main content

Easter customs in Saxony

Many Easter customs have developed out of Christian or heathen traditions. The most famous are probably those of painting and hiding eggs or lighting the Easter fire. But egg rolling and fetching the Easter water are also popular customs.

Nahaufnahme farbenfroher Ostereier mit aufwendig gearbeiteten Muster.
Intricate decorations and paintings on traditional Sorbian Easter eggs.  © dpa - Bildfunk

Eggs symbolise spring and fertility in many cultures. They are also considered a symbol of life for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The "red egg" became a symbol of the resurrected Christ and His blood, and therefore also part of Easter customs. This custom has been preserved and expanded in Germany, particularly among the Sorbs in Lusatia, the Spreewald, Saxony and Brandenburg, since the 12th and 13th centuries.

After forty days of fasting before Easter, during which many Catholics and Orthodox followers avoid meat and eggs, people were pleased to receive eggs again during Easter, sanctifying them at churches and distributing dyed eggs as gifts.

From the 17th century onwards, eggs were painted in different colours, artistically decorated and adorned with Christian symbols. Notes containing good wishes were also placed inside the blown eggs. The Easter eggs blown for cake baking according to Sorbian traditions, and then painted, are now hung on branches right across Germany, with colourful plastic eggs now also being used.

On the morning of Easter Sunday, children are allowed to look for hidden Easter eggs. The first ever mention of this custom comes from the diary of Abbot Jacob from Schuttern Monastery (district of Ortenau) in 1691. Depending on the region, it is said that these eggs come from a hen, cuckoo, fox, stork or rabbit. In more recent times, the Easter Bunny has cemented itself across the nation as the egg-bearer.

Die Silhouetten der Dorfbewohner sind hinter dem großes Osterfeuer erkennbar.
Today, the Easter fire is also an occasion for a cosy get-together with friends and neighbours from the community.  © dpa – Bildfunk

Fire was holy even in ancient times. In heathen times, the sun, considered the centre of life, was greeted with spring fires - a belief designed to ensure fertility, growth and harvests. The significance of the spring fire was passed onto the Christian belief in France in the 8th century. The victory over winter and the sense of awakening after a long, cold period were applied to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who lights up the darkness and represents eternal life.

The lighting of the holy Easter fire is a key event for Christians. The fire is ignited and sanctified outside the church on the Saturday before Easter. Easter candles are then lit and then carried into the dark church. Many regions today still observe the old custom of collecting timber, brushwood or similar combustible material on Easter Sunday evening and piling this up to create a large Easter fire, which is in turn lit with the Easter candle. In some places, wagonwheels are wrapped in straw, ignited, and then rolled downhill.

Drei Mädchen stehen mit Schöpfkrügen am glitzernden Fluss.
The Easter water is scooped in silence by young girls on the morning of Easter Sunday.  © dpa

The origins of the Easter water date back to heathen times. Water is considered the original symbol of life and fertility, and in the centuries after Christ, this was also tied in with Easter. Since as early as the 2nd century, baptismal water has only been sanctified twice a year, at the Easter and Pentecost vigils. The holy water is considered particularly effective, and people like to take some home with them to bless those who did not attend church.

According to the popular custom, the Easter water must be collected from a stream or well on the night of Saturday leading into Easter Sunday, between midnights and sunrise, and brought home in silence. It is said to ensure youth and beauty for the whole year, heal illness, and keep bad luck away. To protect against illness, people even used to drive their cattle to the streams on Easter morning. As the Easter water is a symbol of fertility, young girls would silently scoop the water against the flowing current. In order for the water to retain its holiness and healing powers, the silence must not be broken, and not a drop must be spilt on the way home or once at home. Village wells in some regions of Germany are hung with Easter decorations to this day.

Menschen beim Eierschieben an einem Hang.
Easter egg rolling on the Protschenberg in Bautzen.  © Dörte Bleul

Every year on Easter Sunday, crowds, particularly children, flock to the Protschenberg on the outskirts of Bautzen for the popular Easter egg rolling.

This custom was first mentioned as »Eierrollen« in 1550. Wealthy children would originally roll eggs and other objects down the hill, to then be caught by the children of poor families. Later, these (hard-boiled) eggs would be joined by nuts, apples, oranges, baked goods or other semicircular objects in being rolled down the hill and skilfully caught by a swarm of children. Whatever the children were able to fit in their bag was theirs to keep. Today, colourful plastic balls are rolled down the mountain, and can then be exchanged for prizes. The so-called »Eierjokel«, historically a street merchant in tattered clothing, accompanies the events on the Protschenberg as a host and games master.

A modified form sees children roll eggs down the slope, with the winner being the one whose egg remains intact, whose egg covers the longest distance, or who has the most unbroken eggs at the end.

After World War II, egg rolling resumed around 1950, but was ceased again a few years later for various reasons, such as food shortages. The custom has been back in practice in Bautzen since 2001, and is one of the biggest tourist attractions during the Easter period.

Back to top