Germany has a rich variety of religious and secular Easter traditions. Learn the words and say: Frohe Ostern! First, we learn about eggs.
Eggs play an important role in German Easter traditions.
Ostereier (n) - Easter eggs
Ostereier suchen - hunting for Easter eggs
Ostereier verstecken - hiding Easter eggs
Ostereier färben - coloring Easter eggs
The custom of boiling and coloring eggs has a historic as well as a religious background. During the 40 days of Lent, people were not allowed to eat eggs. People of the Middle Ages, which knew no refrigeration, preserved the eggs by boiling them in vinegar and then coloring them with vegetable dye to show they were already boiled. Throwing eggs away because they wouldn't keep was a sin.
Fastenzeit (f) - Lent
Essig (m) - vinegar
Mittelalter (n) - Middle Ages
The Easterhare, not the rabbit, is the purveyor of Easter eggs in German tradition. He carries the eggs in
Die Kiepe - an open basket worn on the back
and puts them in die
Osternester - Easter nests
Die Kinder - the children
Laufen - run
Finden - find
There are many legends which explain why the hare is a symbol for Easter. Here is just one: In centuries past, Holy Thursday was the day when debts needed to be paid. A debtor who was able to pay all was then free 'like a hare' and could run without fear of the dogs hunting the hare.
Schuldner (m) - debtor
Gründonnerstag (m) - Holy Thursday
Zahlen - to pay
Hund (m) - dog
The Easterwalk is another tradition. It's most famously reflected in Johann Wolfgand von Goethe's poem 'Der Osterspaziergang', which forms part of Faust I.
Easterfire and Easterwheels
Osterfeuer (n) - Easterfire
Osterräder (n) - Easterwheels
Stroh (n) - straw
Böse Geister (f) - evil spirits
Hexen (f) - witches
Vertreiben - to ward off
Holz (n) - wood
trockene Zweige (f) - dried branches
Scheiterhaufen (m) - stake
Both rituals have a long tradition in Germany. Wood and dried branches collected during the winter are piled up on Easter Saturday and set on fire during the night to Easter Sunday. The purpose is to chase away the winter and to ward off witches and other evil spirits which might threaten spring. In some regions, huge wheels are made from straw, reinforced with iron, set on fire and rolled down hills.
Osterwasser (n) - Easter water
Ostertau (m) - Easter dew
Fruchtbarkeit (f) - fertility
Water collected from a spring on Easter Sunday is supposed to have fertility properties if a woman bathes in it. Even walking on dew is believed to have that effect.
Ostermahlzeiten (f) - Easter meals
Osterfrühstück (n) - Easter breakfast
Hefezopf (m) - braided bread
No Easter breakfast is complete without loads of boiled and colored eggs and a special bread, called 'Hefezopf', with or without raisins, but always thickly covered with butter.
The main meal at Easter revolves around lamb.
Lammbraten (m) - roasted lamb
Lammkeule (f) - leg of lamb
Lammkotelett (n) - chop of lamb
Preferred vegetables in Germany are:
Rosenkohl (m) - Brussels sprouts
Grünkohl (m) - cabbage
Gekochte Kartoffeln (f) - boiled potatoes
Desert is often vanilla ice cream, which is served with whipped cream and a special Easter Liqueur, called Eierlikör.
Table, house and garden are decorated with Easter themes, depicting eggs and hares.