This spring, we’ve had the fortune of observing Easter celebrations not once, but twice. In Croatia, where Catholicism predominates, we celebrated Easter in late March, whereas we also got to participate in Orthodox Easter festivities in Macedonia this past weekend.
Given its spiritual ties and the fact that it once had more than 365 churches, Ohrid, Macedonia earned the title, ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans.’ Today, many of the UNESCO World Heritage site’s churches have been restored, but others are still awaiting their renaissance. It is not uncommon to see a collapsed church juxtaposed against scenes of everyday life in a thriving neighborhood. Just behind our current ‘home away from home,’ for example, sits the small St. Nicholas Church, which is in ruins. Our hosts noted that local authorities are trying to raise more funds to restore it.
A choir of church bells tolled just before midnight to usher in Easter’s arrival here in Trogir, Croatia. The fervor with which the bells rang was reminiscent of what we heard the night that the Catholic church chose a new pope.
In parts of Germany three weeks before Easter, it’s customary to celebrate spring’s return with a Sommertagszug or summer procession. Though this year’s round of such fests was held last Sunday, for me, the 14th of March will forever be synonymous with Sommertagszugs since ‘Pi Day‘ 2010 is the date my husband and I first met and then enjoyed the Sommertagszug celebration together in Heidelberg, Germany. The fest has been celebrated in Heidelberg for more than 500 years.
Believed to have pagan origins, the fest celebrates spring’s return and winter’s banishing. Children take to the streets with sticks adorned with colorful, ruffled ribbons, topped with pretzels and eggs. In Heidelberg, they walk along the city’s long pedestrian street, the Hauptstrasse, until they reach the Market Square (Marktplatz), where dancers (dressed as winter and spring) theatrically battle it out on stage. Finally, a paper effigy of winter is torched. The best part of the celebration is, of course, the pretzels that are handed out to onlookers, and the realization that spring has returned.
Osterbrunnen, or Easter fountains, herald spring’s return to chilly Germany’s Franconia or Franken region. Each year, wells and fountains in town centers are dressed with boxwood cuttings, ribbons and delicately-painted pastel eggs. The custom celebrates water’s life-giving properties.
The decorations typically spring up one week before Easter Sunday and they grace the fountains for a week thereafter, lending colorful accents to cobbled lanes and village centers that have been slumbering during the grey and frigid winter season.
In preparation for this long Easter weekend, my mother and I swung by her favorite Ansbach bakery last week, tucked away in the small city’s Altstadt, or old town. Though dogs are beloved in Germany and often seen accompanying their masters into department stores, cafés and restaurants, a sign outside the bakery indicated that Maltese, pup, Gigi had to remain outside while we loaded up the wicker basket with baked German goodies. In such establishments where dogs are verboten, there are hooks outside on which furry friends can be tethered while the Hund’s owner is inside shopping.
Eager to be showered with morsels of meat and biscuits from benevolent German shopkeepers – as Gigi and her canine sister, Meg, typically are when accompanying my mother on shopping errands – Gigi was decidedly unhappy that she had to remain outside – far from the culinary treats. Here’s hoping that you’re having a happier Easter and celebration of spring’s return! :)