This Friday, Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus, and on Sunday celebrate Easter, marking their belief in his resurrection. On Friday, Jewish people celebrate the eve of Pesach, commonly called Passover, which commemorates the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and the end of their slavery.
And this weekend as well, Muslims around the world mark another Friday, their weekly holiday, within the month of Ramadan, which began on April 2 and ends on May 2. This coincidence of dates is unusual, especially as far as the proximity of the Islamic Ramadan to the Christian Lent or to the dates of Pesach and Easter is concerned.
This rare conjunction of holidays is possible because unlike the Christian calendar, which is determined by the course of the sun and is widely used in the Western world, the Islamic calendar is aligned with the moon and the lunar year. Twelve months in the solar year last 365 days, in the lunar year, on the other hand, only 354 days. Thus the Islamic cycle of holidays moves across the Western calendar over the course of a good three decades.
Passover in pictures: Jews observe holiday of deliverance Passover: A freedom celebration Passover, also called Pesach, is one of the major Jewish holidays. The week-long holiday begins at sundown on the first day. It follows the lunar calendar, meaning it takes place every year on different dates, but it usually falls in mid-March or April. It celebrates the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt under the leadership of the Old Testament prophet Moses.
Passover in pictures: Jews observe holiday of deliverance The story of Passover According to the Old Testament, God acted through Moses to demand that the Pharoah free the Israelites. After the ruler initially refused, God sent ten destructive plagues to the Egyptians, including the death of every first-born child. The Israelites were spared this loss by marking their doors with a lamb’s blood — in this way, they were “passed over.”
Passover in pictures: Jews observe holiday of deliverance Escape through water After the plague of death, Pharoah let the Israelites go, but then changed his mind and chased them down with his army. At the Red Sea, Moses held out his staff, God parted the water, and the Israelites crossed the dry passage before the waters then tumbled down upon the Egyptian army. The scene has inspired many works of film and art, such as this 16th-century work by Lucas Cranach the Elder.
Passover in pictures: Jews observe holiday of deliverance A symbolic dinner Many of the events in the Passover story are symbolically represented in the Passover dinner meal, or seder. The most important seders take place on the first and second nights of the holiday. The Haggadah (above), a text that recounts the Passover story and lays out special blessings, frames the meal. A seder’s length can vary greatly depending on the Haggadah used. Sometimes songs are also sung.
Passover in pictures: Jews observe holiday of deliverance The seder plate At the center of the table will be the seder plate — with specific and symbolic foods upon it: a shankbone (for the sacrificed lamb); a hard-boiled egg (life and birth); bitter herbs like horseradish (the bitterness of slavery); a sweet paste called charoset (the mortar in the pyramids); and a leafy green like parsley (hope). A bowl of salt water on the table represents the slaves’ tears.
Passover in pictures: Jews observe holiday of deliverance Unleavened bread Matzo, matza or matzoh: No matter how you spell it, one thing remains constant — there’s no leavening agent in the thin cracker that is a key part of the seder. It’s said that when the Israelites left Egypt, they left in such haste that there was no time to let the dough rise. Many Jews avoid any leavened foods during all of Passover, though there is great variation in how this is observed.
Passover in pictures: Jews observe holiday of deliverance A welcoming meal Ten drops of wine are placed on one’s plate for the ten plagues. One is also supposed to drink four cups of wine, representing promises made by God to the Israelites. A glass of wine is also set aside for the prophet Elijah, and many people open their doors to let him in. This gesture is also a symbol of openness — a seder is meant to be an event at which strangers and the needy are welcome.
Passover in pictures: Jews observe holiday of deliverance Diversity of food The meal itself is eaten in the middle of the seder. The foods served can vary greatly depending on what regional culinary traditions they draw from. Whereas Jews from Eastern Europe may have a veal roast, North African Jews may serve a stew similar to a tagine. And Sephardic Jews originating in Spain may make the sweet charoset with dates and dried fruit, abundant in the Mediterranean. Author: Cristina Burack
‘Siblings in humanity’
The shorter course of the year offers Muslims “the chance to experience Ramadan as well as other festivals in different seasons and different climatic conditions,” the spokesperson for Germany’s Coordination Council of Muslims, Abdassamad El Yazidi, told DW. At the same time, it ensures that the Muslim holy days coincide over time with various holy days of Christians and Jews. “That should remind us that we are all siblings in humanity and must work together for good.”
The Jewish holiday of Pesach and the Easter date of the Western churches, on the other hand, always occur quite close together in early spring. But they don’t often fall on precisely the same date. In 2022, Passover begins on April 16, and the Christian Holy Week — which began on April 10 on Palm Sunday — climaxes from Maundy Thursday evening on April 14 to Easter Sunday morning. The holiday covers Jesus’ “Passion,” from the last supper with his disciples to the celebration of the resurrection.
The difference is due to the fact that the Christian calendar dates Easter to Sunday since the year 325 CE, more specifically to the first Sunday after the spring full moon. In the Jewish calendar, on the other hand, Passover can begin on any day of the week.
Traditions and rituals of Ramadan Ramadan: Islam’s holiest month Every year, millions of practicing Muslims across the world fast, pray and give alms in observance of Islam’s holiest month, the exact dates of which change each year. From firing off cannons to lunar sightings, DW explores how Muslims mark the occasion and what it means to the faithful.
Traditions and rituals of Ramadan Moon sighting The sighting of the new moon of Ramadan is practiced by religious authorities across the globe to determine the beginning of the month of fasting. While some observe the new moon with telescopes, others use the naked eye, which is why Ramadan may begin on different days in certain parts of the world.
Traditions and rituals of Ramadan Prayer Prayer is often considered a fundamental part of observing the month of fasting. Ramadan traditionally begins with a special prayer known as “Tarawih” on the eve of the holy month. During Ramadan, practicing Muslims generally participate in communal prayer at their local mosque.
Traditions and rituals of Ramadan Recitation The month of fasting represents a period of spiritual discipline and purification. As such, reading and reciting the Quran, Islam’s holy book, form an integral part of the traditional rituals observed during Ramadan. The Quran is believed to have been revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during the month of Ramadan.
Traditions and rituals of Ramadan Local traditions While Islam offers prescribed rituals to observe during Ramadan, many places have local traditions that coincide with the month of fasting. In Sarajevo, a cannon is traditionally fired to mark the breaking of the fast on each day of Ramadan. In Egypt, displaying a decorated lantern known as a “fanous” is part of the tradition.
Traditions and rituals of Ramadan Breaking fast After a long day without food and water, many Muslims traditionally break their fast with a date, the nutritious fruit with which the Prophet Muhammad is believed to have broken his fast. Afterwards, observing Muslims often partake in a communal dinner known as “iftar.”
Traditions and rituals of Ramadan Eid al-Fitr The celebration of Eid al-Fitr, or the festival of breaking the fast, marks the official end of Ramadan. From indulging in sweets to offering gifts to loved ones, Muslims celebrate the end of the fasting month with large meals prepared for friends and family. It is considered a joyful time in which to be generous and kind to others. Author: Lewis Sanders IV
Nowhere in the world do the celebrations of multiple monotheistic religions come together as closely as in Jerusalem. One can feel how all three religions are “looking forward to these days,” German Benedictine monk Nikodemus Schnabel told DW. In what he described as an “intense time” there, “the city literally vibrates with the various pilgrims, as if there was a need to catch up after the coronavirus, to celebrate outside again and to come together for the festivals,” said the monk, who has lived on the outskirts of Jerusalem’s Old City for many years.
Ultimately, according to Schnabel, the common experience of a pilgrimage festival connects the religions. Christian churchgoers parade in prayer through the Old City for several days in a row. On Friday morning, Muslims go to the mosque on the Temple Mount for prayer. And during these days, many Jews are drawn to pray at the Wailing Wall — the ruins of the Western Wall of the Second Jewish Temple in antiquity. The location is considered by many Jews to be one of the holiest sites to pray at, due to its proximity to the nearby Holy of Holies, the most sacred part of the ancient temple. In view of the political tensions in the area, such days are always a challenge for all security forces in the city.
Germany’s best-loved Easter traditions The decorated Easter egg Germans love painting Easter eggs. The Sorbs, a cultural minority in Lower Lusatia, Brandenburg, are famous for their art of beautifully decorating eggs with wax. You can learn more about the Slavic minority and their customs at the Spreewald Museum in Lübbenau.
Germany’s best-loved Easter traditions The Easter egg tree Traditionally, Germans decorate trees or flower bouquets with painted Easter eggs. The Saalfeld Easter Egg Tree takes this custom to a new level: it is decorated with 10,000 hand-blown and painted Easter eggs. A family from Saalfeld in Thuringia started this tradition and now the city keeps it going. Each year the tree attracts many visitors.
Germany’s best-loved Easter traditions The Easter procession This is a Sorbian custom in the Catholic regions of Upper Lusatia. Men ride through the Sorbian communities on festively adorned horses to spread news of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Even in the pandemic year of 2021, riders went through Upper Lusatia, although there were fewer onlookers. In 2022, they will ride again.
Germany’s best-loved Easter traditions The Easter weekend walk For many Germans, a walk is a must on Easter. This tradition is at least partially inspired by the iconic poem “The Easter Walk” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Germany’s best-loved Easter traditions The Easter egg hunt Hunting for sweets and eggs hidden by the Easter bunny is the best part of the holiday for many younger Germans. In Weimar, the city organizes an official hunt each year for children.
Germany’s best-loved Easter traditions The Easter bunny The custom of going out at Easter in search of eggs and small gifts supposedly hidden by the Easter Bunny has been happening in Germany since the 17th century. Sometimes the sweets and chocolates are hidden in small rabbit-shaped toys.
Germany’s best-loved Easter traditions The Easter bonfire It’s a tradition almost everywhere in Germany to light an Easter bonfire. The pagan custom, which celebrates the arrival of spring, was adopted by Christians to represent the resurrection of Christ. Four large Easter bonfires are lit on the banks of the Elbe River in Hamburg. The last two years they were canceled due to pandemic — this year they are allowed albeit in a smaller format.
Germany’s best-loved Easter traditions The burning Easter wheel Originally, it was a pagan custom to send burning wooden wheels down a hill to welcome in the spring, a variation on the bonfire. Today the tradition is continued on Easter Sunday in Lüdge in North Rhine-Westphalia. The Easter wheels are made of oak and filled with straw.
Germany’s best-loved Easter traditions The Good Friday parade in Bensheim Each year, thousands gather in the southwestern town of Bensheim to watch a procession that reenacts Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. This tradition was introduced by migrant workers who came to Germany from southern Italy. It mirrors similar parades in Italy. Those interested in attending will have to wait another year though — the procession has been cancelled again in 2022 due to the pandemic.
Germany’s best-loved Easter traditions The Easter fountains of Franconia The tradition of decorating fountains and wells with Easter eggs began in the early 20th century in Franconia, Bavaria. It is believed that the picturesque hill region wanted to attract tourists with a new tradition celebrating water, which is essential for life, and Easter, the celebration of renewed life. Biberbach boasts one of the largest Easter fountains in Germany. Author: Claudia Würzburg
Easter in Orthodoxy
After this weekend, however, the Easter celebrations are not over. In the Orthodox churches and some of the Eastern churches associated with the Catholic Church, the commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus is not held until the following weekend.
The reason for the differing dates is that in 1582, the Eastern Christians, under Pope Gregory XIII, opted for a calendar reform that shifted liturgical timing towards the Gregorian calendar. Those traditions now mark the beginning of spring differently.
Watch video 05:00 Germany: Russian monks help Ukrainians
The Greek, Russian, and other Eastern Christian Orthodox churches are celebrating Easter this year a week after the Western Christians. And in Germany, Ukrainian-speaking communities are preparing for a large crowd. Churches are expecting many Christians who have fled the Russian invasion in recent weeks.
This article was originally written in German.
While you’re here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.