Monday, April 17, 2006

Easter in Germany (Or: Return to our Regularly Scheduled Programming)

Yesterday was Easter. One week ago, during Holy Week, I saw a television report that only 1 in 4 Germans knows why Easter is celebrated. The lovely Lisa queried her readers about Easter traditions in Germany. The report and Lisa made me put on my thinking cap . . . which never leads to any good. What do Germans know about Easter? How is Easter different in Germany?

First, let's address the knowledge gap. I went into my English classes last week with an Easter lesson. Each student received a worksheet, and they had to locate the hidden eggs in the picture. Then they had to write a sentence describing the location of each egg using the correct preposition of location. I gave a big chocolate bunny to the person who was the fastest. Then I tried to generate discussion about the holiday.

Claire: "Why do we celebrate Easter?"

Silence . . . Crickets chirping.

Claire: "Um . . . what happened on Easter Sunday?"

More silence.

Intimidated Student 1: "I think Jesus stood up at Easter Sunday."

When I am teaching, I generally take what I can get. At least no one gave the same answer as the idiot on TV, "Um , Easter is when Jesus was born." What makes these responses unbelievable is that Germans have religion classes in school! On the other hand, no one knew why a rabbit brings eggs on Easter either. This is amusing, as the myth of the Easter Bunny is GERMAN. I tried to talk more about Easter traditions in Germany.

Claire: "What do you do in Germany on Easter?"

Even more painful silence.

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why this topic did not spark more discussion. I told my students, "Imagine an alien comes to Germany and you have to explain this holiday to them. What would you say?" After a lot of coaxing, I did get a few responses.

In Germany, you get Good Friday and Easter Monday off from work. Seriously, all of the stores are closed and I am out of toilet paper. (Sometimes I really miss Wal-mart.) In the week before Easter, children dye eggs with their parents. Germans also decorate the house with bunnies and eggs and hang plastic eggs on the trees outside. Osterglocken, i.e. daffodils, are a popular motif. On Easter Sunday, children get baskets and go search for Easter eggs. On Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, Germans visit family and eat a lot of cake and drink a lot of coffee. As you can see, Easter in Germany is not all that different from Easter in the U.S. Also notice that almost no one I talked to mentioned going to church.

There is another important tradition, which is especially popular here in the north, the Osterfeuer, i.e. the Easter Fire. Depending on where you live, the Easter Fire takes place on either Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday. The town gathers together old trees and things and builds a huge pile. Then everyone gets together, the town sets the pile on fire and everyone stands around and watches it burn. During the evening the participants also eat Bratwurst and get totally hammered. I really dig this tradition.

The fire is not always sponsored by the town. Some farmers and groups (like the local soccer club) have their own fires. Actually, for 25 Euro, you could have your very own fire. This tradition comes from an old Germanic celebration marking the beginning of spring. The fire is supposed to drive away bad spirits. Unfortunately, the German and I did not get to go to a fire this year.

Yesterday, the German and I went to my in-laws for brunch. We then took the traditional Easter walk in Varrel. During our walk we saw a lot of sheep on the dikes, such as the one below. The German told me that because they spend the entire day standing on the side of a hill, the sheep have uneven legs (one side is longer than the other). I looked at him, "Seriously?" He grinned. "No. Not really?"

Here is a picture of me starring at the sheep. I grew up in the suburbs. The sight of actual live animals still amazes me. There were only male sheep on the dike. I was disturbed by their very big balls. I know that this may be a bit inappropriate, but dude, they freaked me out!!

We returned to the in-laws house, and I took the traditional "falling asleep on the couch while watching CNN" Easter nap. After dinner and one too many shots with my father-in-law, the German and I got home around midnight. It was a good day.

For any German readers, I pose my question to you. What makes Easter in Germany special?


The German said...

Yes you are right, that´s easter in little mistake......we went to Varel not Varrel..............two diffrent places....maybe everywhere smiling faces....(got it :-) )

Mikey said...

Wow I just learned something about the Easter Bunny. We done teach!!

Claire said...

Everyone, I would like to introduce you to my husband, the Smart Ass. Thanks, sweetie.

Mikey, I can be educational. Not often but it does happen.

J said...

Hey,could you email me that worksheet? It sounds like something I could use.

EuroTrippen said...

Osterfeuer sounds like the bonfires we used to build in college until the powers that be deemed them 'unsafe'... that was my first experience with 'the man' keeping me down.

JB said...

You have already described German Easter very well. It's all about having some days off. Ask about football - or buying a house ;o) - and you have a better audience, I guess.
Just for the records: One German Easter tradition is the "Ostermarsch". In the eighties I went to these marshs regularly. We were there with our whole family and campaigned against war in general and against the instalment of the US missiles particularly. A big happening.

Belinda said...

I have a ram myself, just a pet, raised from an orphaned bottle-baby. I am STILL unnerved by the size of this animal's balls. You are not alone.

Lisa said...

-Claire-dude! thanks for the shout and compliment. Now I do indeed feel lovely. :D I was also laughing through the first part of this post because in the past when you said "students" I always imagined adults. When I got to the part where you gave them a worksheet and the winner got a chocolate bunny I lost it! *LOL* Two other things, you're going to be surprised just how much was invented or discovered or begun by German people. And sheep balls! Scary. I grew up in an agri-area but not many sheep. Lotsa cows, pigs and horses. Bulls have some impressive sax too. I suddenly desperately feel the need to change the subject.