What is the Easter Fire in Germany? A Symbol of Light in Darkness
What is the Easter Fire in Germany, and why is it lit? The Easter Fire, or Osterfeuer, is a symbol of light in the darkness. It can be as simple as lighting a candle, or as big as the bonfires which are ignited all over in Germany at Easter. Because fire is a symbol of light, of renewal, it signifies the end of Winter, and the coming of spring. It also symbolizes Jesus Christ, as the Light of the world. Depending on the community, the Easter fire is lit on Good Friday or Black (Holy) Saturday, with Saturday being more common, and extinguished on Easter Sunday or Monday.
What is the Origin of the Easter Fire in Germany?
And how did the Easter Fire start?
For hundreds of years, the Easter Fire has been a tradition in Germany. In Christian tradition, the Easter fire starts with the lighting of a Paschal candle, usually by a Priest or Pastor, to symbolize the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The candle is generally lit on Holy (Black) Saturday to start the Easter Vigil. Parishioners can then light their own candles from this candle. The large Paschal candle is kept lit through the Easter Season. In some churches it stays lit until Ascension Day, or is used throughout the year for Baptisms.
But there is a much older tradition behind the Easter fires that comes from the pre-Christian Saxon tradition. The Venerable Bede writes about the Anglo-Saxon tradition of lighting fires in Eosturmonath (April) in honor of the Germanic goddes Ostara. Bonfires at this time of year help the Earth to usher in Spring, and banish the cold and dark of Winter. The fires were also considered a symbol of fertility, and rebirth. The ashes from the Easter fires were spread on the fields to fertilize the soil, and insure good crops for the coming year.
What is the Easter Fire in Germany Today?
Today, Easter bonfires in Germany have lost much of the religious meaning, and they tend to be social event. Friends and family come together with neighbors around a fire, and it’s more like a huge party with food and drink. Depending on where you are in Germany, you can either light your own bonfire, while in other areas, bonfires are built and monitored by the local fire department.
More recently, the Osterfeuer, Easter Fires, have evolved into small Volkfests. Booths are set up near the fire to sell snacks, and some communities even have rides for the kids!
Fires are generally left lit until dawn on Easter Morning, although, in some places they continue burning until Easter Monday, which is a National Holiday in Germany.