Ostern steht vor der Tür — German Easter Vocabulary & Tradition

Screen Shot 2012 04 06 At 10 59 29

Ostern steht vor der Tür — German Easter Vocabulary & Tradition

Easter is once again upon us. In Switzerland, Austria, and Germany Easter is a serious holiday. Even though you’re sure to see the famous golden Lindt Easter bunnies in the shops as early as late January, the holiday is about more than Easter baskets and chocolates. It is still seen as a very important religious holiday and you can count on shops and businesses being closed on Good Friday (Karfreitag) and Easter Sunday and Monday (Ostersonntag und Ostermontag).

In this post we’ll look at some of the most important Easter terminology to help you understand what’s going on.

Important days:

Aschermittwoch: Ash Wednesday (46 days before Easter). Starts Lent (die Fastenzeit). Interestingly enough, the Sundays are not included as times where things need to be given up. So if you’re giving up chocolate for Lent, you can enjoy it on each of the Sundays. Die Fastenzeit goes to Holy Saturday (Karsamstag) the Saturday after Good Friday (Karfreitag) and before Easter Sunday (Ostersonntag).

Palmsonntag: Palm Sunday (7 days before Easter). This is the last Sunday during Lent and starts the Holy Week (Karwoche und/oder Stille Woche in the Protestant areas and in the Catholic areas Grosse Woche und/oder Heilige Woche). It commemorates Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem.

Gründonnerstag: Maundy Thursday (3 days before Easter). This day commemorates the Last Supper (das letzte Abendmahl Jesu und/oder das Abendmahl).

Karfreitag: Good Friday (2 days before Easter). This day is also known as “Stiller Freitag” or “Hoher Freitag” and Martin Luther even called it Guter Freitag. It commemorates Jesus’ crucifixion. In Germany, comedic theatre performances and events which include public dancing are illegal on the day (although this restriction is enforced unevenly); cinemas and television are not affected, although many TV channels show religious material on the day. The enforcement of these rules even on non-Christians has met with increased opposition in the last decade. (Wikipedia)

Ostersonntag: Easter Sunday commemorates the resurrection of Jesus (Die Auferstehung Jesu Christi). This day also marks the end of Lent (die Fastenzeit).

Ostermontagsschwingfest auf der Großen Schanze in Bern um 1775

Ostermontag: Easter Monday (day after Easter). In Germany, Austria and many parts of Switzerland Easter Monday is a holiday. Traditionally Easter, like Christmas and Pentecost were celebrated over 8 days (Sunday to Sunday). Today they are celebrated over two days Sunday and Monday and with Christmas (Christmas Day and Stephen’s Day). Many towns used to have public festivals on Easter Monday.

Christi Himmelfahrt: Ascension (39 days after Easter). In Switzerland and Liechtenstein this day is also known as Auffahrt. It commemorates Jesus returning to his Father in Heaven. This day always lands on a Thursday. In many areas the of Switzerland, Austria, and Germany people also get the Friday off. The Friday is called a Brückentag or Fenstertag and in Oberösterreich even Zwickeltag, as it allows people to take an extended weekend without having to go to work on the Friday having just had a Thursday off.

Pfingstsonntag: Pentecost (49 days after Easter). This day commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the remaining eleven disciples of Christ. It also coincidentally falls on the Jewish celebration of Shavout (Schawuot).

Pessach (auch Passah oder Pascha): Passover (Observed around the same time as Easter). Passover is a Jewish holiday and festival that commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. Passover begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan in the Jewish calendar, which is in spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and is celebrated for seven or eight days. It is one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays.

**Note above that there are Adjective Ending in play with phrases like Stiller Freitag so it would change to am Stillen Freitag when we talk about something happening on that day.

Easter Traditions:

Easter being a religious holiday brings with it many traditions. One of them is typically going to Church (in die Kirche gehen). Though you might hear some people say “zur Kirche gehen” this does not imply visiting the church service (der Gottesdienst), but rather just going to the building. In the German-speaking world many towns post the times of the church services on signs near the entries to them.

Of course there is more to Easter than going to church. Here are some of the most common other Easter traditions:

Ostereier (Easter Eggs): In the German-speaking world like most everywhere at Easter we colour eggs (Ostereier färben) and hide them (Ostereier verstecken). Often eggs are just hardboiled and coloured, others prefer to blow out the eggs (Eier ausblasen) and just colour and paint the shells. The origin of the tradition of colouring eggs and hiding them is not well known. One theory is that Maria Magdalena went to see the Emperor after Jesus’ resurrection. However, the emperor did not believe her story and said that Jesus was not anymore resurrected than the freshly laid eggs on his table were red. At that point they miraculously turned red. The hiding of the eggs (Ostereier versteken), however, comes from a hedonist tradition. The Easter egg hunt is called die Ostereiersuche. But as you can see the traditions are all a bit mixed up.

Der Osterhase (Easter Bunny): The Easter Bunny is a symbol of fertility (das Fruchtbarkeitssymbol) because they breed so quickly and thus fit excellently to spring and the idea of rejuvenation. Interestingly enough the Osterhase has only been bringing Ostereier since the 17th century. Before that other animals like the fox (der Fuchs), cuckoo (der Kuckuck) or stork (der Storch) were believed to bring the eggs.

Das Osterlamm (Easter Lamb): This tradition comes from Passover (Pessach) and has since been adapted to the Christian faith through the analogy of Jesus being the Lamb of God. At Easter many therefore eat lamb. However, there are also traditional cakes shaped like lambs and butter can also be bought in the shape of a lamb.

Das Osterfeuer (Easter Fire): In many towns a large fire is build on Easter. Tis can can happen anytime between Karfreitag and Ostersonntag. It is meant to symbolize the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When the fire is almost out a wheel wrapped in straw is then rolled into the fire, and once it starts to burn it is wheeled through town or up a hill. This is called the Osterrad and symbolizes the sun and therefore the end of winter. Again hedonistic and Christian traditions come together.

Das Osterfrühstück (Easter Breakfast): A large breakfast with people at your church or just with family on Ostersonntag.

Das Osterreiten (Easter Ride): This tradition is meant to spread the word of Jesus’ resurrection. Riders ride to the next town and circle the church spreading the news of Jesus’ resurrection, after which they pray and head back home. The largest Osterreiten takes place in Lausitz, Germany where 1,500 riders take part and some 30,000 people come to watch.

Das Osterwasser (Easter Water): On Ostersonntag the women and girls are supposed to fetch water from the fountain in town or a nearby stream. If they wash themselves with it, they are supposed to get pregnant faster or for girls be especially beautiful. In some areas the women had to make sure that they were not seen or spoken to. Of course men, would purposefully try to sabotage this by looking for them or talking to the women they saw. Today Osterwasser is also a common term for an especially good liquor (der Schnaps) served at Easter.

Die Osterkerze (Easter Candle): An especially large candle used to ignite the Osterfeur and bless the baptismal water. In Protestant churches the candle is also used to ignite the candles of the parishioners. The candle is ignited every Sunday until Ascension. From the remaining wax other candles are made, which are used at the funerals of the poor.

Der Osterspaziergang (The Easter Walk): Even though this tradition has its religious background about spreading the word of Jesus’ resurrection, it is also about seeing people and being seen. Since the 1960s in Germany the Osterspaziergang in many places has also turned into the Ostermarsch (Easter March) for world peace. Der Osterspaziergang is also traditionally associated with a poem from Goethe’s Faust entitled “Osterspaziergang,” which features one of the most quoted likes in German literature: “Hier bin ich Mensch, hier darf ich seine.” Click the poem below to hear it read aloud.

Goethe’s Osterspaziergang in German and English

The Grammar of Ostern

Just to round this blog post off please take a look at the word Ostern in all its forms. Also note that when we combine Ostern with another word we drop the ‘n’ (z.B. Ostern + Hase = Osterhase)

Ostern and all its Grammatical Forms

And of course what would a language blog be if I didn’t provide you with a few German expressions featuring Ostern?

  • Frohe Ostern! (Happy Easter) This is traditionally what we wish people at Easter. In Switzerland you might also hear: Schöni Ostere!
  • Ostern steht vor der Tür (Easter is standing at the door) Something you will read in the days leading up to Easter essentially just letting you know that it’s just about Easter.
  • Wenn Ostern und Pfingsten auf einen Tag fallen! (When Easter and Pentecost fall on the same day!) An expression used to tell someone that something will ever occur. Another variation you might hear is Wenn Ostern und Weihnachten auf einen Tag fallen!
  • zu Ostern verreisen (to go away for Easter) Something you might hear as people from the office go to their families, Italy or the Alps over Easter.
  • zu/an Ostern (at/on Easter) Again with Easter the same an/zu issue appears like with Weihnachten.

Ich wünsche Euch allen frohe Ostern!

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