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Easter traditions in the Eifel

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Easter is approaching - although children must wait a bit longer for the Easter Bunny to arrive at their homes and surprise them with gifts and coloured eggs, the bunny has long appeared as a chocolate figure on the shelves of Germany’s grocery stores.

A few days prior to the Easter Feast, our friend “Bunny” can be seen everywhere - the bunny appears on greeting cards people send to friends and relatives, in shop windows, at spring markets and on advertisements. People also decorate their houses and yards with the famous Easter Bunny.

Easter trees, decorated with hollowed-out eggs and Easter ornaments are also a common thing in Germany.

Who is this popular Easter Bunny everyone loves so much?
No one seems to exactly know! But what people do know is the custom of the Easter Bunny, who hides Easter eggs, can be traced back to 1682 when rabbits were mentioned in connection with Easter customs for the first time, perhaps because they appear more in people’s gardens during spring time to nibble on the fresh greens.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that the rabbit started bringing Easter gifts.

Along with traditional Easter walks and Easter outings giving Easter eggs is a main feature of the feast, and presenting Easter gifts is quite popular.

Parents give their children coloured Easter eggs, chocolate eggs and chocolate rabbits. They arrange small Easter gifts and eggs in baskets they hide in the backyard or in secret corners of the house. On the morning of Easter, the children will search for them and enjoy the good time - and of course they do believe that the Easter Bunny brought them the baskets and gifts.

Children throughout the country participate in egg-rolling contests, where they roll coloured eggs down grassy slopes or they knock the egg’s pointed ends together and the child whose egg does not shatter gets the broken one, too.

For Christians throughout the world, the Easter holidays are the most important holidays of the year. Easter is the oldest Christian feast, dating back all the way to the early second century.

There has been much speculation about the origin of the word Easter, which is “Ostern” in German, and the ancient Anglo-Saxon spring goddess named “Eostra” (Ostara). But a connection is unproven.

The Saturday before Easter marks the end of Lent. After 40 days of fasting people are once again permitted to eat anything.

Good Friday is the day when Christians remember Christ’s death on the cross. Services of devotion at the Stations of the Cross are held.

The tradition of the Easter bonfire is widespread. Fire is the symbol of re-awakened nature and, according to ancient belief, fire is supposed to protect men from all kinds of adversity. For Christians, the Easter bonfire symbolizes the victory of Christ over death and darkness. The Easter fire is used to light the Easter candle in Catholic areas and lit in the church for the remainder of the year.

A significant tradition in Germany is that starting on Good Friday until Easter, Catholic churches do not ring their bells for three days in a row. During these days, German children walk through local communities with “rattles” – wooden noise makers of various kinds - that are supposed to replace the ringing of the bells.

As a joke, parents used to tell their children that the bells were sent to the Pope in Rome for consecration.