Easter Legalities

Next to Christmas, Easter is the most important holiday for Christians. Many believers are not aware that that very few Easter traditions and customs have anything in common with the Easter message. They were adopted from pagan religions and intermingled with the Christian Easter celebration. It is therefore no wonder if it seems strange that a bunny lays eggs or bonfires burn on Easter Saturday or Easter Sunday. Children especially cherish Easter because they can search for candy and sweets in the yard. But what exactly is Easter and what impact does religion have on everyday life or work?


Religious Background

Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Actually, the Easter period starts earlier. On Ash Wednesday, the 40-day period of feasting starts (right after Mardi Gras or Carnival). The faithful commemorate the many days that Jesus spent in the desert praying. Palm Sunday celebrates his entry into Jerusalem. On Maundy Thursday, we commemorate the Last Supper, when Jesus shared bread and wine with his 12 disciples. Following his betrayal by his disciple Judas, Jesus was arrested that very same day. The Savior was crucified on Good Friday. In German, Good Friday is called “Karfreitag”. The syllable “kar” derives from the Old High German word “chara” meaning “complaint” or “mourning”. However, the most important day is Easter Sunday. On this day Christians celebrate Christ’s resurrection and the overcoming of death.

Easter Bunny and Co.

Nobody really knows why the Easter Bunny hides eggs on Easter. Over the years, some theories have been developed. In earlier times, peasants had to pay their tax liabilities on Maundy Thursday. Another theory concerns the spring goddess Ostara. She has lent her name to the Easter festival in both English and German (Ostern); her symbol was a rabbit. This symbol, just as much as a chick, was a sign of fertility, declaring winter’s end.

The Easter fires, based on pagan customs, are to remove the last signs of winter. Another belief was that the bonfires helped protect the new crops against evil spirits. Further, on many Easter dining tables, you can find an Easter lamb. This goes back to describing Jesus as God’s lamb. This tradition derives from the Jewish Passover, when lambs were sacrificed.

Even though chocolate rabbits have been around since the 17th century, they are still a matter of dispute. A sweets producer wrapped his chocolate bunnies in gold foil and added a red ribbon with a bell around the bunny’s neck. This company “patented” the design in Germany and forbid competitors to produce chocolate bunnies. This dispute even found its way up to the European Court of Justice – more than once. The ECJ rejected the EU-wide protection of the trademark since such embellishment with gold foil and a ribbon was fairly common and the rabbit does not differentiate itself from products of other producers (last: ECJ judgment of December 17, 2010, re: T-336/08). The BGH had to reverse a judgment of the OLG Frankfurt a. Main because the exhibit, on which the verdict was made, i.e. the chocolate bunny, suddenly had disappeared (BGH, judgment of July 15, 2010, re I ZR 57/08). It seems that judges or court clerks sometimes have a craving for chocolate.

Don’t forget!

The Easter holiday is a “movable feast” - falling not on a fixed date, but taking place around the beginning of spring. Easter takes place on the first full moon after spring has begun – the vernal equinox. Therefore, Easter Sunday can fall between March 21 and April 25. Tradition demands that only “green food” is to be served on Maundy Thursday (Gründonnerstag) – like broccoli or spinach. On Friday, only fish is to be placed on the table. Friends of partying ought not to forget that Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday are “quiet days”. Pursuant to art. 3 II Act on Public Holidays, public entertainment activities are generally forbidden. Music and dancing are not allowed in bars and restaurants because Jesus’ suffering on the cross is to be commemorated. Entertaining musical activities would run contrary to this goal. Violations will be prosecuted with a fine up to € 10,000 (art. 7 no. 3 Act on Public Holidays).

Relationship between Church and State

During the Holy Roman Empire, church and state were so interwoven by divine law that the worldly rulers were inaugurated by God, via the pope. But today  in the Federal Republic of Germany church and state are separated. Of course, this does not mean that mutual influence does not exist or conflicts do not arise. People are not only a citizen but also believers. Since the state is obliged to maintain neutrality, statutes support the faithful as well as religious institutions to practice their rituals without state participation. Most important are “religious freedom” (art. 4 GG), the General Act on Equal Treatment (AGG), the “church article” following art. 140 GG i.c.w. 136 - 139 and 141 of  Weimarer Reichs Constitution. The latter articles, though protecting religious freedom, are not constitutional rights – in contrast to art. 4 GG.

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