Here Comes Peter Cottontail: Easter Traditions in Germany

Dieser ist die Ostermarkt Sankt Wendel/This is the Easter Market in St. Wendel

PicMonkey Collage

Easter markets are popping up all over Germany, and we visited the market at Sankt Wendel this weekend.  It was busy with market stalls full of painted Easter eggs, wooden Easter crafts, flowers, and jewelry.  There were craft stations for children and food and drink for everyone.  It was a nice day out, especially with the sun shining brighter than it has in many weeks.  Our favorite sights at the market were the Easter Bunny displays and the fantastic Dom (Church) in Sankt Wendel.

DSC_0867The church was the center point of the market festivities, with stalls huddled around her walls.  The photo at left doesn’t do the exterior of the church justice–in the busy, small streets around the church it was hard to get a photo that shows the fantastic double-onion dome (with a third tier “cap” and cross set above the domes) in proper perspective.  This church is stunning.

The interior of the church is equally beautiful. Here are a few photos for you:

The Easter Bunny displays at Sankt Wendel DSC_0887 were lots of fun too–a little whimsy and a lot of artistry.  But, like so many German traditions, these displays got me thinking.  Where did this story of the Easter Bunny get started?  It seems obvious that America inherited its Easter Bunny traditions from Germany, as the Easter Bunny is not ubiquitous in Europe.  In France, for instance, the Easter Bells (Les Cloches), having flown off to Rome in the days before Easter morning, fly back home and bring eggs and chocolates to children.

The Easter Bunny seems to have started out as a German/Lutheran tradition.  Mention of the tradition dates back to texts from the 1600’s, and it does seem that the bunny did more than spoil children with treats.  There was an element of judgement–who had been good and who had been bad?  (There is, in German traditions, always an element of judgement.  If you don’t believe me, check out my past blogpost on St. Nikolaus and his sinister sidekick — Saints and Devils, Fire and Snow.)

DSC_0889But what made the Lutherans think up this magical bunny?  Well, they borrowed from earlier traditions too.  In German, this Easter Bunny is know as the “Osterhase”  (the Easter Hare), and it’s widely accepted that many roots of our present Easter traditions come from pre-Christian traditions.  The goddess Eostre (and her symbolic rabbits) were a focal point for spring fertility rituals.  Fertility, bunnies, eggs–you can certainly see the echoes in present day traditions.

You see the same pattern in Christmas traditions–the Christian holiday did pick up some flavoring from the Roman Saturnalia holiday that came before it.  We’re all magpies in some respect–we incorporate bright scraps we find and fancy here and there, and we add those scraps to our nests.  No holidays, religious or otherwise, spring fully formed from a doctrine or ideology–they incorporate the surrounding culture.  This may seem odd when the surrounding culture is pagan and the newer holiday is Christian, but hearts and minds change slowly, piece by piece, person by person.  Any slow turn of a culture will incorporate what its ancestors held dear, no matter how odd a pairing those ideas and traditions are.  Flying bells?  Easter bunnies?  A little odd if you think about it logically.  But, really, if all of our stories hinged solely on logic, we’d be all out of beauty and mystery. We’d be done for.

Long live the Osterhase!!  Frohe Ostern!  Happy Easter to you!

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12 thoughts on “Here Comes Peter Cottontail: Easter Traditions in Germany

  1. The Osterhase hasn’t any Christian reference. Martin Luther “invented” the Christkind to displace the catholic saints but there wasn’t any need to do displace some catholic “egg- bringer”.
    Regarding this, there are significant differences between German and English wiki. 🙂

  2. The Osterhase hasn’t any Christian reference. Martin Luther “invented” the Christkind to displace the catholic saints but there wasn’t any need to do displace some catholic “egg- bringer”.
    Regarding this, there are significant differences between German and English wiki. 🙂

      1. When our children were smaller, we blow out eggs and painted pictures onto them with watercolours. We hang these eggs on freshly cut willow branches; with the yolk and egg white we baked Osterbrot. And we altogether dyed hard boiled eggs colourfully. We stroll with the kids over the meadows and they found so many little chocolate eggs the Osterhase had lost! 😎
        After Eastern, eggs- dishes coming out of our ears. 🙂

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