Decorating Trees and Branches

The colorful way that trees spruce up at Easter

By Google Arts & Culture

Snow on Easter Eggs by Andy Muskopf (Getty Images)

You’ve heard of a Christmas tree, but have you ever heard of an Easter tree? Or better yet, seen an Easter tree? Take a walk through any German or Austrian town at this time of year and you’re sure to spot one of these distinct colorful creations, known as an ostereierbaum or osterbaum.

Easter eggs hanging from a tree by Axel Bauersachs / EyeEm

Easter trees are made by hanging decorated eggs from bare winter branches, either in the garden or on branches that have been brought inside. The rainbow assortment of eggs are tied on with ribbon or string and can be plastic, wooden, or real ones that have been hollowed out and painted. People have been making Easter trees for centuries, but the origin of the tradition is unknown.

Colorful handmade Eastereggs on an apple tree by Kerrick

The world’s most famous ostereierbaum was in the east Germany town of Saalfeld. In 1945, a man named Volker Kraft saw an Easter tree in his neighborhood and admired it so much that he set out to create one of his own. He made his first in 1965 with 18 eggs hung on an apple tree in his garden and then made it again every following year with any extra eggs he’d gained along the way. By 2009, it took him and his family nine days to decorate the tree (the eggs would always be removed after Easter to let the tree bud). Eventually, the number of eggs hanging from his ostereierbaum reached around 10,000! He retired from his life-long tradition and donated the collection in 2016.

Snow on Easter Eggs by Andy Muskopf (Getty Images)

In Finland there is a similar tradition of decorating tree branches to celebrate the changing of the seasons. Bare birch and willow tree sprigs are brought into homes where they are placed in vases and sometimes decorated with colored feathers, crepe paper, and small decorations. When the buds start to show, this symbolizes the end of winter and the awakening of life.

Girl Holding Basket of Eggs by Hans L Bonnevier, Johner

These decorated branches are also given out to neighbors as blessings by young children dressed up as witches. They wear colorful oversized clothing with freckles and rosy cheeks painted on their faces and go from house to house knocking on doors (much like trick or treating at Halloween). The children recite the traditional rhyme “Virvon, varvon, tuoreeks terveeks, tulevaks vuodeks; vitsa sulle, palkka mulle!”, which means: “I wave a twig for a fresh and healthy year ahead; a twig for you, a reward for me”. In exchange for the casting of a good spell and a twig, the children will be given an Easter egg or similar goodies.

Girls searching for Easter eggs by Ariel Skelley

This tradition is a reinterpretation of an old belief that evil spirits wander the streets creating mischief on the Saturday before Easter. It’s the job of the children, known as the “wandering witches” to keep these supernatural forces at bay. The tradition can be seen on Palm Sunday in Southeast Finland and Holy Saturday in Western Finland, as well as areas of Sweden (although children there tend to offer drawings instead of tree branches!).

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