Submitted by Susanne Bacon
Passover and Easter have always been a very special time in my family. Though we didn’t go as far as keeping up lent, the week before Easter in my German childhood went without candy of any kind, and Good Friday and the Saturday after were meatless. Church-going – German Lutheran congregations – was at the center of activities. Oh, and we had a two-week-vacation from school always. We didn’t mind the former “program”, we loved the latter.The happy smile about the Easter package quickly vanished as soon as this almost second-grader discovered it held a fountain pen.
Maundy Thursday was usually the precursor, and in many German households still is, with a dish of spinach, eggs, and potatoes – don’t ask me why. As a kid, I hated and loved it at the same time. It somehow “rang in” the two Passover days ahead. I still keep up the tradition, and my husband doesn’t mind.
Karfreitag (pronounce car-‘fry-tahk, meaning Mourning Friday) and Easter are the biggest Christian holidays in Germany, though most would deem it to be Christmas. They are also bank holidays; churches used to be well visited during my childhood those days – not so much anymore. I looked up the meaning of “Good Friday”, by the way, as the word “good” seems a strange choice for the story behind. Indeed, the “good” in the day means as much as “God”. Well, it’s not easy to find church services over here on that day.
The first Good Fridays back in our times in Steilacoom, I remember I once experienced a real church service, and later it was turned into an open meditational church. Not bad, but somehow a far cry from a sermon and singing all those ancient hymns. The difference strikes me most as a native German once I exit the building and dunk back into a full-throttled business day.
I have to admit that I still miss the quiet quality of Good Fridays in Germany. Even television program back in the day was muted down to biblical movies, Bach oratorios, and serious documentations. Discos were closed for two days. And in many German households fish was on the main menu. My mother used to poach an entire cod and dish it up with boiled potatoes, a luscious sweet and sour mustard sauce, and a salad on the side. Sounds like a simple dish, but it took hours to prepare, and it became rarer and rarer, as later you simply couldn’t find whole cods anymore. I wonder whether it’s a matter of convenience purchases that changed things in the food market to all-filets or whether cod was simply not as widely available anymore.
After two days of quiet (Saturday after Good Friday is business as usual in Germany), Germans enjoy two more bank holidays – Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. Church was on my family’s program on Easter Sunday morning. Not the service at dawn, but the later one. By that time, we children had already had our Easter egg hunt and were pretty stuffed with chocolate eggs, fondant chicken, and sugar eggs. As we didn’t have any garden and churches didn’t organize egg hunts for their congregations, our living room was the hunting ground. It sounds like limited space, but the variety of hiding places was more than entertaining. I remember one Easter egg hunt at my godfather’s house when we searched in vain for one hardboiled egg. It turned up a couple of weeks later in a big floor vase. There were no big Easter gifts in those days, except maybe an engraved fountain pen for on-going second graders. Ah, happy memories!
These days, I see lots and lots of Easter candy in US stores, even German brands. I might or might not buy some – we are not such big candy eaters, and the older you get, the more you rue the extra pounds you have to work off again. I also see these large prepacked pastel-colored baskets with gifts and candy. I wonder – do people take them apart and hide their contents here as well? Or do they simply place the basket in front of the expectant child? Whichever way – egg-hiding Easter bunnies are a curiosity that both my new and my former home seem to have in common. Even though business now continues as usually during all the holidays. Hope you enjoy a Happy Easter!