Easter in Austria marks the beginning of spring and the start of my favorite season. This is the season when most travelers visit us. But Easter is by no means a random spring holiday. In fact, Easter is the most important Christian holiday, although Christmas is more popular and well-known.
In this article, you’ll learn why Easter is important, how we celebrate Easter in Austria, and what you can do if you visit Austria during the Easter holidays.
What Easter is all about and why it matters
Easter is important because it is about the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection of Christ, his ascension to heaven and the sending of the Holy Spirit are the foundation of the Christian religion. Let me tell the story here and explain each associated holiday.
On Palm Sunday, a week before Jesus was crucified, he came to Jerusalem on a donkey. This is the beginning of Holy Week. To pay tribute to Jesus, people distributed palm branches as he rode in. This was the beginning of the difficulties. Jesus was a rebel at heart. A threat to the establishment.
On Thursday, the day after Judas decided to betray Jesus, the disciples and Jesus took their last supper. Only one day later Jesus was nailed to the cross. Good Friday, apart from his arrival in Jerusalem five days earlier, is a day of mourning, just like the next day, Holy Saturday. On Easter Saturday, however, people bring food to churches to be blessed, as the 40-day fast before Easter is about to end.
That’s right. After two days of mourning Jesus has overcome death. So Easter became the most important holiday for Christians, but the story doesn’t end there. The day after, two of his disciples met the resurrected man, and began to preach on it. And this is now the end of Easter, but still not the end of the story.
Three other Catholic holidays are associated with Easter. The first was the Ascension of Christ, which occurred 40 days after Easter. 50 days after Easter is Pentecost. Pente comes from the Greek and means fiftieth. Pentecost is the day when the Holy Spirit was sent from heaven, the Holy Trinity is complete and this is considered the birth of the Catholic Church.
The last day associated with Easter is Corpus Christi and occurs 60 days after Easter. Corpus Christi is the commemoration of the body of Christ being present in the holy sacrament. Now all these days are tied to Easter, and the date of Easter is variable. Therefore all these days are variable, but why is Easter variable in the first place?
Why does Easter change its date every year?
This is something I didn’t understand until I wrote the article about the holidays in Austria. Easter and its associated holidays (Ascension, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi) are the only Catholic holidays that change dates.
Easter changes because the date is determined by the lunar calendar and is based on the cycles of the moon. Let me explain!
The resurrection of Christ is said to have taken place during the Jewish Passover holiday. Jewish holidays are fixed in the Jewish calendar, and the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar. Jewish religion is much older than Christianity and solar calendars were not used before Christ. So Easter depends on a Jewish holiday and therefore on the moon. That is why it changes every year. But when exactly is Easter?
Simple answer. Easter Sunday, like the Jewish Passover, is the first Sunday after the full moon following the spring equinox. What is the vernal equinox? The spring equinox is when day and night are of equal length in the springtime.
Therefore Easter is always in spring, but the date changes.
Easter traditions and customs in Austria
Here are the traditions and customs we have around Easter in Austria. They are listed in chronological order. So if you are in Salzburg around Easter, you can follow this schedule.
Palm Sunday, the first day of the holy week, is a happy holiday. Happy because we commemorate Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem during which people laid palm branches in front of him. Many go to church on this day to have their palm bunches blessed. Palm bunches often consist of hazelnut branches and palm catkins, among other things, decorated with colorful ribbons. These are taken to church in the morning where they are blessed. The churchgoers then return home and leave the blessed palm bush at the entrance of the house or in the garden.
When the bells do not ring
It is said that on Holy Thursday, the day of the Last Supper, the church bells fly to Rome to be blessed by the Pope. They don’t come back until Saturday night with the resurrection. So you will not hear church bells again on these three days, but only afterwards.
What we eat on Maundy Thursday
The Thursday before Easter weekend is called Maundy Thursday in Austria. We don’t know why it is called that, but it has led to people eating spinach on Maundy Thursday. In the case of my family, we ate potatoes, fried eggs and spinach.
What we do not eat on Good Friday
Good Friday is the day of the crucifixion. It is a day of mourning. Because of this, and even though we have been fasting for almost 40 days (if we were really doing it), we are now fasting even more strictly. It means only one more full meal and no alcohol, no meat, no sweets and other pleasures. Theoretically. In practice, not many people fast on Good Friday or the other 40 days.
Painting Easter eggs
On Saturday we are on the verge of breaking the 40-day fast, but we are still grieving. That’s why Holy Saturday is the day we prepare the food for the next day and take it to church to be blessed. The food we prepare includes the colored eggs and an Easter lamb. A lamb, because the lamb symbolizes the sacrifice that Jesus made.
The majority of the lambs we consume at Easter are not real. They are made of cake, but in some parts of Austria people prepare real lamb and also bring the meat to churches to bless it for the feast the next day.
During the 40-day fasting period, not only should no meat be eaten, but no eggs either. This is one reason that eggs are a part of Easter. Another reason is that the eggs are a symbol of fertility and thus represent the victory over death. So a spring theme.
The painting of the eggs ranges from monochrome painted eggs to true works of art. Before Easter you can buy colored eggs in the supermarket, but many families, especially with children, paint the eggs at home. Similar to baking Christmas cookies during the Advent season. Most homemade painted eggs are only for decoration. They are blown out before painting.
Here is a Youtube video so that you understand what I mean by blowing out eggs. It is a Czech youtube channel, but the tradition is exactly the same and the video is good. On occasion I will make my own video on my YouTube channel.
Easter mass begins on Saturday after sunset or at the latest on Sunday very early before sunrise. Then begins the most important celebration for Christians in the world. Depending on where you are in Austria you can visit these fairs. I would highly recommend it.
Egg pecking (egg fight)
Of course we eat many eggs the next day, starting with breakfast. When we eat eggs on Easter Sunday, we struggle with the hard-boiled eggs. And this is how it works. One opponent holds an egg and the other beats it with his egg from above. First the tops and then the bottoms. The winner and there is always a winner, never a tie, gets the other player’s egg.
If you’ve never fought in an egg fight, you can always make up for it. You don’t have to come to Austria for that.
The hidden Easter nests
As the celebration begins on Easter Sunday, the most important Christian holiday, and the fast comes to an end, parents hide Easter nests for their children. These Easter nests contain the chocolate bunnies. Rabbits are also a symbol of fertility. And of course the nest contains colored eggs and sweets. The nests are hidden somewhere in the garden or in the house or wherever it is safe for the children to roam and look for them.
And that’s it. This is the highlight of Easter in Austria. From Sunday and after the church service, which some people attend, it is mainly a family celebration. There would be many smaller and regional traditions, but nothing that you need to know and nothing that I have ever experienced.
How you can celebrate Easter in Austria
The main place of Easter celebration would be the church. And you don’t have to be religious for that. For example, I am not a member of the Catholic Church and would have no problem attending the services. The church also has no problem with me attending the service. Otherwise you will see Easter everywhere on these days.
With these tips and background knowledge, I hope you experience more of Easter than you otherwise would, but the main celebrations are similar to Christmas, either a family or religious celebration.
Should you visit an easter market at easter time?
You may wonder why I don’t mention the Easter markets here. You will probably read about Easter markets in travel blogs. Now, these they are by no means traditional. In recent years, the Christmas markets have been very popular with travelers and locals alike. Therefore, Easter was a good opportunity to create the same kind of hype and it is starting to work. Since there’s not much you can do as a traveler around Easter, travel bloggers like to share the experiences they have at Easter markets.
We either paint our own eggs or buy some colorful eggs for Easter Sunday. Painting eggs is more important than decorating for Easter.
Which Easter market should you visit in Salzburg?
But there is one such Easter market that is legitimate. The one in the Salzburg Open Air Museum. I visited the open-air museum at Easter about 20 years ago, when no one had ever heard of Easter markets before. At that time it was not a market, but every year an Easter hiding game was organized for children. I have not been there since, but I know that they have added a market to it today.
The open-air museum is worth a visit even without the Easter market. It shows how the Austrian rural population since the 16. The castle, which lived in the nineteenth century, is located in the middle of nature (and yet is close to the city) and is a very untouristy, authentic attraction. Here is the link to the website of the open-air museum, so you can get an idea of it.
That’s about it for Easter in Austria. I hope this article is helpful if you are in Salzburg for Easter. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me by email or whatsapp or call me at 004369917799991.
If you want to know more about holidays in Salzburg, I have an overview of all holidays in Austria here.
My name is Gerhard, Founder of Free Walking Tour Salzburg. I am an intrepid traveler myself and understand the passion for adventure that independent travelers feel. I love to interact with travelers, share stories, answer questions, recommend places to eat, and offer ideas of things to see and do.