Easter Customs Rooted in Meaning

Palm Sunday

The Easter season or Holy Week starts on Palm Sunday, the Sunday immediately prior to Easter. This takes its name from the account in the Bible Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey as the faithful spread palm branches on his path. Although palms are not common in northern Europe, they are held in high esteem at this particular time of the year and in certain areas are still blessed in church, after which they are given a place of honor in the home. Palm Sunday processions through the streets are traditional in many German towns.

Palm Sunday Enlarge image Children carrying palm branches await the beginning of the Palm Sunday procession at the cathedral in Erfurt. (© dpa - Report) Green Thursday

Green Thursday (Gründonnerstag), known to many in America as Maundy Thursday, 

is believed to be the day on which the Last Supper was held. It used to be traditional to clean the house thoroughly on this day, a custom which is possibly linked to the preparation for the Passover Feast. Another custom attached to Green Thursday was that of taking a bath, either simply out of a desire to be clean at Easter or possibly as a reminder of Jesus Christ's washing the disciples' feet at the Last Supper.

Green food, such as spinach, kale, cress, leek, chives and other herbs are traditionally eaten on Green Thursday.

Good Friday

Good Friday Enlarge image The traditional Good Friday procession in the town of Lohr attracts thousands of spectators. (© dpa)

The German name for Good Friday, Karfreitag, comes from the old high German form kara and gives the meaning of “sorrowful Friday” to the day when Christians remember the crucifixion of  Christ. It is also known as quiet Friday (Stiller Freitag). In former times there were far more restrictions on individual behavior on this day than there are today. The drinking of alcohol was strictly forbidden. No one was allowed to kill an animal, and the blacksmith was not allowed to use either hammer or nails, since these were employed in the Crucifixion. In some homes the crockery which had been specially polished during the Green Thursday spring clean was kept covered up in baskets until Easter Saturday, since it was considered unfitting for anything sparkling to be on view on Good Friday.

Many families eat the familiar Lenten food on Good Friday, choosing fish in preference to eggs or meat, and in some areas the bread eaten on Good Friday has the sign of the cross marked on the crust.

Today, Good Friday is a holiday in Germany, as is the Monday after Easter. Families typically gather over this long weekend, not only to attend religious services but to spend time with one another, observe family traditions and of course, partake in a rousing hunt for Easter eggs on Easter Sunday.

© Germany.info

Roots of Meaning

Traditional Sorbian Easter eggs