Something odd happens throughout Germany on Easter Sunday. Whether in apartments, houses or gardens, excited children run around, pushing the furniture aside, lifting the cushions and looking under trees and bushes outdoors.
Why? Easter is the time at which German children look in the most obscure corners for brightly colored Easter eggs that have been hidden the night before by the Easter Bunny.
But why is it a bunny that brings the eggs at this annual festival?
“This is a tradition that has evolved gradually from the Middle Ages,” says Beate Witzel, a biologist working in the natural history collection in Berlin’s City Museum. At that time Green Thursday (Maundy Thursday in the US) marked the end of the business year, and on that day the farmers had to pay their dues on the land to the owners–usually in kind.
As a result of the Lent fast preceding Easter they tended to have a lot of eggs. They cooked these and paid their dues with them. And at the same time they presented to their lords the hares–often in considerable numbers–that they had killed in their fields.
“This is how the combination of hare and egg came about and became entrenched in the minds of the people over the years,” Witzel says.
During the 17th Century adults began to tell their children that the eggs came from the Easter bunnies. Foxes, storks and cranes were competitors for a long time, but by the end of World War II the bunny had won. At this time chocolate makers discovered the bunny with its bulging eyes and produced only chocolate bunnies at Easter time. They ensured that to this day the bunny brings the eggs.
Colorful and decorated eggs as a symbol of resurgent life in the spring are a quintessential part of the Easter tradition in Germany. They are on every table at Easter, whether made of chocolate or colored. The egg has long been regarded as a symbol of fertility and new life and was eaten with particular relish at Easter after forty days’ abstinence during Lent.
Eggs play an important role in Easter decorations in many homes. Decorated blown eggs are sometimes hung on yellow forsythia branches in a vase together with little wooden painted eggs, Easter bunnies or chicks, which are specially bought for the purpose. Similarly, blown eggs are spiked on to sticks, decorated with ribbons and put into a vase, sometimes with an Easter bird on the central stick, its body made of an eggshell and its plumes and legs made of bright paper or felt.
In some areas the color of the first egg to be found is thought important. Blue is unlucky, red will bring three days of good luck. Another favorite pastime for children is decorating hard-boiled hens’ eggs for the breakfast table on Easter morning and blown eggs for use as decorations on the “Easter tree” or as gifts.
The oldest surviving decorated egg, which dates back to the fourth century AD was found in a Romano-Germanic sarcophagus near to the town of Worms, but decorated eggs were known long before this.
Blown or hard-boiled eggs can simply be painted (the most popular color for Easter being red) and decorated with faces, flowers or abstract designs, depending on the age and ability of the children (and adults) doing the decorating. The eggs can also be dyed with store-bought dyes or by boiling the eggs with natural substances such as onion skin, tea, beetroot juice, spinach, nettle roots and leaves, alder or oak bark. Vinegar added to the water makes the colors brighter and rubbing with either bacon fat or salad oil produces a shine.
Eggs are also decorated using batik (the method of printing colored designs by first waxing the parts not to be dyed), etching , scratching and blocking techniques or by sticking felt, ironed straw, beads, rice grains, lace, wax, paper cut-outs or bought transfers on to the eggshell. They are still decorated according sophisticated techniques in the area around Marburg in Hessen. The Sorbs in eastern Germany are also known for their intricately decorated Easter eggs.
Originally published on www.Germany.info