Easter Customs in Germany

Christine von Kannen-Balgar sent me this fascinating letter, answering some questions I had about Easter customs in Germany:

Dear Lisa,

To answer to your e-mail:

1) I’ve never heard of a German custom of eating green eggs on Maundy (Green Thursday) [scroll down to the discussion of Green Dyes to see what Christine is referring to – Lisa].

2) In Germany the Catholics used to eat green vegetables on Green Thursday (and maybe also the Lutherans/Protestants).

Well, nowadays almost everything has changed! I shall try to explain to you about Maundy, Lent and Easter (and the Easter Bunny) in Germany.

What you are talking of was a matter of religion. In North Rhine Westphalia, where I come from, and in most parts of south Germany most people were Catholics, so is/was my family. When I was a child or young girl (and I am 63 now) we used to “lent”, which means that the children did not eat sweets. We collected all sweets we got in a big glass, and on Easter Sunday, when Lent was over, we put it into our “Easter baskets” with the other sweets and EGGS. The “Easter Bunny” brings little children eggs and all Easter sweets! I think nobody really knows where this custom came from. Though it is known that the Easter Bunny first became popular in Germany in the 16th century.

People in Germany also make Easter trees. They hollow out eggs, dye them and hang them on shrubs or trees.

Lent started on Ash Wednesday, the day after Carnival and ended on Easter Sunday (do you know that in Germany we have an “Easter Monday”, which is a holiday – no work?!).

On Green Thursday we used to eat spinach or green cabbage (it is a green kind/sort of cabbage) or brussels sprouts. Or any other green vegetable you can think of (winter vegetables – as you’ve written in your e-mail). But not eggs!

I don’t know what had been the custom in the 18th or 19th century, but since the beginning of the 20th century (my grandparents were born between 1874 – 1887) we have known this custom of green vegetables on Maundy. I never heard about eating green eggs on Maundy.

We eat eggs on Easter.

On Good Friday or Good Saturday we boil the eggs (they must be hard boiled, so that you can keep them for a few days). Then we colour them red, blue, yellow, green etc. or speckled with special “Easter Eggs Colouring”.

On Good Friday we used to eat fish or anything else, but never meat – a “law” of the Catholic Church.

So the Catholics were not allowed at all to eat meat on Fridays (according to Church Law, which is not a law given by Jesus but by the Institution of the Catholic Church!). But you might know that. As I said, custom and things change. Nowadays, almost nobody cares for that. We all eat meat on a Friday, and maybe this Church Law was given up!? I don’t know. But we still eat coloured eggs on Easter and give eggs, together with sweets, in a little basket, to children, sometimes also to adults.

Best wishes from Old Germany
Christine

Thanks for sharing information about your customs in Germany with us Christine! Many of our customs in the US are the same. I believe a lot of them came here through the Pennsylvania Dutch (German immigrants to America).

Recently, I’ve even started to see Easter trees here too. I believe that’s a new custom.

If anyone knows more about the custom of eating green Easter eggs in Germany on Green Thursday, or if you’d like to share your customs with us, feel free to comment below or email me.

Happy Easter!

Mama Lisa

This article was posted on Thursday, March 13th, 2008 at 12:45 pm and is filed under Carnival, Countries & Cultures, Customs and Traditions, Easter, Easter Eggs, German, Germany, Holidays Around the World, Languages, Lent, Mama Lisa, Pennsylvania Dutch, USA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “Easter Customs in Germany”

  1. Ed Gawlinski Says:

    That was very interesting. I had wondered about decorating trees with colored eggs am surprised that it is an old German custom.

    I grew up in Brooklyn New York (I’m 57 years old now). My family moved north from a Polish section into an Irish section. North of that was a Norwegian section. One of the customs that were retained from Europe was inviting the priest to come to our home on Holy Thursday to bless the food that we would eat for dinner on Easter Sunday. The Polish word for this custom is Swieconka.

    This custom is retained in some churces where people bring baskets that represent part of their Easter dinner to a church service on Holy Saturday morning to be blessed there. I know that Our Lady of Czestachowa in Brooklyn, New York and Saint John’s in Mancester Connecticut keep this custom

    see the attached links for more information, including recipes

    http://www.polishamericancenter.org/Swieconka.htm
    http://www.polishamericancenter.org/Easter.htm
    http://www.polskiinternet.com/english/info/easter.html
    http://www.polamjournal.com/Library/Holidays/Easter/easter.html#beginners

  2. Ed Gawlinski Says:

    Lisa wrote

    Thanks for sharing information about your customs in Germany with us Christine! Many of our customs in the US are the same. I believe a lot of them came here through the Pennsylvania Dutch (German immigrants to America).

    http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/history/mnstatehistory/german_migration.html

    German immigrants had been coming to the United States since the U.S. was a colony of Britain. Many of the early immigrants came to the U.S. in search of religious freedom. Later, as a result of the Napoleonic Wars (1796-1815), individuals sought freedom from military involvement and political oppression. German migration to Minnesota, however, was at its peak during the decades of the 1860s and 1870s.

    During these two decades, many German individuals had already been in the United States for some time, arriving in the 1850s and having settled in Midwestern states with high concentrations of Germans, such as Wisconsin and Ohio. Their reasons for leaving Europe for these new homes in the United States were many. One reason was the development of mechanized manufacturing of goods. Increasing industrialization and the use of machines to perform tasks previously done by manual labor threatened cottage industries and drove many individuals to the city in search of employment. Unfortunately, the cities quickly became overcrowded and the availability of jobs there also declined, forcing some people to return to their homes in the rural areas or to migrate to the United States

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German-Americans_in_the_Civil_War

    During the American Civil War, over 200,000 native Germans served in the Union Army. German-Americans in the American Civil War were the largest contingent to fight under the Union with New York and Ohio both providing ten divisions dominated largely by native-born Germans

    http://www.geocities.com/ohio9reg/9thOhio.html

    The 9th Ohio Infantry Regiment was Ohio’s first all-German unit to enter the Union Army during the Civil War, and was one of four raised in the city of Cincinnati alone. The unit served with distinction from 1861-1864 and its story is a perfect example of the forgotten contribution that many Germans made by fighting for their newly adopted country.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_American
    German Americans (German Deutschamerikaner) are citizens of the United States of ethnic German ancestry and currently form the largest ancestry group in the United States, accounting for 17% of the U.S. population. The first significant numbers arrived in the 1680s in New York and Pennsylvania. Some eight million German immigrants entered the United States since then. Immigration continued in substantial numbers during the 19th century; the largest number of arrivals came 1840–1900. Germans form the largest group of immigrants coming to the U.S., outnumbering the Irish and English. Some arrived seeking religious or political freedom, others for economic opportunities greater than those in Europe, and others simply for the chance to start afresh in the New World. California and Pennsylvania have the largest populations of German origin, with over six million German Americans residing in the two states alone. Over 50 million people in the United States identify German as their ancestry. In the 1990 U.S. census, 58 million Americans claimed to be solely or partially of German descent. In Pennsylvania, English and German were co-official languages until around the time of World War I.

    Before the First World War, there were a large number of German-English bi-lingual schools in the United States.

    The Pennsylvania Dutch, who were an Anabaptist religious group from the German speaking part of Switzerland did not have as significant an influence on American culture as did the much larger and number of immigrants who came from that part of Europe that became Germany and who assimilated into the mainstream of the U.S. Population. The Pennsylvania Dutch (who are also found in Ohio and Idaho) did not assimilate into the mainstream but live in separate communities,

  3. Vicky Says:

    Wow, I’m really surprised right now that somebody would discuss german easter customs.
    I’m 15 years old and german, and some of the things I’ve read here, I didn’t even know. Really interesting..

  4. kay bauer Says:

    I am inquiring about a German custom of giving $1000.00 to the family who had a newborn son.
    A friend’s grandmother kept a daily diary for many years and mentioned that her husband was give $1000.00 after each of their sons was born.
    She did not say from whom the money came or why.
    This occured in the late 1930’s in the U.S.A. in North Dakota.

    Thank you for any information you might have.

Leave a Reply