Easter is a sacred occasion observed all over the world to commemorate Christ’s death and resurrection. Families would spend this long holiday together at home, cooking or playing fun games with the kids. While we are accustomed to celebrating this event with hot cross buns, chocolate bunnies, and egg hunts, Easter around Europe is just as colourful and festive. Read on and discover what makes Easter in Greece, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland special and unique.
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Easter in Greece
Food and family are the highlights of Greek Easter. And while families from different regions have their own way of celebrating Christ’s resurrection, old customs are very much infused with the Greeks’ strong religious beliefs and practices.
Happy Easter in Greek
Καλό Πάσχα! (Kaló Páscha!)
Easter food preparation among Greeks starts as early as the evening of Maundy Thursday. During this time, households would be busy baking their tsoureki or sweet bread with red dyed eggs on top. The red dye represents the blood of Christ while the braids on the loaf symbolises the Holy Trinity.
Easter in Greece starts with a midnight mass on Holy Saturday. After the mass, families would go home to enjoy their traditional magiritsa. This dish is made of the offal of the lamb boiled together with lettuce, dill, and onions. Eating magiritsa is the Greeks’ way of celebrating after their 40-day fast. The families’ Easter dinner would typically last until the early hours of Sunday, giving them just a few hours of sleep in time for the Easter Sunday lunch preparation.
Roasted lamb is the star of the Greeks’ Easter celebration. While the lamb is cooking on the spit, appetisers like olives and tzatziki would be served. Ovens are also busy cooking the side dishes like roasted potatoes with citrus and oregano (patates fournou) and spinach and cheese pie (spanakopita). Glasses of ouzo and Greek wine make this family celebration even more festive.
In place of chocolates and bunnies, candles or labatha (lah-BAH-thah) represent Easter in Greece. These candles are usually white and brought in to the church to be lighted during the midnight Easter mass. Parents or godparents would give these candles to children as gifts, usually adorned with trinkets or their favourite storybook heroes.
After the mass, the priest would say Christos Anesti (Christ is risen) and start passing the candle flame to those nearest him. Soon the entire church would be glowing beautifully with candlelight. The church bells will also be ringing joyously during this time, together with ships in ports sounding their horns.
Games and Festivities
Tsougrisma or egg-cracking challenge is a common Greek practice done right before eating their baked tsoureki. Children and adults would carefully choose the strongest egg then use it to crack their opponent’s egg. The winner of the uncracked egg is said to enjoy a year’s worth of good luck!
In the Greek island of Corfu, rather than eggs, water-filled clay pots or botides are cracked by throwing them out of the window! Locals believe that this practice helps drive away evil spirits. Some brave spectators would even stay close to the crash sites and collect pieces of smashed pots for good luck.
Easter in Spain
A large part of the Spanish population belongs to the Catholic community; thus, holy week or semana santa, which starts from Palm Sunday to Easter Monday, is an important religious celebration. And while other European cities have chocolate treats, rabbit decorations, and egg games for Easter, Spain celebrates Lent through religious processions and fasting.
Happy Easter in Spanish
Holy week in Spain is celebrated quite in the same way as Christmas time—people would travel to their hometowns and spend the long holiday with their families. During this time, locals abstain from eating meat and would serve vegetable and fish dishes instead like potaje de vigilia (spinach stew) and sopa de ajo (garlic soup with baked egg).
Although there are no chocolate eggs or bunnies in Spanish Easter, the Spanish celebrate this religious holiday with other delectable sweets. Torrijas, for example, is a treat similar to French toast, made of bread dipped in milk and egg, fried, then topped with sugar and honey. People from the Basque region are said to make the best-tasting torrijas.
In Andalusia, pestiños are commonly enjoyed during Easter. These deep-fried fritters are glazed with sugar or honey, with each bite flavoured with anise and orange. If the Italians have the colomba cake, people from Catalonia and Valencia bake sweet bread rings called Monas de Pascua. These are traditionally adorned with sugar and candied fruit on top. Finally, small doughnuts or bueñelos are a popular snack during Easter. These holeless treats are a must-try in Valencia as locals would make them with pumpkin.
Rather than colourful Easter eggs, costumes and religious symbols are commonly seen during Spain’s Lenten celebration. Religious groups or brotherhoods would be seen in the street, parading in traditional hooded clothes called capirote. These clothes are worn as a symbol of atonement or penance.
Women, on the other hand, would join in the procession as mourners, wearing mantilla or black lace veil on the back of their heads. The lacy veil symbolises their mourning for Christ’s death. During the parade, religious floats with statues of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and other important biblical events like the Last Supper are seen. Giant crosses are also used to mark the start of the procession.
Games and Festivities
Several regions all over Spain would organise their own religious parade led by cofradías or brotherhoods. Participants would be in colourful costumes. The parade is also typically accompanied by marching bands and drummers playing religious music. Religious sculptures in floats or pasos are the main attraction of these processions. These beautiful floats are adorned with candles and flowers and are usually owned and preserved by several brotherhoods.
Children from various Andalusian cities would entertain themselves amidst the religious festivities by organising mini competitions. One popular game is to make the largest balls of wax during the procession. Children would try to collect melted candle wax from floats and make colourful balls out of them.
Easter in Italy
The Italians make up for a lack of adorable Easter bunnies with fun and humour-filled Easter festivals. From egg Olympics to a cheese rolling competition, regions from all over Italy definitely know how to infuse amusement into this religious tradition.
Happy Easter in Italian
Italians celebrate Easter primarily through food. Traditional Easter lunch usually includes a lamb or seafood feast. Artichokes are also a common side dish served either fried (carciofi fritti) or sautéed with baby potatoes (carciofi e patate soffritti).
Desserts however easily take the Easter feast limelight. Children would hurriedly finish their meal to have a slice of a crown-shaped bread studded with colourful egg candies. Pastiera Napoletana is also a popular Easter tart made with wheat, ricotta cheese, candied fruit, and orange blossom water. But colomba di pasqua is perhaps the most well-known Easter cake in the country. A panettone-like treat made with candied orange peel and almonds, the dove-like shape of this cake is used to symbolise peace.
Rabbits or bunnies are not part of Italy’s Easter celebration. Eggs, however, represent new life and are used in many forms. Aside from being used in regional Easter games, uova di Pasqua (Easter eggs) are also moulded into small solid chocolate candies or large hollow treats filled with gifts.
At times, Italians would go all out with these chocolate egg gifts and stuff them with jewelry, watches, designer sunglasses, or car keys. Several chocolate shops would even accept customised chocolate eggs, where customers would bring their own gifts to be stuffed into chocolate eggs.
Games and Festivities
In Emilia-Romagna, four suburbs of Tredozio would participate in several Easter egg games. A race to find eggs hidden in haystacks, a running competition without smashing your egg, and an egg-eating contest are among the favourites of this annual event.
Lo scoppio del carro or exploding cart is another popular Easter festivity in Florence. This 350-year-old Florentine tradition involves an antique cart filled with fireworks wheeled around the city. Once the cart reaches the main cathedral square, the cardinal will then set the cart ablaze to set off the fireworks. Locals believe that a grand cart explosion promises a successful year ahead.
While most Italians have chocolates and eggs during Easter, people from the Umbrian town of Panicale celebrate it with cheese—rolls of cheese, that is. A fun game called ruzzolone is held on Easter Monday in this village where participants would roll huge wheels of cheese as far as they can to win.
Easter in Denmark
Easter may be a religious celebration for most countries, but in Denmark, this tradition is more focused on family and the start of spring. The long holiday allows the locals to spend time at home and do fun activities with their loved ones. After going through a very cold winter, Easter spring in Denmark is reason enough to celebrate.
Happy Easter in Danish
The land of hygge naturally loves celebrating Easter. And for most Danes, påskefrokost, or Easter lunch, is the highlight of this all-important occasion. This family gathering is traditionally celebrated with salted or pickled herring, breaded fish fillets, lamb, and egg dishes on the table. Easter lunch also means lots of alcohol and, in Denmark, that means snaps, beer, and akvavit.
Eating candy is also big in Danish Easter. The kids would usually get “extra-large” hollow chocolate eggs filled with all sorts of sweets during påskefrokost. If you do get invited to this festive Easter meal, make sure you have nothing else planned as it’s practically a day-long affair, which can stretch from lunch to dinner.
Eggs, like in other countries, are predominant in Danish Easter celebrations. Aside from chocolate treats, eggs are used in many Easter-related games and activities. Yellow is also the colour of the season, and the Danes would usually reorganise and decorate their summerhouses with yellow decor, from candles to napkins, in time for Easter.
For a country that goes through long days without sunshine, the start of spring is almost momentous. People are very much excited to see pretty blossoms sprout after weeks of seeing nothing but white snow. Thus, they would decorate their homes with spring flowers for Easter like erantis (winter aconite), vintergækker (snowdrops), and påskelilje (daffodils).
Games and Festivities
Nothing can be more hygge than playing Easter games with your family and friends. Easter fun in Denmark typically begins with decorating hard-boiled eggs. These will then be used for Easter egg hunts in the garden or at the park. Egg rolling or æggetrilling is another popular festivity. Participants would roll an egg towards a group of decorated eggs, with the goal to topple as many and be the last egg standing!
In southern Denmark, Easter eggs are prepared in a special way. Known as solæg or sun egg, this dish is done by boiling eggs in onions, resulting in a dark-coloured yolk. The boiled eggs are then stored in a salty mixture for a week then served with mustard and chili.
Letter or poem writing among Danish children is a favourite Easter tradition. They will write this on a gækkebrev, a snowflake-shaped paper. Each gækkebrev will then be signed with dots, representing the child’s name. The recipient would then have to guess the sender of the gækkebrev correctly to win a chocolate egg. If the recipient fails, he or she must give the mystery sender a chocolate egg instead. Try to play along and make kids happy by guessing incorrectly every time!
Easter in Germany
The Germans’ long-held Easter traditions are primarily established through folk tales. Thanks to their stories of legendary hares delivering Easter eggs to children, people from all over now recognise the practice of exchanging bunny-shaped treats and decorating eggs during Easter.
Happy Easter in German
Food is an important element when celebrating Easter in Germany. So much so that people would prepare something special for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Easter Sunday. Popular dishes include egg dishes, lamb roast or stew, various salads, and sweet breads decorated with frosting or candy eggs.
Lamb is also an important representation of Jesus. And so it’s common to see not just lamb dishes on German Easter, but also lamb-shaped cookies, cakes, and even butter. In particular, osterlamm or Easter lamb cake is one popular treat among kids, which can be prepared with regular yeast dough or a creamy filling in the centre.
Aside from lamb, other German Easter symbols include flowers, hares, chickens, and eggs. These mainly represent Jesus’ resurrection and the natural transition of the season, from dark winter to brighter spring. Fire is also used to represent Easter, which also means the return of life.
Games and Festivities
It is said that the traditional belief of hares delivering colourful eggs on Easter Sunday originated in Germany. Thus, it is no surprise that Easter eggs are special among Germans. Families or communities would usually organise egg-hunting games on Easter Sunday or Monday. Some eggs are made of chocolate, boiled eggs are painted with food colour, and decorative ones come in plastic, wood, or fabric.
Ostereiertitschen or eierklopfen is a favourite Easter egg game. It’s an egg-tapping duel where two players would try to crack each other’s decorated egg without damaging their own. Now, if you would rather preserve the beauty of your painted eggs, you can always hang them to decorate a tree. Osterbaum or Easter tree is a stunning indoor or outdoor display seen in most German homes.
In the northern parts of Germany, it is common practice to start bonfires late in the evening of Holy Saturday. People would stay up all night to keep the fire burning until the dawn of Easter Sunday. Locals do this to welcome the coming of spring, while others believe it can drive away evil winter spirits.
Some regions in Germany perform this tradition with a twist. Rather than do typical bonfires, people would fill large wooden wheels with straw or hay, set them on fire, then let them roll down the hill at night. Osterräderlauf or Easter wheel run is a popular practice in Lügde in North Rhine-Westphalia and is done to bring good harvest.
Easter in Switzerland
Easter traditions in Switzerland are largely influenced by German customs, probably because they are located right next to each other. Swiss Easter gives you two sides of the occasion: one full of sweets and fun games, the other showing deep Christian values and beliefs.
Happy Easter in Swiss German
When you are in the land of fine chocolates, Easter is definitely a treat for chocolate lovers of all ages. During this season, chocolate bunnies come in all shapes and can nearly be as big as a small child.
Easter eggs are also everywhere, even in supermarkets. What makes these eggs special though is that instead of being painted in colourful paint, hard-boiled eggs are dyed using onion skins, colouring the shells in light tan to deep brick red.
Swiss bake shops are also busy come Easter time, offering all sorts of baked goods to celebrate this religious occasion. Osterfladen or osterchüechli for example is a traditional Easter favourite. This delectable tart is usually made with either rice or semolina. Zopf or braided bread is also a popular breakfast or brunch food on Sundays. But during Easter, they are shaped into charming, edible bunnies.
While bunnies and eggs flock Switzerland during Easter time, the cuckoo bird is actually the Swiss symbol for rebirth. In place of the adorable rabbits, children will hunt for colourful eggs left by the Easter cuckoo. This is probably because cuckoo birds are more common in the country.
Similar to the German practice of decorating trees with colourful Easter eggs, having an osterbäumli or small Easter tree display in the living room is an old Swiss tradition. Instead of using fully grown trees, sprigs from bushes will usually be put in vases then decorated with small eggs made of plastic.
Games and Festivities
Easter Sunday is dedicated to a day of children running around, going from house to house, to collect colourful eggs. Winners of the egg hunt are usually given prizes like chocolate eggs and rabbit-shaped marzipan.
Egg smashing or eiertütsch is also a German tradition that the Swiss have adapted. In Zurich, this fun game comes with a twist. Instead of simply smashing eggs against each other, a child would hold up an egg while an adult would throw a 20 cent coin at it. If the coin sticks to the egg, the adult wins the egg. If not, the child gets the coin.
Religious processions are common in several parts of Switzerland during Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. In Mendrisio for instance, participants would be in costumes, re-enacting the passion and crucifixion of Christ. The costumes are ancient and highly valuable that the procession is called off when it’s raining.
In another Swiss village called Romont, a haunting procession is also traditionally held with 20 “weeping women” wearing black veils. Each woman carries a crimson cushion behind her back with a crucifixion symbol (hammer, crown of thorns, whip, nails, St. Veronica’s handkerchief, and so on.) attached to it.