I’m confused. We seem to have gone from Easter to Halloween in the space of two weeks. Brightly painted hard-boiled eggs have been replaced by witches’ hats; bunnies by bats.
There is a kindergarten / family centre behind my flat (where I have, incidentally, never seen any children). On Sunday evening the yard was full of mini witches dancing on a stage adorned with paper bats to top quality German tunes (!) whilst parents looked on from the bonfire; various stalls catered for face painting, broomstick making and bratwurst (of course!) I thought if I went into the yard I would stand out, being neither under the age of 10, nor in the company of someone under the age of 10, nor showing even any sign of Halloween regalia. Instead I went on my way and consulted Google on my return.
Turns out that the 30th April is Walpurgisnacht, or Walpurgis Night. This is the eve of the feast day of St. Walpurga, an 8th-century abbess who was sent to Germany to set up churches. In Germany, it is also called Hexennacht, or “witches’ night”, as according to German folklore it is the night that witches reputably meet on the Brocken, the highest peak of the Harz mountains in central Germany.
That made the witches and bats make slightly more sense. Although dancing around bonfires in May in broad daylight and shining sun? I’m not yet convinced.
Two weeks ago, the Stimmung was quite different. Supermarkets were full of egg-painting kits (this seems to be a traditional Easter Sunday family activity and can get quite competitive, judging from the tales of fellow choir members) as well as wicker baskets complete with yellow straw. Forget shelf upon shelf of brightly-packaged and overpriced Cadburys and Nestle Easter Eggs – here it is all elegant Lindt bunnies and small packets of mini, foil-wrapped chocolate eggs.
Living in a foreign country and speaking a different language often makes you question things that you take for granted when at home; for example, why we choose to give things certain names. Chatting with some members of the congregation after church one Sunday, it became clear that many of them didn’t know why particular days in the lead up to Easter had certain names.
In Great Britain, Maundy Thursday is the Thursday before Easter and commemorates the Last Supper, when Jesus shared bread and wine with his disciples, which Christians consider the institution of Holy Eucharist or Communion. Maundy Thursday gets its name from the Latin word mandatum, which means “commandment”. It refers to Jesus’ commandment to the disciples the night before he died to “Love one another as I have loved you.” The German equivalent, Gründonnerstag, or Green Thursday, derives from an old German word meaning to wail, to mourn.
Duden, Germany’s OED equivalent, says the origin of the word is unclear, but possibly comes from the fact that one used to eat green vegetables on that day…..
Good Friday, which always seems like a somewhat incongruous name, is called Karfreitag in Germany. Kar- comes from an old German word meaning grief or pain. For those of you wondering: Christians do not think that the day on which Jesus Christ was crucified was a “good” day. It is thought that “good” here is meant in the sense of “holy”, so Holy Friday. Other views are that it comes from “God’s Friday”.
So, there’s some Easter trivia for you. I would wish you a Happy Easter, or at least say that I hope you had a lovely time over Easter, but I was reprimanded at work for wishing a journalist Happy Easter on Easter Tuesday – “once it’s over, it’s over”. Still, celebrating Halloween in the sun still seems a little bizarre.