Getting involved with local customs and traditions is a great way to make yourself feel at home in your new place of residency – and it is always interesting to see how things differ from how you did it at home. If you’re looking for details of Easter events in Munich, please visit our special round-up or read on for tips on how Bavarians celebrate Easter. If you need information on which supermarkets and/or shops are open for business during the next few days, find the details here.
Easter as a family holiday
In Germany, people tend to travel to be with their loved ones. Easter usually falls between late March and late April as it’s on the first Sunday after the first full moon after spring equinox. Good Friday (just before) and Easter Monday (the day after Easter Sunday) are public holidays. The most prominent Easter feature most people agree on is the egg hunt which usually takes place on Easter Sunday. A parent (err, I mean, the Easter bunny) hides chocolate eggs and other goodies in the garden or in a park and the children go and find them. Some people also exchange or hide small gifts. If at all possible egg hunts take place outside, however the weather might force you to limit outdoor exposure: I’ve seen everything between 0-20C (32-68F) on Easter Sunday.
Easter as a foodie event
Beside chocolate eggs, regular eggs (often hard boiled and painted), and sponge cake in the shape of a lamb (you can buy a lamb shaped cake tin if you like), there are two important dishes one may consume over the Easter holidays: lamb (hey, you weren’t expecting that, were you?) and asparagus. Lamb is typically served with rosemary flavoured potatoes and green beans (preferably wrapped in bacon). The asparagus deserves a chapter to itself or at least a paragraph.
When Germans talk about asparagus they mean white asparagus. Asparagus season is roughly from March to May, so you can easily consume the first longingly awaited asparagus of the season at Easter. It goes with potatoes, at least one butter based sauce and ham (lunch meat style). And many Germans (not all) just love it. This obsession with white asparagus as the main part of a dish, I personally have never witnessed anywhere else. I’ve seen many other nations happily consuming a variation of pork roast and even cabbage as one of their staples, so in my opinion asparagus should be the national dish instead. An asparagus dish is often followed by strawberries, which are also in season. It’s the season to be seasonal.
Bunnies, chicks, lambs, eggs, butterflies, flowers, yellow and green colours – any of these can be hung up in windows, in homes and schools or occasionally on fountains. Since celebrations tend to take place at home there is no such thing as a publicly visible Easter like Semana Santa. Public life tends to slow down over the Easter weekend. If people go to church, they often go at midnight on Easter Sunday, just when Faust was saved by the bell. A candle will be lit at midnight spreading the light to everyone in the church.
Easter as a religious festival
Both Christmas and Easter in Germany (and many other places) are a mixture of Christian and pagan traditions. As Christianity spread there was a reinterpretation of the local customs. The pre-Christian winter solstice festival celebrated the darkest day of the year and at the same time the increasing daylight hinting at better times ahead. It was a great match with the birth of Jesus Christ who, albeit just a baby, begins to shine his light of hope into the world always increasing with intensity.
Easter, in contrast is not just the faint hope of better times but the actual onset of spring. Everything we could wish for is here at last: sunshine, baby animals being born, growing crops and the earliest fresh foods… the dark and dreariness is over, winter has been defeated for at least another year. The Christian church paired this with the story of the Resurrection: Jesus Christ has risen, is immortal and here for good. German Christmas features Knecht Ruprecht in his various forms. He is clearly a pagan character, acting as Santa’s ‘Mr Hyde’. Easter has most prominently the Easter bunny, eggs and the lamb, all of which are clear symbols of fertility.
At Christmas the mood in Germany tends to be a bit tranquil and pensive: people sit at home by candlelight quietly pondering about the fact that the dark days will be over soon. Easter is a more cheerful holiday: spring is here, so let’s go out and play! As a result of this there is the tradition mostly in the countryside of having a huge bonfire accompanied by the inevitable food and beer stands in order to chase away the evil spirits of winter.
If you want to go even more pagan, Walpurgisnacht is coming up soon. Celebrated on the night of 30 April – 1 May, it’s about chasing off evil spirits and ringing spring in. It’s not commonly celebrated in Catholic Bavaria but there are festivals and events in the north of Germany, especially in the Harz Mountains. On April 30th you can also enjoy a performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana in many towns.
Easter in classical literature
Easter features prominently in Goethe’s Faust – easily one of the most important pieces of German classical literature. In the opening chapters, the main character is in anguish because he has reached his physical and mental limitations and doesn’t see much sense in living any more (one could say he is having a midlife crisis). In a dramatic climax, as he is about to put a cup of poison to his lips, he hears the church bells announcing Easter morning and changes his mind. The next day he goes for a walk and marvels at all the people out and about, released from their dark houses, the happiness, the beauty, the new beginning spring offers.
The reading of this passage called ‘Easter walk’ features in some families’ Easter celebrations – you find Goethe’s ‘Easter walk’ passage in English here if you’d like to include it in yours. Walking around Munich, you man have noticed the slogan Hier bin ich Mensch, hier kauf ich ein on DM stores around the city. It is derived from a quotation from Faust’s ‘Easter walk’: ‘Hier bin ich Mensch, hier darf ich’s sein.’ A rough translation is “Here I can be myself/express my innermost nature.”
Karina worked as TV producer before being cursed with two kids. In her previous life she was used to writing. She’s been in Munich for ten years now but still doesn’t undertstand the menu and probably never will. As a German herself, with close ties to the expat community, she provides LMBB with a different angle on life in Munich.
Photo credit: Hailing from sunny Florida, Loralee Pioszak is an English/Spanish speaking children and family photographer who enjoys capturing bright colors, big smiles and childhood memories. She is a Munich resident since 2015 and mom to one very cute little girl. Find her work at facebook.com/loraleephotography.