I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I took this photograph yesterday. The locals had been to Church having taken their willow branches and twigs for blessing as is traditional here in Austria on Palm Sunday. The young man in the photo above was rather perplexed as he worked out that the “branch” (in my opinion it was a small tree) would not fit into the boot of the VW Polo that they had arrived in and much time and effort was put into working out how they were about to get their prized willow branch home. Many minutes later the branch was dismantled into several branches and off they went.
The willow branches are brought to the Church on Palm Sunday for blessings. They are dressed and decorated with ribbons, apples and small sweet bread. These are used to help celebrate the arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem. Once blessed they return to their homes and place them in their fields to protect their crops or outside their homes to protect the family from disease or thunderstorms where they will remain until they rot. This is the start of Holy Week for Catholics.
There are many Easter traditions here in Austria starting with Faschings at the beginning of Easter, they can vary from region to region. Some have passion plays, whilst easter fires (on the eve of Easter Sunday) can be found around the country with people who are brave enough jumping the fire. Eggs are painted and branches of trees are cut and decorated with painted eggs and Easter decorations. The bells in Churches are silenced from Thursday to Saturday when the Resurrection Service is held. Easter Sunday sees lots of fun activities including hiding painted eggs in and around the home for the children and a wonderful Easter Brunch of sweet bread (osternpinze) cold meats, coloured eggs and horseradish to celebrate the end of the fasting period
Of course many of these traditions are adapted from pagan rituals which were very much connected to the land and celebrating the different seasons. This weekend saw the spring (or vernal) equinox in the Northern Hemisphere (autumn in the Southern) when days get longer, weather gets warmer and plants begin to bloom. This signifies resurrection and there are many folklores around this.
In pre Christian Europe the Anglo Saxons worshipped Eostre (Ostara) the moon goddess of spring and fertility. She was always portrayed as standing among spring flowers and holding an egg in her hand. Her sacred animal was the hare, which laid eggs to honor her and encourage her fruitfulness. Whilst the Celts revered the Druid Goddess of fertility, Bloduewedd, who was the first in a long line of Flower Women (Guinevere of King Arthur fame) was also a Flower Woman.
I much prefer to celebrate the coming of Spring in a non religious way, spring cleaning, changing my wardrobe over to lighter, brighter clothes, potting seeds and preparing the garden, although I do admit to having dressed my tree with eggs because it looks pretty. Who knows it may even go some way to protecting me from the thunderstorms that we inevitably have in the summertime.
Wishing you all a happy and joyful time however you tend to celebrate the coming of the Spring.