Today is the first day after Easter. I know, I know. You’re probably thinking “it’s Tuesday!” That is just the beginning of the differences we’ve seen surrounding Christians’ biggest holiday since landing in Germany.
Easter here is a HUGE deal.
The city basically shuts down for four days (Good Friday through Easter Monday). People decorate for Easter and wish one another Happy Easter in the street, at the store checkout lane, and any number of other places. While yesterday was Monday, only certain businesses were open, most places being closed for the Holiday.
Among my favorite traditions are Easter Trees (like the one pictured at the right), and the Osterfeuern tradition, which are basically huge bonfire parties on the night before Easter Sunday.
With all this buzz afoot celebrating the coming Resurrection Sunday, you would think pastors would be insanely busy during holy week preparing for the big day. That’s how it is in the States. Many people who no longer engage with their Christian faith will at least attend Easter services.
And as pastors we accommodate that. We have extra services, and extra greeters. We make sure the church is in tip top shape, aesthetically speaking. We have Easter breakfasts, and the service is the best-produced service of the year. This all fits because we want to make a good impression on those who visit, and for the most part, it works. Churches in the US see higher attendance after Easter, and as a result, more people come to know and trust Jesus.
But picture trying to program a super Sunday program like that to compete with Memorial Day.
Or Labor Day.
Or the Fourth of July.
To many Germans, Easter is the biggest travel weekend of the year. There are many celebrations and decorations, but in the end, it’s a chance to get away. We went to a wonderful church service that felt similar to many Easter services in America; the music was upbeat and celebratory, and the message was one that encouraged us to go share the message of the resurrection with others.
But still, we were told by several that attendance was actually down, as many members and regular attenders may have been out of town.
It shouldn’t feel strange that a Christian holiday has lost much of its Christian significance. Case in point: Christmas is a holiday that the vast majority of Americans celebrate, even if many don’t believe in the virgin birth or the incarnation of God coming and living amongst mankind. But still it is strange.
I’m thankful that Easter still carries a Christian message in the US; I hope that this Easter has been the start of many returning to a relationship with God through Jesus because of this connection.
And I can’t wait to minister to Germans we will meet, and remind them of the real significance of Easter as we serve here in the future.