Why is the Thursday before Easter called Grünerdonnerstag in Germany?

Heiliger Donnerstag (Holy Thursday) makes sense… but why is the Thursday before Easter called Grünerdonnerstag in Germany? The word “Heilige” or “Holy” makes sense, after all, the day is an important part of the Karwoche (Holy Week). The Thursday before Easter is associated with the Last Supper and the end of Lent. The night of Jesus’s betrayal and arrest marks the beginning of the Easter Triduum… passion, death, and resurrection of Christ.

According to Christian tradition, on this night, Jesus and the Apostles gathered. He washed their feet, and then they sat down for the Last Supper. This meal with bread and wine established the tradition of the Eucharist. Later that evening Jesus was betrayed by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane and arrested. The following day, Good Friday, Jesus was crucified. (note- The “good” in Good Friday is a whole other story)


1511 Schaeufelein Last Supper anagoriaHans Leonhard Schäufelein, Last Supper Anagoria Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Why is the Thursday Before Easter Called Grünerdonnerstag in Germany?

The name Grünerdonnerstag has been documented in Germany since the 13th century and has a few possible origins.

The most likely explanation for the word may derive from a twist on the High German word “Greinen“, meaning to cry or whimper. Tears, whimpering, crying over the coming death of Jesus. After Mass on this day, the church bells are stilled until Easter Sunday.

Perhaps the name comes from the green liturgical vestments? In the Middle Ages, church leaders wore the color of hope on Thursday, before switching to white on Friday for Easter.

It may refer to Antlastag, or “dies Verides“, a church penitential decree. On this day “dry wood” penitents became “green wood” or Veriedes, sinless members of the living church (Luke 23:31).  A special service grants absolution to those who paid penance, and they are welcome back into the church. This was also a day when those who had been excommunicated and forgiven could participate in the Eucharist again.

And it’s likely that the name comes from the tradition of eating green foods. Since the 14th century, people have celebrated by eating green herbs and vegetables. Spinach, Kale, Parsley, and more. These fresh green foods give strength and vitality for the year. Even today, many people eat Spinat und Eier (Spinach and Eggs), Kale, or Frankfurter Grünersosse on this day.

why is it called Grüner donnerstag

Is Grünerdonnerstag a Public Holiday?

Grünerdonnerstag is not a public holiday in Germany. Still, many people take the day off, since it adds an extra day to the long Easter Weekend, which runs through Monday.

Why is the Thursday before Easter called Grünerdonnerstag


Gründonnerstag verstehen: Biblischer Ursprung, Traditionen und gesetzliche Vorschriften 

Liturgical colors in worship

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