Quick Guide to German Easter Food & Traditions

Easter is the time of celebration in the Christian calendar, rejoicing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let’s have a look at German Easter food and traditions. You will find that these have developed from a mixture of Christian and Pagan customs.

Easter eggs, the Easter bunny and an Easter egg hunt are all German Easter traditions that have spread across the world. Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, brought some traditions to the UK in the 19th century. Settlers who arrived in Pennsylvania in the 18th century brought some German customs to the US.

Easter in Germany

Easter in Germany is called “Ostern”. It is unclear where the name derives from but it is assumed that is derived from “Ost” (East), the direction in which the sun rises. It also coincides with an old pagan tradition to celebrate spring. As the sun rises in the east, dawn has a symbolic significance in Christianity and stands for resurrection and new beginnings. Jesus’s empty grave was discovered just as the sun rose. For this reason, there are also many christenings at Easter. [Source: Namensforschung.net: Ostern]

What is happy easter in German?

In Germany, you say “Frohe Ostern” to wish someone a happy Easter. You pronounce it “FROE-HE OST-ERN” as an English speaker.

Easter Holy Week in Germany

The holy week is also called “Karwoche” in Germany. They consist of 5 days

  • Palm Sunday (Palmensonntag)
  • Maudy Thursday (Grundonnerstag)
  • K-Friday (Karfreitag)
  • Easter Saturday (Kar-Samstag)
  • Easter Sunday (Ostersonntag)

Palmensonntag (Palm Sunday)

German Easter traditions start a week before Easter. On Palm Sunday Jesus arrived in Jerusalem. In Germany, we celebrate with the priest leading a procession through town. The congregation bring palm leaves to be blessed. In Germany, it is common to use box trees (Buchsbäume) and other evergreen local shrubs.

This is also the time when we traditionally start decorating for Easter and the first Easter Markets open.

German Easter Tree (Osterbaum)

The German Easter tree has its origin in pagan times. Eggs are a sign of fertility and the symbol of victory of life over death. It fits in well with spring, where the colorful eggs scare away the winter. It also coincides with the time many trees start regrowing their first leaves.

You will see Easter trees, decorated with Easter eggs in gardens. Indoor Easter trees are a popular centerpiece on dining tables. You arrange Forsythia or willow branches in a vase and decorate them with eggs. [Der Ostereierbaum: Bedeutung und Tradition]

Ostermarkt (German Easter Markets)

Easter Markets are big fairs that spring up all around Germany around Easter time. They range from full funfairs, such as the famous Osterwiese in Bremen, to Art and Craft fairs such as the famous Ostermarkt in Nürenberg. Whenever you go, you will be sure to be able to sample some of the delicious German Easter Food.

Grundonnerstag (Maudy Thursday)

On Gründonnerstag (which literally translated means Green Thursday) we remember Jesus’ last meal before his crucifixion. The word “Grün” is confusing as it does not originate from “grün”, the German word for green, but the antiquated term “gronan” which means to mourn or cry.

Meanwhile, you tend to eat green dishes on this day such as salad, spinach and kale. As this day is still part of the fasting season you should refrain from eating meat.

Frankfurt Green Sauce
Frankfurt Green Sauce, is a popular dish for Grundonnerstag in Hessia.

Typical Grundonnerstag recipes

  • Frankfurt Green Sauce (Frankfurter Grune Soße)
  • Grünkohl (German Kale) – Easter Sunday also marks the end of the Kale season in Germany
  • Creamed Spinach with eggs
  • German Pea Soup
  • Recipes using wild garlic
  • Other recipes that are using seasonal green herbs.

Karfreitag (Good Friday)

“Karfreitag” is the German term for Good Friday. We remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. We refrain from sweets and meat, and so it is traditional to serve fish and vegetables on this day.

Overhead shot of a white plate.  A fried fillet lies on the plate.  A for on the left is pulling of a slice of the fish.  On the right you can see a knife.  Under the plate is a gray napkin.  On the fish lies a slice of lemon.  IN the background you can see a bowl of potatoes anda glas of water
Scholle Finkenwerder Art is a traditional German Fish Dish

Typical German Good Friday dishes include:

Karsamstag (Easter Saturday)

Karsamstag still counts as part of the fasting period. It is a busy day for German kitchens. It is not a holiday, so shops are open and people are busy buying the last ingredients for their Easter dishes. On this day many people also start baking Easter bread and German Easter cakes for the celebration the next day. The kids will also start dying the Easter eggs in preparation for the next day.

Osterfeuer (German Easter Fires)

German Easter Fire during Sunset
German Easter Fire at Sunset (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)

On the night between Easter Saturday and Easter Sunday, it is customary to have a big bonfire. It started off as a Germanic custom, in order to scare away the winter. The Christians took over the tradition and the priest will light the Easter candle on the fire, which will stay alight until Good Friday the next year.

Today it is also a social spectacle to meet friends and family. After the fire, you can wish another “Happy Easter” (Frohe Ostern in German) and enjoy some freshly baked chocolate buns and easter eggs.

Oster Sonntag and Montag (Easter Sunday and Monday)

On Easter Sunday Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and the end of Lent. If you have children in the house, then the day probably will start with an easter egg hunt in the garden. This will be followed by an elaborate Easter Brunch.

Everybody will go as a family to church and at lunch, there will be a huge feast for everyone.

German Easter Egg Hunt

Girl searching for Easter Eggs

The Easter egg hunt (Ostereiersuche) is one of the highlights for Children at Easter. In the morning they will run out into the garden and search for chocolate easter eggs that the Easter bunny (Osterhase) has hidden for them.

It is unclear where the tradition of the Easter egg hunt comes from. One popular theory is that eggs used to be gifted in Pagan times to worship the Germanic goddess of spring called Ostara.

With the start of Christianity, this custom was prohibited, and so people used to hide the eggs instead, and let them be found by a family in friends. As to not be “directly” implicated. [Source: Sat1.de Ostereiersuche: Woher stammt der Brauch]

Osterhase – Germany Easter Bunny

In Germany, it is traditional that the Easter bunny brings Easter eggs. The first Easter bunny was mentioned in Germany in 1678. However, the custom only started about 100 years ago. In some parts of Germany, it was the easter bunny who brought the eggs. However, there were regional differences, and in some regions, it was the cuckoo or a fox, a stork or even a special easter bird.

In the previous centuries, it was especially the birds who brought the eggs. They would fly to Rome on Maudy Thursday and return on Saturday, dropping the eggs in people’s gardens. This is another theory of how the easter hunt started. Source Markt.de Osterhase-Herkunft-Bdeutung.

It is probably thanks to the protestants that the legend of the Easter bunny stuck. They supposedly started the tradition of hiding the eggs, and because the rabbit and hare have Christian symbolic meaning, it was the rabbit who has chosen for the important task of hiding the eggs.

German Easter Recipes

Easter Bread
Recipe: German Easter Bread with Marzipan and Almonds

German Easter Bread Recipes

German Easter Food will always include some form of Easter bread. You will find this bread in three distinct shapes:

  • wreath form (called Osterkranz or Kranzbrot)
  • as braided bread (called Hefezopf or Osterzopf)
  • or in round bread form simply called (Osterbrot).

You will often find the bread braided, and the three strands represent the holy trinity.

Other dishes for an opulent Easter Brunch in Germany include fresh bread rolls, and cold cuts of meat and cheese. Of course, a boiled colored egg is a staple at any German Easter Breakfast. Cold salat such as German Meat Salad or this Egg and Apple Salad is served to go with the bread.

See the recipe: Herezopf – (Osterzopf) -German Braided Bread

German Easter Dinner Ideas

The biggest Easter dinner in Germany tends to take place either on Easter Sunday or Easter Monday. Lamb is the main traditional meat of choice, however, these are also popular choices:

Most popular German Easter Dinner dishes

  • Roast Lamb
  • Roasted Hare or Rabbit
  • Roasted Ham (Kasslerbraten)
  • Meatloaf (Hackbraten/ Falscher Hase)

Popular Side dishes are

Easter Cake Recipes

German Easter Lamb Cake with Easter Eggs in the background

Of course, we have to have a cake to round off the Easter festivities. A very traditional cake for Easter Sunday is the Easter Lamb Cake (Osterlammkuchen). It is a simple sponge cake that is baked in a lamb-shaped cake form. It is the centerpiece of the afternoon “coffee and cake” table. See the German Easter Lamb Recipe

Another popular cake to make around Easter is this Swiss Carrot Cake (Rüblikuchen). Rüblikuchen is made with either almonds or hazelnuts and glazed with lemon icing.

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