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The Feast of Easter is the oldest Christian festival. The name Easter is derived from the old German word “eastron”, meaning “red sky in the morning” or from “Ostara”, the pagan god of light and spring. Easter Sunday falls on the Sunday after the first full moon of spring (In the Northern Hemisphere). During Holy Week that precedes it (Which includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday) and during Eastertide Christians think about the Crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus which occurred during the Jewish festival of Passover more than 2000 years ago. During this time many German churches perform the Matthew and John passion by Johann Sebastian Bach.

OstereierThe egg as a symbol of fertility

Many Easter traditions originate from the pagan spring festival which predates Christianity. The egg has always been a symbol of fertility and life and was worshiped by the Egyptians and the Germanic peoples. Before Easter in Germany it is traditional to clean out chicken’s eggs and then paint colourful patterns on them. People then use the eggs to decorate their home or to hang on branches or small trees in front of their house. Particularly in Bavaria many villages decorate their village wells with green garlands and painted eggs which have been strung together to create a colourful Easter well. On the morning of Easter Sunday, eggs, sweets and small presents are hidden in nests around the garden. The small children who go looking for them are told that they were hidden by the Easter Bunny, (In German an Easter hare) itself a symbol of fertility. In Catholic communities there are often processions on Palm Sunday which remember the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. On Easter Sunday morning, the resurrection of Christ is remembered with readings from the Old and New Testament. Beforehand, the congregation should have gone to Easter Confession.

The Easter Bonfire and the Easter Ride

Late in the evening of Easter Sunday in many parts of Germany, but most prevalently in northern and middle Germany, in a tradition which has its roots in the Germanic spring bonfires, the Easter Bonfire is lit or fire wheels made from wood are rolled down the hills. A particularly pleasant and well-loved Easter tradition is the scooping of the Easter water. On Easter night, the girls go silently to a spring to scoop water into jugs. The water brings good health and luck, but only if it is scooped up in silence. The Easter ride is mostly carried out by the Sorbian minority in the area around Oberlau, a group which counts the Prime Minister of Saxony, Stanislaw Tillich amongst its number. Men in top hats and tails with church flags ride around their fields on decorated horses to preach and celebrate the resurrection of Christ.