Easter in Austria marks the beginning of Spring and the beginning of my favorite season. Tourist season. But Easter is far from a random holiday in spring. In fact, Easter is the most important Christian holiday, despite Christmas being more popular.
In this article, you will find out why Easter is important, how we celebrate Easter in Austria and what you can do if you visit Austria during the Easter holidays.
What Easter means and why Easter is important
Easter is important because it’s about the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection of Christ, his ascent into heaven and the sending of the holy spirit are the foundation of the Christian religion. Let me tell you the story and explain every associated holiday.
On Palm Sunday, a week before he got crucified, Jesus came to Jerusalem on a donkey. That’s the beginning of Holy Week. To pay tribute to Jesus, people distributed palm branches as he moded in. That’s where the trouble began. Jesus was basically a rebel. A threat to the establishment.
On Thursday, the day after Judas decided to betray Jesus, the disciples and Jesus had their last supper. Only a day later Jesus was nailed to the cross. Karfreitag (Good Friday) other than his arrival in Jerusalem five days earlier is a day of grief, the same as the next day, Holy Saturday. However, on holy Saturday people bring food to the churches to bless it because the 40 days fast before Easter is about to end.
That’s right. After two days of grief, Jesus overcame death. That’s how Easter became the most important holiday for Christians but that’s not where the story ends. The day after two of his disciples met him and that’s when they began to preach. And that’s now the end of Easter but still not the end of the story.
Three more catholic holidays are connected to Easter. The first one being the Ascension of Christ which happened 40 days after Easter. 50 days after Eastern there is Pentecost. Pente coming from the Greek language and meaning fiftieth. Pentecost is when the holy ghost was sent from heaven, the holy trinity is complete and that’s whats regarded as the birth of the catholic church.
The last day associated with Easter is Corpus Christi and happens 60 days after Easter. Corpus Christi is to commemorate the body of Christ being present in the holy sacrament. Now all of these days are tied to Easter and the date of Easter is variable. Therefore all of these days are variable but why is Easter variable in the first place?
Why Easter changes its date every year?
That’s something I only got to understand when writing the article on public holidays in Austria. Easter and the holidays associated with it (Ascension, Pentecost and Corpus Christi) are the only Catholic holidays that change their date.
Easter changes because it’s date is determined by the lunar calendar and based on the cycles of the moon. Let me explain!
The resurrection of Christ is said to have taken place during the Jewish Passover holidays. Jewish holidays are set in the Jewish calendar and the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, determined by the moon. The Jewish religion is much older than Christianity and solar calendars were not yet a thing back. So Easter depends on a Jewish holiday and therefore on the moon. Therefore it changes every year. But when exactly is Easter?
Simple answer. Easter Sunday, as well as the Jewish Passover, is the first Sunday after the full moon after the spring equinox. What’s the spring equinox? Spring equinox is when day and night are the same length in spring.
Therefore Easter is always in spring but the date changes.
Easter Traditions and Customs in Austria
Here are the traditions and customs we cultivate in Austria around Eastern. They are listed in chronological order so if you are in Salzburg around Easter you can follow this schedule.
Palm bushes (Palmbuschen)
Palm Sunday the first day of the holy week is a happy holiday. Happy because we commemorate the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem when people laid palm branches in front of him. Many go to church that day to have their palm bushes blessed. Palm bushes often consist among other things of hazelnut branches and catkins decorated with colorful ribbons. These are brought to church in the morning where they are blessed. Churchgoers then return home to leave the blessed palm bush at the entrance of the house or in the garden.
When the Bells don’t Ring
It’s said that on Maundy Thursday, the day of the last supper, the church bells fly to Rome to get blessed by the pope. They only come back in the night from Saturday to Sunday with the resurrection. So you won’t hear church bells these three days but all the more afterward.
What we eat on Maundy Thursday
Maundy Thursday is in Austria called Green Thursday (Gründonnerstag). While we don’t know why it’s called that, it led to people eating spinach on Green Thursday. In the case of my family, we would eat potatoes fried eggs and spinach.
What we don’t eat on Good Friday
Good Friday (Karfreitag) is the day of the crucifixion. It’s a day of mourning. Therefore and although we have been fasting for almost 40 days (if we really would) we are now fasting even more strictly. That means only one full meal and no alcohol, meat, sweets and other pleasures. In theory. In practice, not many people actually fast on Good Friday or the other 40 days.
Painting Easter Eggs
On Saturday we are about to break the 40 day fast but we are still grieving. Therefore Holy Saturday is the day to prepare food for the next day and bring it to the church where it gets blessed. The food we prepare includes the colored eggs and an Easter lamb. A lamb because the lamb symbolizes the sacrifice Jesus made.
The majority of the lambs we consume at Eastern, however, are not real. They are made of cake but in some areas of Austria people do prepare actual lamb and also bring the meat to the churches to bless it for the feast the next day.
There is supposed to be no meat during the fast. Just as no meat should be consumed during the 40-day fasting period, no eggs should be consumed either. That’s one reason for eggs being a part of eastern. Another reason is that the eggs are a symbol of fertility and therefore represent the victory over death.
Painting the eggs ranges from single-colored painted eggs to true works of art. Before Easter, you can buy colored eggs in the supermarket but many families, especially with children, paint eggs at home. Similar to baking Christmas cookies during Advent. Most of the homemade painted eggs are only for decoration. They are blown out before painting.
Mass at Eastern starts Saturday after Sundown or latest on Sunday in the very early before sunrise. That’s when the most important celebration for Christians in the world begins. You will have to look up the church schedule depending on where in Austria you are and can attend those masses. I would highly recommend it.
Eierpecken (Egg fighting)
Naturally, we eat a lot of eggs the next day, starting at breakfast. When we do eat eggs on Easter Sunday we fight with the hard-boiled eggs. Here is how it works. One opponent holds his egg and the other opponent hits it with his egg from above. First the tips and then the bottoms. The winner and there is always a winner, never a draw gets the egg of the other player.
If you have never fought in an egg fight, you can do that anytime. You don’t have to come to Austria for that.
The hidden Easter Nests
When the feast begins on Easter Sunday, on the most important Christian holiday, and it’s the end of the fast, parents hide Easter nests for their children. These Easter nests contain the chocolate bunnies. Bunnies are also a symbol of fertility. And the nest, of course, contains colored eggs and sweets. The nests are hidden somewhere in the garden or in the house or wherever it’s safe for kids to roam around and search.
And that’s it. That’s the highlight of Easter in Austria. From Sunday on and after the church service that some people attend it’s mainly a family holiday. There would be many minor and regional traditions but nothing you have to know about and nothing, I have ever experienced.
How you can celebrate Easter in Austria
The main place to witness the Easter celebration would be the church. And you don’t have to be religious for that. I am not a member of the catholic for example and would have no problem attending the services. Neither has the church a problem with me attending service. Otherwise, you will see Easter everywhere.
With these tips and the background knowledge, I hope you experience more of Easter than you would otherwise but the main celebrations are similar to Christmas, either a family or a religious celebration.
Should you visit an Easter Market in Austria?
You might be wondering why I don’t mention the Easter markets here. You are probably read about Easter markets on travel blogs. Well, they are by no means traditional. In recent years, Christmas markets gained a lot of popularity among travelers and locals alike. Therefore Easter was a good opportunity to create the same kind of hype and it starts to work. Because there is not a whole lot you can do around Easter as a traveler, travel bloggers happily share the Easter market experiences they are having all over Austria.
We either paint our own eggs or buy a few colored eggs for Easter Sunday. Painting the eggs is more important than decorating for Easter.
Which Easter Market should you visit in Salzburg?
However, there is one such Easter market that is legit. The one at the open-air museum in Salzburg. I already visited the open-air museum for Easter some 20 years ago when no one has ever heard of Easter markets. Back then it was not a market but an “Easter Nest Hiding” event for children. I have not been there since but I know they extended it with a market these days.
The open-air museum is worth a visit even without an easter market. It shows how the rural Austrian population lived from the 16th century on, is in the midst of nature (while being close to the city) and is a very non-touristy, authentic attraction to visit. Here is the link to the open-air museum’s website so you can get an idea.
That’s about it when it comes to Easter in Austria. I hope this article is helpful if you stay in Salzburg during Easter. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me via Email, Whatsapp or give me a call under 004369917799991. If you want to know more about holidays in Salzburg, here I have an overview of all the public holidays in Austria.