Celebrating the German Easter Holidays is much more than just finding eggs or church on Sunday. You celebrate the Easter weekend in Germany! Although the country is becoming more secular, Easter feels much more celebrated or acknowledged than here in the US. I’m not talking about the commercial aspect. Yes, there are colorful eggs and decorations in every store. Still, the emphasis seems to be more on the event and family than on filling the Easter basket. Federal holidays flank the German Easter Weekend in Germany , extending the holiday (and making the shopping preparations a bit tricky for those who like to grab things last minute!). Easter is a time of gathering with family and visits with Oma and Opa. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a few Easters in Germany, and the holiday really was all about spending time with family. My experience here in the America has always been somewhat frustrating, since all visits must be cut short in order to get home Sunday night since work starts up again bright and early on Monday. But more than mere “free time” or “vacation”, the specific days of Easter weekend are associated with traditional foods and activities.
And it all starts on the Thursday before Easter….
German Easter Holidays- Easter Weekend in Germany
In English we call the Thursday prior to Easter Sunday as Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday. The Thursday before Easter is associated with the Last Supper and the end of Lent. The night of Jesus’s betrayal and arrested, marks the beginning of the Easter Triduum… passion, death and resurrection of Christ. The Passion Play stories that recreate the last days of Jesus begin here. In German, the word Grün means green, so why call Holy Thursday Gründonerstag? It goes back to the origins of word. “Gründonnerstag” is rooted in the Old High German word “greinen” which means to grieve.
Still, many people in Germany take the word “grün” literally, and eat green foods on this day.
Frankfurter Grüner Soße, found in this recipe from The Oma Way
Or make SpinatKnöpfli (Spinach Spätzle) from Spoonfuls of Germany
Or maybe make my Grünkohlsuppe (kale Stew) (But without the Sausage, since we are still in meatless Lent….)
In English, the Friday before Easter Sunday is Good Friday. (Granted, it’s confusing to call the day of Jesus’s crucifixion “good”. But the use of “good” seems to be a modern corruption on “goude” or God’s day, indicating that this day is holy and important in the Church calendar.) According to the Church, this was the day Jesus was put to death on the cross. In German, the roots of Karfreitag comes from the German word for “lament”. This sad holiday spent with family. Many choose to attend worship services, but Church bells are generally silent on Good Friday. You may see religious processions in town. And old laws preventing dance or loud music still exist.
Families often serve Fish on Karfreitag, but my Oma made traditional Münsterland Struwen!
Since Karfreitag is a Federal Holiday, shops, banks and Post Offices are closed.
Most people consider Easter Saturday a quiet day, a day of waiting. (Think of it as a day to catch your breath and get things in order before the big day). This family day that can be spent preparing for Easter. Some bake an Easter Lamb , or maybe a Hefezopf anticipation of Sunday’s Meal. Saturday is also the day for Easter Bonfires to chase away the gloom of winter. Shops are open for half-day, as they usually are in Germany on Saturdays.
Much like here in the US, on Easter Sunday, many people go to church. Of course, the night before, or very early in the morning, parents hide Easter treats… eggs, chocolates, and small presents for the children. Sometimes in a basket, sometimes in a Paper Mache Egg. Easter involves a lot of food. Easter Breakfast takes the regular German weekend breakfast and makes adds another level of fabulous. After this, families and friends will gather for a large meal of Lamb. Potatoes, vegetables and fresh salads round out the meal. Kaffee und Kuchen come to the table mid-afternoon… often a Lamb shaped Cake, Fruit Torte, Eierlikör Torte or Eierlikör Kuchen, and maybecookies in the shapes of flowers or eggs.
Stores are closed… with the exception of newspaper stands and a few shops at rail stations.
Yes, in Germany, the holiday goes on past Easter Sunday to Easter Monday, a day of remembrance or reflection. You may witness candle-lit parades, or participate in walks early in the morning to remember the walk Jesus made to his crucifixion. Churches hold services at the end of these walks. Because winter is FINALLY over, people want to get outside. This is a celebration of Winter’s and, and the new life that comes with Spring. They walk, hike, picnic, and generally enjoy nature. Many communities hold Easter Egg races for children (with an Egg or Potato on a spoon).
Easter Monday is a public holiday, so again, stores, banks and the post office are closed.
Easter in Germany feels more like a time to reconnect with family. We remember traditions, and recharge the batteries. A time of renewal. And for many, it’s a time to enjoy the beginning of Spring and say goodbye to the long cold winter.