From Fasting to Fires: Ten Easter Traditions in Tirol
Tirol has some weird and wonderful Easter traditions. We have picked ten of the best, from the 40-day fast of Lent to unusual ones such as egg-bashing and grave-decorating.
1. Fasting: 40 Days of Abstinence
Soup with cheese and potatoes is a popular meal in Tirol during Lent. © Johannes Sautner
Tirol's Catholic tradition means Lent, the 40-day fast from Ash Wednesday until Easter, is still observed by many. Meat, sugar, alcohol – there are lots of things that can be given up for Lent depending on your personal vices and level of commitment. The period begins with a special 'fasting soup', often served by local clubs in community centres.
As Lent nears its end, greens are traditionally served on Maundy Thursday (known in German as Green Thursday): salad, fresh vegetables, herbs and all manner of other spring things.
Lent ends either on Easter Saturday evening or the Easter Sunday morning, when after 40 days of strict abstinence everyone can once again eat, drink and be merry. The traditional fast-breaking meal is ham with horseradish, sausages, bread and, of course, Easter eggs (the real hard-boiled ones, not the chocolate ones).
2. Sleepy Head: Don't be a Palm Donkey!
'Palmlatten' can be many metres high such as these in Kramsach. © Gabriele Grießenböck
Palm Sunday marks the start of the main Easter celebrations. Locals rise early for the celebrations, with the last person in the family to get out of bed teased throughout the day as being the 'Palm Donkey'. Rise early to avoid this ritual humiliation!
3. Pretzel Party: Edible Decorations
'Palmbuschen' are traditionally carried by girls and include sweet pretzels. © Johannes Sautner
During the Easter processions, girls traditionally carry what is known as a 'Palmbusch', while boys hold a 'Palmlatte'. The former are full of spring greenery and sweet pretzels with ribbons. Processions vary in length and customs. In Thaur, a village near Innsbruck, the worshippers are led by a wooden statue of Jesus on a donkey pulled through the fields. In Imst there is a competition to see who has the tallest 'Palmlatte'. Some can be up to 35 metres long and are carried by 30 boys working together. Both the 'Palmbuschen' carried by the girls and the 'Palmlatten' carried by the boys are then blessed at church and carefully stored away to protect the home from lightning and fire throughout the year.
4. Rattling Good Fun: UNESCO World Heritage
On Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, wooden rattles replace the sound of church bells in Tirol. © Johannes Sautner
If you've ever been to Tirol during Easter Week, you may well have seen children with wooden rattles and wondered about the noise is all about. They replace church bells at holy mass on Thursday and Good Friday, when tradition dictates that bells remain silent, before ringing again on Easter Saturday. Since 2015 this wooden-rattle custom has been included on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
5. Sweet Treats: Osterlamm and Osterzopf
From Easter lambs to woven Easter bread, symbolism plays an important role in the celebrations. © Johannes Sautner
In Tirol, Easter and All Saints are the two religious festivals in the year where godparents play a big role. They will often give presents such as 'Osterzopf' (a sweet pastry dish) or 'Osterlamm' (a cake in the shape of a lamb), which are baked on Easter Saturday and eaten for lunch on Easter Sunday. The woevn plait of the Zopf and the Easter lamb are important religious symbols.
6. Egg Hunt: Can You Find Them All?
Colourful Easter eggs have a long tradition in Tirol. © Johannes Sautner
These days Easter eggs are often associated with the chocolate ones found in shops and supermarkets. However, traditional Easter eggs are hard boiled and dyed different colours. One theory is that the different colours were used to indicate when each batch of eggs had been hard boiled and hence which ones were the oldest and needed to be eaten first. Tradition continues today, with many local families dying eggs together or painting them using watercolours. On the evening before Easter Sunday these eggs are then hidden throughout the house and garden together with sweets and small presents.
7. Battle of the Eggs: Bish, Bash, Bosh
'Eierpecken' pits two eggs against each other. Which one will come out on top? © Johannes Sautner
The tradition of 'Eierpecken' needs two people and two hard-boiled eggs. The eggs are bashed together with the pointy end facing forward. One of the eggs cracks, while the other emerges the winner. What sounds like a game of chance is, in fact, a skill honed by Tiroleans for generations. To win, three main things are important:
- Small eggs are better than big eggs.
- Pointy eggs are better than round eggs.
- Hold whole egg in your hand so that only the pointy bit is showing.
8. Heat and Light: Easter Saturday Fires
Easter fires are lit in certain regions of Tirol. © Monika Höfler
On Easter Saturday evening, many places in Tirol light fires to symbolise the resurrection of Christ. According to some, this tradition actually dates back even further to the spring fires lit in pagan times. The Zillertal Valley is particularly known for its Easter fires, though they are not permitted if conditions are very dry.
Another tradition, certainly not limited to Tirol, is spring cleaning. After a long winter spent at home, many families are keen to clean out the house ready for the warmer months of the year.
9. Colourful Churchyards: Grave Decoration
Graves are traditionally decorated with colourful glass balls at Easter. This example is from the Wallfahrtsbasilika Mariathal pilgrimage church. © Johannes Sautner
The tradition of decorating graves at Easter dates back to the time when in Tirol many people could neither read nor write. In order to tell the story of Christ and his resurrection, churchyards would be decorated with colourful balls filled with water and lit from inside. This tradition is taken to another level in Breitenwang, Lienz, Nauders and Patsch, where Holy Graves are set up complete with scenery, figurines and curtains. In other places you will find large cloth decorations around the altar depicting Easter scenes. Some places also have Easter nativity scenes, similar to those commonly seen at Christmas. Last but certainly not least, the mechanical nativity in Telfs-Moritzen, which is integrated into the Holy Grave, is well worth a visit if you are in the area.
10. Emmaus Procession: Easter Monday Walk
A long walk through the meadows is for many families a key part of the celebrations. © Achim Meurer
After a weekend of fast-breaking, what better way to burn off a few Easter calories than with a walk through the meadows? On Easter Monday there are many places in Tirol where this Emmaus Procession, as it is known, is a long-standing tradition. The name comes from a town mentioned in the Gospel of Luke. Luke reports that Jesus appeared, after his death and resurrection, before two of his disciplines on the road to Emmaus. The procession can be accompanied by prayers and singing, while others simply enjoy soaking up the spring sunshine.