Lent: German customs, traditions

  • Published
  • By Iris Reiff
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
With the end of Fasching, Germany's silly season, comes Lent, a Catholic tradition observed by many throughout Germany and the world.

Lent began Ash Wednesday, which was March 9, and lasts 40 days until the Saturday before Easter.

If not done for health reasons, the fasting time is usually based on religious ideas.

Why do people fast for 40 days? The figure 40 is said to come from the Bible. It rained 40 days and 40 nights during the Deluge; it took 40 years before the Israelites were allowed to move to the Promised Land; and Moses, Elijah, and Jesus Christ fasted for 40 days.

For Lent, the strict rules of the Middle Ages dictated that nothing was allowed on the table that had come from a warm-blooded animal, with the exception of eggs. Eggs, however, were hardly available at this time of the year; neither was meat, milk, butter or animal fats.

Many faithful Catholics still adhere to certain restrictions during the 40 days of Lent while others refrain from sweets, alcohol, meat, eggs or milk. Fish is one meal always permitted as Lenten fare.

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the Friday prior to Easter, are fasting days when meats, alcohol and amusement are not allowed according to the Catholic Church.

On Ash Wednesday, people go to church and receive an ash cross on their foreheads.

This is done by the church to remind man that, according to Catholicism, they were created from dust and that they will turn to dust again.

A variety of customs and traditions take place throughout the country during Lent. In many places, and especially in southwest Germany, a winter doll made of straw is burned. This tradition goes back to ancient tradition of chasing away winter spirits. The fire is a symbol for the sun and purging of evil by burning.

In the Eifel region, the first Sunday of Lent is called "Huettensonntag." From straw and brush wood the young people of the village build a hut to set on fire later in the evening.

There are also numerous customs on the last Sunday of Lent, Palm Sunday, celebrated by the Catholic Church in remembrance of Jesus Christ's arrival in Jerusalem when palm fronds and olive twigs were strewn in his path. Thus, the palm leaf is a fixed part of this Sunday.

There are many traditions in the Catholic Church celebrated throughout Germany during this season, and it can be beneficial to know some of your neighbor's traditions.