As many of you will know, as well as being passionate about learning languages, we love any excuse to celebrate and learn about festivals in France, Germany and Spain and Easter time is no different! Keep reading to find out more about how Easter is celebrated in these countries. Maybe you could have a go at re-enacting some of these traditions, if you do, be sure to let us know and we’ll share them on our blog!
Easter (Pâques) Traditions in France
Mardi Gras Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is celebrated the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Because this day also represents the last day before many in France give up some sort of pleasure for Lent, excess and debauchery in a final pre-Lenten blowout has become the standard way to celebrate this holiday. While Mardi Gras and Carnaval celebrations have become perhaps most famous in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro, Nice was actually home to the first celebrations for Carnaval. In fact, Carnaval in Nice lasts almost two weeks and includes parades, fireworks, masked balls and plenty of ruckus and delightfully sinful activities and spectacles.
Silencing of the Bells, Les Cloches Volants Because many villages and cities across France have at least one church with a bell, it has been customary since about the 12th century to silence the bells of churches every year on Good Friday in acknowledgment of Jesus’ death. Legend has it that the bells of every church around France “fly to Rome” starting on Maundy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday). Because the bells of every church have supposedly departed for Rome, bells in churches across France stay silenced until Easter. Then on Sunday, church bells are once again sounded and it is believed these Easter bells (les cloches de Pâques) bring with them Easter eggs, chocolates and other treats, dropping them on their passage back from Rome.
Easter Day In France, much like in the United States, children awake on Easter morning to find eggs hidden throughout the house or yard. Bunnies, chickens and decorated eggs are also all important symbols of Easter in France. Another tradition among French children near Easter centers around April 1, or Poisson d’Avril, when children make paper fish cut-outs and try to stick them onto the backs of as many unknowing adults as possible.
Traditional Easter Foods Because Easter falls during the spring and represents the resurrection of Christ, symbols of rebirth and life are synonymous with Easter. And, because we all know the French take their food pretty seriously, traditional Easter dishes in France incorporate this symbolism into the Easter lunch. Many families head to grandmere’s house to celebrate the holiday. There would of course be the traditional egg hunt followed by an Easter lunch, which usually includes an omlettte or quiche dish to start with followed by roasted lamb (another important Easter/spring symbol).
Easter (Pascua) traditions in Spain
Easter celebration in Spain is a manifestation of ancient rituals that provide glimpses to the country’s fiercely religious history. The Easter Week, known in Spain as Semana Santa, begins with the Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) and end with Lunes de Pascua (Easter Monday). The holy week of Easter consists of days – Ash Wednesday, Lent and Good Friday. Easter traditions and rituals are marked by regional flavours across the length and breadth of Spain.
On Palm Sunday, people go to mass in the morning and children carry palm leaves to be blessed by the priest. On Palm Sunday most churches organize a parade to mark the arrival of Christ into Jerusalem. Instead of the small crosses fashioned from part of a single palm frond that are popular in many Protestant churches, the congregations in Spain carry huge, leafy palm or olive branches that have been blessed in the church.
As Ash Wednesday is the first day of the penitential season of Lent in Spain, the day is marked by a special ceremony where the ashes are placed on the foreheads of the worshippers as a sign of remorse. In the Roman Catholic churches, these ashes are specially made by burning the palm branches of the previous Palm Sunday.
Easter Processions in Spain – las procesiones
Easter in Spain is full of processions with floats depicting the Passion with statues of Jesús and the Virgin Mary.
The floats are carried by men wearing hoods and long robes. These are followed by penitents dressed in pointed hoods and capes and some are barefoot, wearing chains. This represents the suffering of Christ.
The first day of Semana Santa (Holy Week) is el Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) and this is when the processions begin. Procesión del Silencio – (The Procession of Silence) is held on Jueves Santo – (Holy Thursday) and Santo Entierro – (Holy Burial) is held on Viernes Santo – (Holy Friday).
On Easter Day (El Domingo de Resurrección) everyone goes to church and celebrates the resurrection of Christ.
Throughout Easter the tasty torrijas are eaten. They are very easy to make, consisting of slices of bread, soaked in a mixture of whisked eggs and milk (similar to French toast) and then fried in olive oil and sprinkled with sugar. If you don’t want to make them you can buy them in pastelerías (cake shops) and panaderias (bakeries) all over Spain.
On Easter day you have the traditional Easter cake, ‘la mona de Pascua’ which originates from the 15th century. It used to be a small round pastry/cake topped with hard boiled eggs but today they are more elaborate and there are many variations of the cake. The word ‘mona’ also means a gift so as well as having an Easter cake most children also receive ‘a gift’ from their Godparents on Easter Sunday.
And finally, Easter wouldn’t be complete without lots of chocolate Easter eggs which everyone loves!
German Easter (Ostern) Traditions
In the weeks prior to Easter, Germany gets ready for a new season: You will see spring flowers on display and many traditional “Easter trees”, twigs and brushes dripping with colorfully decorated eggs. The custom of boiling and painting eggs, the symbols of new life, began in Germany; the bright colours represent sunlight and growth.
Coloured Eggs and Chocolate Bunnies
Next to the Easter egg, the rabbit is probably the most popular Easter icon; the Easter bunny, symbolizing fertility, was first mentioned in German writings in the 16th century.
The bunny was then imported to America by Pennsylvania Dutch settlers, who called it “Oschter Haws” (“Easter Hare”). Around 1800, the first edible Easter bunnies were made in Germany.
Celebrating Easter in Germany
If you spend the Easter weekend in Germany, memorise these two words: Frohe Ostern (FRO-Huh OS-tern) – Happy Easter!
The Easter weekend in Germany begins with a quiet Good Friday (Karfreitag). Many families eat fish as their traditional Good Friday lunch.
Easter Saturday is a great day to visit an open-air Easter market, where you can browse for artistically handcrafted Easter eggs, carved Easter decoration, and local arts and crafts.
Stop by a German bakery for a special Easter treat: a sweet cake in the shape of a lamb.
On Saturday evening, regions in the north of Germany will light Easter bonfires, chasing away the dark spirits of winter and welcoming the warm season.
Easter Sunday is the highlight of the holiday weekend. In the early morning, parents hide baskets filled with coloured, hardboiled eggs, chocolate bunnies, sweets, and little presents for the kids. Many families attend an Easter Service, followed by a traditional Easter lunch, lamb, potatoes, and fresh vegetables.