Monday April 9, 2012
Bunnies and well-meant snacks
SAMBAL ON THE SIDE
By BRENDA BENEDICT
Despite the decline of its religious importance, Easter remains on the German calendar of public holidays.
TODAY – Easter Monday – is the final day of the long weekend that began on Good Friday last week. It is not often that a weekend gets sandwiched between two public holidays, which are generally few and far between here. As such, many seize the opportunity to relax at home or take off for a short break. It also coincides with the nationwide start of the traditional two-week Easter school break.
For me, it ends an almost week-long participation in church services celebrating the significant events marking Jesus Christ’s final days, culminating in the celebration of Easter.
Living in a country with a predominantly Christian background, I appreciate the ease of being able to attend these services without having to take time off work for instance.
Good Friday is one such example. It is a public holiday in all German states with most businesses remaining shut. While public transport may run on schedule within metropolitan areas, smaller towns may experience reduced or no services. Underscoring the day’s solemnity, there are restrictions on selling alcohol as well as on entertainment and dancing. While this draws flak from those who feel that this is an unfair religious imposition, this ruling remains in force in many areas.
Like Christmas, some better-known practices associated with Easter, apparently originated here in Germany. In the weeks leading up to Easter, people start decorating their homes with the traditional symbols of fertility, namely the egg and the hare, which hark back to the pagan Frühlingsfest or spring festival.
Ancient Germanic custom dictated that the egg is the origin of life while the hare, known for its extraordinary ability to procreate, symbolised spring. Curiously, the eggs were believed to have come from the hare and not the chicken.
With the spread of Christianity, the egg and the hare came to be seen as symbols of new life and rebirth, signifying Christ’s resurrection.
As such they often festoon Easter trees that are fashioned out of branches of pussy willow or other flowering sprigs. Cut branches are usually placed in a vase of water indoors, upon which are hung either hand-painted wooden eggs or hollowed-out real eggs. Trees and shrubs growing outside the house are also similarly decorated.
If dyeing eggs is not your cup of tea, you can head for the nearest Ostermarkt (Easter market) that are held shortly before Easter and feast your eyes on finely crafted spring and Easter ornaments and door wreaths besides having your fill of chocolate eggs and bunnies.
Ironically, the chocolate bunny has fallen prey to commercialism and was recently even the subject of a lawsuit between two renowned chocolatiers.
Late last month, an Austrian court ordered the Austrian family-owned Hauswirth chocolate company to stop producing Easter bunnies that closely resemble the iconic gold foil wrapped sitting bunny with the red ribbon made by Switzerland’s Lindt & Spruengli; Hauswirth’s bunnies sported red and white bow ties. Lindt had argued that “Hauswirth’s bunnies are a knock-off of their own version and violate its EU trademark” and the court ruled that the similarity could confuse consumers, ending an eight-year long “battle of the bunnies”. Bunny ballyhoo aside, bakeries also prepare an assortment of cakes (sometimes in the shape of lambs) and batik dyed hard-boiled eggs are sold at grocers and supermarkets.
All these goodies are then either hidden away for children to hunt or presented on a bunte teller (colourful plate) to those who have long “outgrown their hunting days”. My pleas to my mum-in-law to stop presenting us with a tray full of chocolates every Easter have clearly fallen on deaf ears, much to the pleasure of my husband!
Food aside, in some villages the Easter fire is also part of the festivities. Lit on the evening of the first day of Easter, it symbolises the end of winter. My favourite though has to be “Schmeckostern”.
Apparently, in some parts of Germany, young lads and lassies “smack each other lightly” with whips made of pussy willow branches. This is supposed to endow the smacked with luck, good health and youth. The men have a go on Easter Monday, and the women return the favour on Easter Tuesday. This is an ancient fertility ritual, which today purely adds to the merriment.
Meanwhile, our Easter weekend has been chock-full of church, family and friends and yes, chocolates. And I hope all my Christian readers have also had a Happy and Blessed Easter.
● Brenda Benedict is a Malaysian living in Frankfurt. The Easter Hare has been particularly generous this year, as it has brought her family from Malaysia for a visit.