ANSBACH, Germany (April 14, 2014) -- Germany and Franconia, like many other countries and parts of the world, celebrate Easter, but they have their own distinct customs that set them apart from other regional and area celebrations.


Ostern -- Easter in Germany

The Easter season in Germany starts on Palmsonntag (Palm Sunday), the Sunday before Easter. The name stems from the Bible account of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and people covering his path with palm branches.

Since palms are not common in northern Europe, they are usually substituted with the branches of the pussy willow, which are blessed in church with holy water. Church visitors then take the branches home and hang them up, as they are believed to provide protection.

Gründonnerstag (Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday), the day repentant sinners were allowed back into the church for communion, is also the traditional day for spring cleaning and decorating. The traditional meals on "Green Thursday" include spinach, kale, cress, leek, chives and other herbs, because of an old, superstitious belief that eating green-colored food that day would keep one safe for the rest of the year.

Good Friday, a nationwide German holiday, is called Karfreitag in German, a name derived from Old High German word kara, meaning grief or mourning (it has the same roots as the English word "care"). It is also known as "Quiet Friday." On this very solemn day church bells are not rung in Catholic churches. Children are sometimes told that the bells were sent to Rome on Gründonnerstag to be blessed. Young men and children in the villages make up for the lack of noise with the "Good Friday rattles," which look like the noisemakers known as ratchets, making ample noise and calling the villagers to church services. Restrictions on individual behavior on Good Friday used to be much stricter than today. Alcohol and meat were strictly forbidden, and nobody was allowed to slaughter an animal. Many families still eat fish that day. In Franconia the tasty regional carp is a popular Good Friday dish.

Saturday night or early Easter Sunday morning, churches light a bonfire. The blessed pussy willows of the previous Easter are burned in the fire, and the flame is used to relight the "eternal light" which had been extinguished on Good Friday afternoon.

As in many other countries, the symbol of Easter in Germany is the egg. Many Franconian communities decorate their fountains and wells with green garlands and lots of colorful Easter eggs. The Easter bunny (Osterhase) brings eggs and sweets on Easter Sunday to the children, who have to search for them indoors or outdoors.

A favorite pastime for children during Holy Week is to blow out and color eggs to decorate budding tree branches in a vase or dye hard-boiled chicken eggs for the breakfast table Easter morning. Families bake an Easter lamb, a lamb-shaped cake for Sunday. A large Easter dinner is typically served Sunday. Popular dishes are lamb, rabbit or poultry.

The Easter celebrations are continued with an additional holiday Monday, which is often used for short day trips and visits to other family members.


Easter fountains
Many communities, especially in Franconia, decorate their fountains and village wells with Easter wreaths, decorations and eggs. A lot of them can be found in the Fränkische Schweiz (Franconian Switzerland), which extends roughly between the cities of Bamberg, Forchheim and Bayreuth. Examples for villages with decorated fountains are Bieberbach, which lays claim to featuring the largest of them all, Birkenreuth in Wiesenthal or Haag (part of Aufsess), which has been decorating fountains for Easter for more than 100 years. An Internet search for "Osterbrunnen" will produce many more examples, and creates a great opportunity for a day trip. For a list of suggested hiking trips of the Franconian Switzerland Tourist Office go to http://www.fraenkische-schweiz.com/info/veranstaltungen/ostern/osterbrunnenwanderungen-um-ebermannstadt.html.

Easter Egg Path in Gutzberg (Stein)
The "Ostereierweg Gutzberg" features hundreds of large and small Easter eggs and other decoration along a path with different eight stations, each station dedicated to a different motto. A large wooden Easter bunny sign post in the middle of the village (Gutzberger Tal) shows visitors the way to the walking path, ending up in the village center by the decorated fountain. The decorations will be up until May 5.

Easter at the Freilandmuseum - Bad Windsheim
The Fränkische Freilandmuseum Bad Windsheim ( Eisweiherweg 1) offers entertainment for the whole family during the long Easter weekend. From April 17 to 19, children can dye eggs the old-fashioned way with natural colors made from plants from 1 to 5 p.m. The children will also learn to build a Franconian "Hosagärtla," or a little "garden nest" for the Easter bunny. No registration is necessary.
The theater group of Marktbergel and Bad Windsheimer singers and musicians will put on a passion play involving the audience April 18, or Good Friday, at 2 p.m. Trombone music will be played at 3 p.m. at the museum's entry gate.
From April 19 through 21, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., visitors can observe old and new techniques for Easter decorations in the farm houses.
An Easter egg hunt takes place April 20 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Children need to keep their eyes open for more than 1,000 hidden eggs and some nests.
To learn more about the open air museum in Bad Windsheim, visit www.freilandmuseum.de.

Easter Market in Nürnberg
The traditional annual Ostermarkt takes place on Nürnberg's Hauptmarkt April 4 through 21. More than 80 vendors offer household products, wood and ceramic crafts, curtains, clothes, books and much more. Opening hours are Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday and Easter Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. The market is closed Good Friday. To learn more, visit www.nuernberg.de.

Easter in the Handwerkerhof Nürnberg
The Handwerkerhof in Nürnberg, a medieval enclosure across from the main train station, is decorated in Easter fashion. All the traditional houses, stores and restaurants and the well will feature season greens, colorful eggs and more. The Handwerkerhof is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. The stores are open from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. To learn more, visit www.handwerkerhof.de.

Page last updated Mon April 14th, 2014 at 00:00