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German Easter tour shows superstitions, outdated traditions

April 09, 2006|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

One should roll naked before sunrise in the Easter morning dew to maintain yearlong health.

If a girl gives her boyfriend one egg on Easter, she is saying their relationship is on the rocks. If she presents him with six eggs, she is indicating that she's expecting marriage, and soon. If she presents her man with no eggs, he may rightfully spank her with a cane.

Visitors to the Jonathan Hager House collected those tidbits Tuesday through Saturday during the German Easter tour. Along with superstitions and outdated traditions, tourists also learned the origins of a number of Easter customs that are carried on today.

John Nelson, historic sites facilitator, said the German Easter tour is in its fifth or sixth year at the Hager House. The Hager House, which was the home of German settler Jonathan Hager in the early 1740s, had offered a German Christmas tour for years, and Nelson said he began to wonder how the Germans traditionally celebrated Easter.

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Germany, perhaps more than any other country, influenced the way people in the United States celebrate Christmas, Nelson said. As he researched, Nelson learned that Germany had a profound influence on Easter, too. Customs including the Easter bunny, Easter eggs and Easter egg trees are rooted in German tradition, he said.

"It all comes from Germany, and of course, Jonathan Hager was from Germany, meaning he himself was involved in some of these customs - colored eggs, the Easter bunny - he would have known these things," Nelson said.

John Bryan, historical interpreter, told tourists that the egg was a pre-Christian symbol of birth and creation. As Christian missionaries spread across Europe, the egg symbol was adopted to represent the rebirth of Jesus Christ at the resurrection. Similarly, the rabbit was a symbol of birth and fertility, which eventually evolved into the idea of the Easter bunny.

"The European hare lives in a burrow, which could be considered a tomb, then it rises and bounds over hill and field, similar to the way Christians believe in resurrection from the dead with great joy," Bryan said.

Dale and Sheri Petrucci of Kearneysville, W.Va., took their grandson, Jaden Petrucci, 4, of Martinsburg, W.Va., to the tour Saturday. They said the tour was fascinating.

"It's interesting to see how Easter developed out of such strange customs," Dale Petrucci said.

Louise Lyerly of Hagerstown, went on the tour with her son, Jim Lyerly, who was visiting from California.

"We are German. We have carried on many of these family traditions for years. It's nice to see their origins," Louise Lyerly said.

Margaret Williams of Morgantown, W.Va., and her friend, Brenda Musgrave of Dumfries, Va., met in Hagerstown Saturday and decided to check out the tour.

"I'm struck by the different things people did to occupy their time and by seeing how some of those things evolved and stayed part of our traditions," Williams said.

"Like a lot of programs, you don't know what it's gonna be until you get into it, then you are just amazed by what you learn," Nelson said.

The German Easter tour continues today from 2 to 5 p.m. Cost of admission is $2 for each person older than 12, with children younger than 12 admitted free.

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