Keeping Regional Easter Traditions Alive

Easter egg roll on Wangerooge island Enlarge image Rolling Easter eggs down a grassy or sandy slope is a tradition on the islands of East Fresia. (© picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb) In most German families the Easter bunny and Easter eggs are an integral part of the celebration of Easter. The bunny traditionally hides the eggs in the garden and the children swarm out to find them. There are a few regional variations though, for example an egg-rolling custom called “Eiertrüllen” in northern Germany, the search for Easter water or looking for eggs in a manner known to Goethe.

In the region of East Fresia in the north of the country the Easter eggs are rolled or thrown from hills and the slopes of dykes, or knocked together otherwise. The low German term for the pastime is Eiertrüllen. Children love to compete against each other, letting their eggs run down sandy hillocks – the winner is the one whose egg arrives at the bottom in one piece.

In Weimar a local custom recalls the author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who lived in the area for decades. Once a year on Green Thursday he would invite children into his garden where he had hidden eggs for them to find. Weimar maintains the tradition to this day and invites youngsters to search for Easter eggs in the Park on the river Ilm where Goethe’s residence stands.

Easter in Goethe's garden Enlarge image In Weimar children still hunt for Easter treats in Goethe's garden. (© picture-alliance / ZB) The town of Ostereistedt, literally "Easter egg town" in Lower Saxony, has made a tradition out of its name: Legend has it that an Easter bunny called “Hanni Hase” lives here. Thousands of children write letters to him with their wishes every year. The replies are dealt with by an official at the post office.

An extremely unusual Easter customer is being sent to fetch Easter water. According to local myth, such water has magical qualities and promotes both health and beauty. This only applies if liquid is taken from a body of flowing water and is brought straight into the home and the person delivering it is not even allowed to talk while doing so.

Easter bonfires

Easter bonfire in Hamburg Enlarge image Locals gather around a traditional bonfire on the banks of the Elbe in Hamburg. (© picture-alliance/dpa) Easter bonfires are one of the most common Easter customs in Germany. The practice is especially popular in rural parts of northern Germany but some of the fires are lit in residential gardens in the city or along the beach of the River Elbe in Hamburg. Villagers, neighbours and friends traditionally gather around these bonfires which are usually lit on the Saturday before Easter starts. In some areas the custom does not take place until Easter Sunday or Monday. The bonfire is fuelled with branches and twigs taken from the garden.

The Easter bonfires can trace their origin as a custom back to the 16th Century but probably date back to pre-Christian times. The light from the fire symbolically represents the driving-out of winter and the coming of warmth. The practice is also supposed to increase the fertility of fields. In the Christian tradition the Easter bonfire is a sign of the resurrection of Christ.

Easter wheels are another variation. Giant flaming wheels made of wood and straw are rolled down hills every year in the town of Luedge in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

They leave a blazing trail stretching for several hundred metres and hark back to fiery wheels used to symbolise the sun 2,000 years ago. These too, marked the end of winter.

Medieval-style procession in Traunstein

Hundreds of horses with colorful garlands parade through the center of Traunstein and the air is filled with the sound of bells. At precisely 10 a.m. on Easter Monday the herald raises his baton and the procession sets off. Every year men and women from the Upper Bavarian town of Traunstein and the surrounding area take part in the St. George’s Parade (Georgi-Ritt) during which both man and beast are blessed. The spectacle regularly attracts several thousand onlookers.

Georgiritt in Traunstein Enlarge image Riders in traditional costume and their finely groomed horses take part in the Georgiritt in Traunstein. (© picture-alliance/ dpa) The knights wear historical costumes and the herald dons a suit of armour. Those taking part wear medieval costumes, with leather jerkins, white shirts, waistcoats and wide-brimmed hats. The women are dressed as castle maidens or wear traditional Bavarian garments. The carriages are reserved for local dignitaries, such as the mayor, the pastor and the district council representative. The central figure of the procession is the warrior saint St. George who rides on his white horse dressed in a red cape and armoured breast plate. He is the patron of knights, farmers, horses and beasts in general and it is after him that the procession is named.

Those on horseback proceed to the pilgrim church at Ettendorf, some 3.5 kilometres away. While the pastor blesses those taking part, the procession comprising nearly 400 horses circles around the church. The St. George’s Parade can look back on a centuries-old tradition and has been held regularly since 1892.

The horses used to be essential to all agricultural activity in these parts and the blessing was supposed to bring luck and good fortune to the farmers, their horses, farmsteads, and the rest of their livestock. The procession is also a way of ushering in the Spring season.The procession lasts for two hours and both beginning and end are marked by ritualistic sword dances held in Traunstein. The costumed men brandish their swords to signify the victory of Spring over the winter months. The dancing has been passed down since the 16th Century while the ceremony has been held in its present form since 1926.

Regional Traditions

Traditional Sorbian Easter eggs