Germans’ All-time Favorite Easter Dishes
Easter has its origins in Jewish traditions, namely in the Jewish Passover. The Easter bunny and Easter eggs were introduced as symbols of fertility from pagan traditions. The Easter bunny gained its actual recognition in the 19th century as a result of mass-produced chocolate and toy bunnies.
The Christian context for Easter is the resurrection of Jesus, who, according to biblical testimony, was crucified on the Friday before Passover. Ever since 325 AD, the Christian Easter has been celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon of spring.
Over the centuries, different customs developed throughout Germany’s regions, some of which are still followed to this day. One still very popular tradition is hiding Easter eggs. On Easter Sunday, children in particular have enormous fun hunting for Easter eggs either in the garden or their homes. Regardless of whether they are made of chocolate, cooked, or painted, the Easter egg has become an indispensable part of Easter.
Other Easter customs across Germany include the Osterkerze (Easter candle), Osterwasser (Easter water), and Osterfeuer (Easter fire). The history of the Easter candle goes back to the 4th century and is linked to the pagan tradition of burnt offerings. Already in pre-Christian mythologies, light was considered a symbol of life. In the creation of the symbol of the Easter candle, this idea was adopted and extended to the resurrection of Christ.
According to tradition, Easter water must be drawn from a creek during the night from Saturday to Easter Sunday. Whilst being transported to its destination, not a drop may be spilled, nor a sound spoken. The intention is to preserve the sacred purity of the water. It is also believed that Easter water has a healing and rejuvenating quality.
The practice of lighting an Easter bonfire has many variations nowadays. In some German regions it is lit on Holy Saturday, while in other places it is lit on the evening of Easter Sunday or on the morning of Easter Monday. Its origins stem from the pagan custom of spring fires, which were originally used to celebrate the seasonal transition from winter to spring.
There are further customs in Germany throughout the regions.
In Baden-Württemberg, palm branches are attached to a long wooden pole for an Easter palm and decorated. The hand-made palms are then carried to the palm procession on Palm Sunday.
In Saxony-Anhalt, Easter eggs used to be brought to the children by the Easter fox. Evidence of this can be found in popular literature up to around the 20th century. Nowadays, the custom has been largely forgotten and the Easter bunny uniformly brings eggs to all children.
In Brandenburg and Berlin, small cannons are fired in the night from Holy Saturday to Easter Sunday to ward off evil spirits.
In Hesse, Easter marches take place. These are held in the form of demonstrations and peace rallies. Their origins go back to British opponents of nuclear weapons in the 1950s.
In northern Germany, the Eiffel and Bavaria, altar boys parade through towns and villages on Good Friday, calling for prayers in church with wooden rattles as the church bells are silent here on Good Friday. The tradition is also known as Karfreitagsratschen (Good Friday rattling.)
Popular dishes traditionally prepared for Easter in Germany
On Good Friday, which was originally a day of fasting, meat is still completely excluded from meals in many places. For this day, fish dishes are very fitting.
Holy Saturday is the day of the burial rest and is used to prepare for Easter Sunday. On this day, tasty delicacies are baked, such as Osterzopf (Easter plait), Osterfladen (Easter cake) made of yeast dough, Osterhase (Easter bunny) made of sponge mixture, and Osterlamm (Easter lamb), which are all served on Easter Sunday.
Let’s round-up some of the most popular German Easter dishes.
1. Osterzopf (Easter Plait)
Traditionally, Osterzopf is prepared for the Easter holidays. It consists of yeast dough, which is refined with sultanas, butter and a little rum. This sweet Easter bread has been consumed since the Middle Ages, either in the afternoon or for breakfast.
Additionally, Osterzopf is a symbol of the Christian faith. The usually round shape represents the sun’s energy, hence the frequent addition of saffron, and stands for Jesus Christ.
The sultanas represent the wish for a fruitful year and thus a good harvest. Lastly, the cross cut on the upper side of the sweet bread is a symbol of Christianity.
2. Osterfladen (German Easter Cake)
The Garmen Easter cake is a fine yeast dough with sultanas that is baked and then decorated with icing and almonds. It is a round, flat cake with a topping of a rice or semolina mixture, and is available in various sizes, from small Küchlein (mini cakes) to large flat cakes.
A similar type of Easter cake has been known since the year 962. However, it is not clear whether these very early Easter pastries are comparable to today’s Easter cake.
The first recipe that comes close to the Easter cake we know today appeared at the end of the 16th century, in 1598, in the first printed cookbook written by Anna Wecker from Basel, Switzerland.
The recipe corresponds almost exactly to what we consider Easter cake these days. A link to Easter is missing, nevertheless.
The recipe of the rice cake is recommended to aid hot fevers, fainting, coughing, side stitches and more. It was not until the end of the 19th century that the Easter cake appeared in common cookery books.
3. Osterhasen (Easter Bunny)
In addition to the classic Easter lamb, the Easter bunny made of sponge cake is simply part of Easter. At Easter, the Easter bunny brings the eggs, as is generally known today.
This was not always the case. Indeed, the egg hunt itself was already known in the 16th century, but originally, it was not the Easter bunny who brought the eggs. Depending on the region, many different animals became the focus of attention during the Easter holidays: in Bavaria it was the fox and the cock, in Switzerland the stork, in Tyrol the Easter hen, and in Thuringia the cuckoo.
The reason why a rabbit has become one of the most significant Easter motifs is explained by the fact that rabbits and eggs are signs of fertility.
In the spring, after a hard winter, animals and plants awaken from their hibernation. Rabbits are the first animals to have their offspring in spring and are consequently considered a symbol of fertility.
4. Osterlamm (Easter Lamb)
For many families, Easter lamb is the traditional dish for Easter Sunday. The lamb can be prepared as a roast, tender lamb chops or fine skewers. Even a tender roast hare, fine Easter hams, and pâtés are a must, as on Easter Sunday meat can once again be enjoyed.
For thousands of years, the custom of eating an Easter lamb has played an important role in both Judaism and Christianity. With the Easter lamb, the Jews commemorate the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt some 3,000 years ago. At that time, they celebrated the liberation of their enslaved people from the tyrannical rule of the Egyptians by slaughtering a lamb.
Passover is still celebrated today as a reminder of this event. In Christianity, the lamb symbolically takes the place of Jesus Christ at Easter in the New Testament. In the Gospel of John, Jesus Christ is called the “Agnus Die” (Lamb of God).
Indeed, sheep are peace-loving and good-natured animals. Since the beginning of time, they have also been a symbol of innocence and even life itself. For in earlier times, a sheep provided many things essential for survival, such as milk to drink or for cheese, wool to make warm clothing and, last but not least, its meat to eat. Even in the Old Testament, the lamb was considered a classic sacrificial animal and was offered to God in various rituals.
The Easter lamb is therefore used interchangeably with the sacrificial lamb.
5. Sweet Easter Lamb
There is even a vegetarian version of Easter lamb. A fluffy sponge is made with flour, sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla sugar, lemon peel, and cornstarch. This sweet Easter lamb is then dusted with icing sugar. Just the thing for Easter breakfast. Easter lambs can also be bought from bakeries.
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