Start Planning
Easter

Easter 2018 and 2019

Easter is one of the most important and popular annual holidays in Germany.

YearDateDayHolidayStates
201830 MarFriGood FridayNational
1 AprSunEaster SundayBB
2 AprMonEaster MondayNational
201919 AprFriGood FridayNational
21 AprSunEaster SundayBB
22 AprMonEaster MondayNational

For Christians, the weekend-long festivities celebrate the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In addition to attending special church services, people share festive meals and engage in several non-religious traditions as well. The name Easter is believed to have originated with Ostara, the ancient Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn.

An Easter Tree in Saalfeld, Thuringia, Germany. Photo: Andreas Lehner, flickr.com/lehnin78

An Easter Tree in Saalfeld, Thuringia, Germany. Photo: Andreas Lehner, flickr.com/lehnin78

During this public holiday, banks, offices and shops are closed. Public transportation operates on a holiday schedule. Schools may be closed the weeks before and after Easter. The holiday also marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Easter may be the first time when people can go outside and celebrate after a long winter.

Germans have several traditions and customs that make Easter an important religious as well as cultural celebration. Germany is also considered the birthplace of many of today’s modern Easter icons like Easter eggs and the Easter bunny.

Easter week starts on Palm Sunday. Several days during the following week, people eat special meals and follow various traditions. In many areas of the country, children make decorated palm branches and bring them to church on Palm Sunday so that they can be blessed.

Maundy Thursday – Grundonnerstag – recalls the Last Supper and Jesus’ arrest. Although it has a long tradition in Germany, the day is often overlooked because the public holiday starts on Friday. Maundy Thursday is the last day when church bells ring before Easter Sunday. The German word Grundonnerstag is derived from the word greinen, which means to grieve. Although the word is not associated with the color, it sounds like green Thursday. As a result, a tradition has developed to eat green-colored dishes, such as a seven-herb soup that contains parsley, spinach, kale, leaks, chives, sorrel and dandelion.

Good Friday

The public holiday begins on Good Friday and extends through Easter Monday. Good Friday is the day that memorializes the Passion of Christ, his death on the cross and burial. The traditional meal is fish because the letters of the Greek word for fish, ichthys, have come to symbolize the phrase Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter, which translates to Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. As a result, fish has become a symbol of Christ. Germans usually spend a quiet day with family as the day is also called Stiller Freitag, or Silent Friday, out of respect for the solemnity of the occasion. Some Catholic parishes invite members to participate in a procession commemorating Jesus’ path carrying the cross to Mount Calvary. The cross inside churches is covered by a purple cloth, which will be removed during Easter services.

Easter Saturday

Easter Saturday is usually spent planning and preparing the Easter Sunday meal. Tasks include baking the Easter bunny cake and coloring eggs for the Easter egg hunt the following day. It is also a day spent browsing the stalls of the Easter Market. Some other shops may be open. The evening is a time for lighting the Easter bonfire.

Easter Sunday / Resurrection Day

Easter Sunday marks the end of Lent and typically starts with a special breakfast of braided bread called Osterzopf before church service. This is followed by a meal of the Osterlamm, hardboiled eggs, fruit, vegetables and brotchen as well as jams, cheese and desserts. The Osterlamm, or Easter lamb, stems from the Jewish tradition of eating lamb during the Passover, which coincides with Easter. A popular dessert is a delicious cake baked in the shape of a lamb. It may be made from yeast dough or have a creamy center. People will also get together to visit family and friends. In addition to the Easter egg hunt, children engage in a variety of games.

Easter Monday

Along with spending time relaxing with family, many Germans use Easter Monday, the last day of the holiday weekend, to engage in spring cleaning or to go hiking in the forests and mountains. Towns may also use Monday as a time for their Easter egg hunt. Another traditional event held on Easter Monday is the colorful Sword Dance and Georgiritt procession in Traunstein.

Common Easter Traditions

Several Easter decorations and traditions celebrated around the world, including decorated Easter eggs and chocolate Easter bunny, trace their history to the German pagan spring fertility festivals, such as Fruhlingsfest. The Easter bunny was first mentioned in writings from the 16th century. In some German-speaking areas, the bunny is replaced with a stork or fox. The first edible pastry bunnies appeared in Germany around 1800. Germans brought these traditions with them when they immigrated to other countries.

Children boil and paint eggs on Good Friday, The decorated eggs are then placed in a basket for the Easter bunny, or Osterhase, to hide around the house on the night before Easter. During the egg hunt, the children may also find chocolate eggs and bunnies as well as small presents. It is common for friends to exchange Easter eggs as gifts.

Known by various names, one game using the decorated eggs consists of children knocking the tips of their eggs together while seated at the table. The one whose egg does not crack is the winner. Another popular game is rolling the eggs down a hill or a small incline. Chocolate Kiss is played using chocolate-covered marshmallows. The object of the game is to eat the marshmallows with another person without allowing them smear your face with chocolate. The winner is the child who eats the most marshmallows with the cleanest face.

It is common for German homes to be decorated with painted eggs, clay bunnies and yellow daffodils as well as the Osterbaum, or Easter tree. The Easter tree, another centuries-old tradition, is made from the branches of pussy willows or other flowering bushes as well as small living trees or shrubs. The Osterbaum is decorated with hand-painted wooden eggs, garland and wreaths. It is designed to provide a festive atmosphere by bringing spring colours into the home.

Easter Markets

Dating back centuries, many towns will sponsor an Ostermarkt, or Easter Market that starts a few weeks before Easter. Vendors sell chocolate eggs and bunnies, decorated eggs and spring ornaments. The Ostrbrunnen, or Easter fountain, is a tradition on the Franconia region of Germany. It celebrates the tradition of recognizing the life-giving value of water. It is also believed that water blessed on Easter Sunday has special powers. The town fountain will be decorated with painted hollowed-out eggs that have been strung together to create a colorful garland. Crowns containing the symbol of a rabbit, rooster or hen is placed on top of the fountain. The decorations are usually put up a week before Easter and stay in place until week after.

Easter Bonfires

The Easter bonfire, or das Osterfeuer, is another typical German tradition. The bonfire traces back to an old pagan ritual where superstitious peasants believed that the fields and homes within the glow of the flame would be fruitful and free from sickness. The event is now a social gathering. The fire is lit Saturday night and people sometimes will stay up all night to see the Easter sunrise. The wood used for the bonfire is often an old Christmas trees that is saved for the occasion. A similar tradition is the Osterrad, when wheels of hay or straw are set on fire and rolled down a hill. This ritual is also traditionally seen as a way to encourage a good harvest.

Oberammergau Passion Play

Another Easter-related tradition is the Oberammergau Passion Play, a world-famous event that has been taking place in the Bavarian town since 1634. The performance commemorates a vow the town took a year earlier when asking God to spare them from the bubonic plague. When the disease subsided, the townspeople kept their promise. Originally held annually, the spectacular daylong event involving thousands of participants is now observed in years ending in zero. The play is performed daily from May through October.