if you are planning to travel in Germany for the Easter weekend, you might want to check out their website.
But what do Germans do for Easter apart from sitting in traffic? Easter customs vary substantially, depending on the local area. It is worth noting that many non-religious events are illegal on Good Friday in all of Germany. These include, for example, dancing, sporting events and public parties. Enforcement of these laws, however, varies by state and has been drawn into question by recent court decisions that concluded that such laws are unconstitutional. In some parts of Germany, Good Friday is truly a “quiet holiday” and is not celebrated with any special traditions. But in the heavily Catholic areas of the country (e.g., Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg), the day of Jesus’ death on the cross is a day for repentance and mourning that entails special masses or processions. One of the most famous processions in Germany takes place in Lohr am Main. During this procession, which has been celebrated for more than 360 years, huge figures representing the Stations of the Cross are carried through the streets of the town.
On a non-religious level, Easter celebrations often involve family Easter egg hunts. Colorful eggs–yes, real ones, usually dyed or elaborately decorated–are hidden in the garden, along with other treats, mostly of the chocolate variety, such as chocolate bunnies or chocolate eggs. The children then embark on a hunt for these hidden treasures, armed with nothing but a colorful basket. They are told that the eggs and treats were hidden by the Easter bunny (Osterhase). This custom dates back to the Middle Ages, but is not actually related to the religious significance of Easter. In some areas, families also have an Easter egg tree, which may be an actual tree outside that is decorated with eggs or a few symbolical branches inside the house also adorned with colorful eggs. In the German town of Saalfeld, this custom has blossomed into a famous Easter egg tree that is decorated with about 10,000 eggs each year. Easter Sunday is usually also occasion for a special meal. Some people cook lamb on Sunday in honor and remembrance of Jesus, who, in the Bible, is referred to as “the lamb who was slain.” in the Bible.
Easter Monday, the third day of the Easter holiday triad, is not associated with any special celebrations in most areas, but there are some local customs like special walks around the village or the farm, parades, or sporting events (additional information, but only in German).
Osterwortschatz und Osterbräuche (Easter vocabulary and customs; German only but beginner level):
A matching online comprehension exercise
Ein Ostermärchen (fun story by Joachim Ringelnatz; with vocabulary and comprehension exercises). Video about the Ringelnatz story:
An online vocabulary exercise with words that can be created from the letters found in the word “Osterhasen.”
The April issue of “Der Deutschbüffler” (2.Quarter 2015) has a short reading text as well as vocabulary and grammar exercises related to the Easter bunny. Digital download.