Every April, you can see children in the park carrying baskets and hunting for eggs that they suddenly pull out from under bushes and trees. Lots of Germans also take a holiday then and go home to their families to spend some time together. It’s probably Easter then!

by Florian Schubert

Easter bouqet © DAAD/Janine
Easter bouqet . © DAAD/Janine

What is Easter?

Easter is not an individual day of celebration, it’s several days following one another. The Sunday before Easter Sunday is called “Palm Sunday” and triggers the start of Holy Week. This is the week which includes all the religious festival days that make up Easter. After Palm Sunday comes Maundy Thursday. This is when the Last Supper is commemorated and the crucifixion of Jesus is on Good Friday. The most important religious festival during this week is Easter Sunday. Unlike Christmas, which always takes place on the same day every year (24th of December), Easter is celebrated on a different date every year. It is always calculated from Easter Sunday, which is always the first Sunday after the full moon in spring.

Lent finishes on Easter Sunday in the Christian world. This starts on the 46th day before Easter Sunday on Ash Wednesday. During this time, Christians reflect on the 40 days of fasting Jesus undertook in the desert.  

Easter in Germany

Easter fire on Easter Sunday © DAAD/Janine
Easter fire on Easter Sunday . © DAAD/Janine

Palm Sunday

Easter begins with Palm Sunday. Christians celebrate Jesus arriving in Jerusalem on this day. To show Jesus just how much they worshipped him, people laid palm branches in his path because palm trees were considered sacred trees.

Some places in Germany hold processions on this day. Many people, especially the elderly, take a palm leaf or a pussy willow branch into the church to have it blessed and then take it home with them.

Maundy Thursday (in German, Green Thursday)

Maundy Thursday is called Green Thursday in Germany and nobody really knows how it came by this name. One theory says that the name goes back to the custom of mainly eating green food on this day, such as lettuce and asparagus and thereby consuming the forces of spring.

The Last Supper is celebrated on Maundy Thursday, which is the day before Jesus was crucified. This event is very important for Christians.
You may perhaps have noticed that churches no longer ring their bells from this day until Easter Sunday. Many villages have their own local customs. Children often march through the streets with rattles (loud instruments). The bells stay silent during the night from Maundy Thursday to Good Friday to commemorate the time of death of Jesus. And because the bells do not ring, this is a way of inviting people to worship. There is a German saying: “The bells fly to Rome”. This is why they cannot ring during this time and only return at Easter.

Good Friday

This is the day on which Jesus was nailed to the cross. As a sign of mourning, the church organs do not play and no bells ring. Celebrations are not allowed in Germany on this day, which is why many clubs and shops are closed and no weddings are permitted on this day.

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday is the most important religious festival in Christendom. This commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Many places hold special services on this day. It is a day when lots of children hunt for Easter eggs but why? It is not completely clear how this tradition came about but there are many theories.

One theory is that Easter eggs were especially popular on Easter Sunday because eating them was not allowed during Lent. They were dyed so that people could tell them apart from raw eggs. But why hide them? There are also a few ideas about this. A pagan festival also took place at Easter, when eggs were given as gifts to worship a goddess. The Catholic Church has forbidden this custom, so the eggs had to be given away secretly: they were hidden. Many Easter fires take place on the evening before Easter Sunday, particularly in North Germany. Many families meet on this day to eat a meal together, for example, an Easter lamb.

Easter Monday

Easter Monday is the day after Easter Sunday and is a religious holiday in Germany. In 1642, it was declared a non-working day with Easter Tuesday. This was also to celebrate the resurrection of Christ from Easter Sunday until Easter Tuesday for three days in addition to the suffering of Jesus from Maundy Thursday until Easter Saturday. Over the years, Easter Tuesday has disappeared.

Easter bunnies and Easter eggs. Have you already heard of these typical German Easter traditions?

Lots of different traditions around Easter have become established in Germany and these differ from region to region. Many of these traditions have something to do with eggs and rabbits. Perhaps you know some of these typical customs? Here you can find an overview of the most popular.

Easter egg © DAAD/Janine
Easter egg . © DAAD/Janine

Easter bunny

He hides coloured eggs for the children and has now become one of the most important symbols of Easter. Sometimes made of chocolate, sometimes with bells, large or small, nobody can imagine Easter in Germany without the Easter bunny.

But nobody exactly knows why it is a rabbit hiding the Easter eggs. One thing is certain: there has been an Easter bunny in Germany since the Middle Ages. A number of well-known children’s songs have also been written about him.

Easter eggs

Easter is all about the colourful eggs that you can do so many different things with! But why is it that eggs are so important on Easter Sunday?

You already know that Easter is a very Christian festival. In the church, eggs are considered a symbol of resurrection and fertility, which is why they can be found everywhere at Easter. Lots of different traditions have evolved around the eggs.

The Easter egg hunt

Almost all Germans have hunted for Easter eggs in their childhood. The Easter bunny’s job is to hide the colourful eggs on a meadow or in the garden. On the morning of Easter Sunday, children take their small baskets and go hunting for eggs.

The children often forget where they have hidden the eggs. Sometimes they are only found again much later and in very strange places. Many Germans have experienced such a thing in their own childhood, just ask a couple of friends! 

Colouring Easter eggs

Have you ever asked yourself where all the colourful eggs come from? Of course, you can buy them in supermarkets but getting together with friends to dye them is much more fun!

Many people dye the eggs themselves at Easter. Or decorate them in a very artistic way to be used as Easter decorations. You can buy special kits and dyes in supermarkets. Sometimes, air is blown into the egg to drain it. To do this, drill a hole at the top and bottom of the egg. When you blow through the hole at the top, the yoke comes out at the bottom! You can catch it in a bowl and make an omelette or scrambled eggs with it. Now you can pull a string through the egg so that you can hang it on an Easter bouquet.

Easter bouquets

Germans love to decorate their homes at Easter! You can see lots of Easter bouquets inside houses during this time. They are often made of pussy willow branches hung with various Easter decorations such as eggs or bunnies. You can also see Easter wreaths. They look very much like Christmas wreaths!

Eierditschen (egg tapping)

“Eiderditschen” is a popular children’s game where children knock their previously boiled Easter eggs against somebody else’s. The word for this is “ditschen”, tapping in English. The egg that remains intact the longest is the winner!

Easter fires

Some traditions only happen in certain parts of Germany. The Easter fire, for example. This festival is most often found in the north of Germany.

People gather around a huge mound of wood, mostly on Easter Saturday. There is often music and something to drink and typical German food such as sausages. The fire is lit in the evening and people gather around it.

So you can see, there are a lot of German traditions you can experience over Easter. But please remember that Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays so most of the shops are closed.

Dyeing Easter eggs with Yi-Ting Wang from Taiwan.

Yi-Ting has lived in Germany for a number of years. She worked as an au pair in Rottweil and is now studying for her Masters in personnel management at the University of Hamburg.

“This is the first time I have experienced Easter in Germany”, she says, the festival is relatively unknown in Taiwan. Every German person will have probably dyed Easter eggs as a child at some point and Yi-Ting would like to have a go now. “We also dye eggs in Taiwan! We have lots of red eggs, especially for the Chinese New Year. In Taiwan, red symbolises good luck”, she explains.

First we need dyes for the eggs. You will find lots of different kinds at Easter. We tried so-called “cold dyes”, for this you only need vinegar and water besides the coloured tablet. There are also lots of other dyes that can create fantastic effects. Boil the eggs at home, first. While you are doing that, you can prepare the dyes.

Follow the instructions on the packet to see exactly how to do this. Simply put the tablet into a cup and mix with vinegar and water. When the eggs are hard boiled, put them into the dye while they are still warm and wait.

We tried a different method in the meantime: colouring and painting blown-out eggs! You use raw eggs for this, so you have to be a little careful. Put a hole into the top and bottom of the shell and then blow into the egg hard. You can use the yolk and egg white for an omelet or scrambled eggs later. You can then hang the blown-out egg on an Easter bouquet and paint it!

Yi-Ting had great fun dyeing the eggs: “It’s a great way to experience German culture close up and spend a lovely day with friends!”

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