Penpalling & Letters

Friday, 29 April 2011

Mail Trivia XII

Did you know that...

a stamp showing a printing or design error has a higher value than the rest?

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Easter traditions in Germany and Slovenia

Easter is the central feast in the Christian liturgical year, which commemorates when Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. His resurrection is celebrated on Easter Day or Easter Sunday (also Resurrection Day or Resurrection Sunday). It is a moveable feast, meaning it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar. Easter customs vary across the Christian world, but decorating Easter eggs is a common motif. In the Western world, customs such as egg hunting and the Easter Bunny extend from the domain of church, and often have a secular character. [Extracted from Wikipedia]

In this occasion, Katharina from Germany and Vesna from Slovenia wanted to share with us how Easter is celebrated in their homelands, so let's go on reading about Easter traditions in their countries!

"Katharina in Germany"

Here, in Germany, Easter is the first official countrywide long holiday weekend after Christmas. Good Friday and Easter Monday are bank holiday and all shops, offices... remain closed. Well, except for the ones at airports and train staions, of course! Usually, Easter is spent with family and/or friends. Many families have traditions in what they do for Easter. For my husband and me, it used to be a short trip to Italy, to beautiful Lake Garda, during seven years, but when "our" lovely little hotel closed a couple of years ago, we started staying at home for Easter, inviting our family and friends for a big Easter Brunch on Easter Monday. An Easter brunch always means a lot of nice things to eat. There will be all kinds of bread, cold-cut and cheese (as many Germans like to have bread with cheese or ham in the morning), jam and marmelades, cakes and muffins, but also warm dishes like a baked ham or turkey, a soup and salads. Some ingredients are a must for me at Easter, like carrots (because of the Easter bunny) and, above all, eggs.

Easter eggs are a symbol for Easter in many countries. But, here, in Germany, we do not only have chocolate eggs in all sizes, tastes and colours. We also use real eggs, first boiling them hard and then colouring them. In my family, this is usually done on Easter Saturday, and it is an event. You can buy colours for dying the eggs in any supermarket (but only around Easter time), however, you can also use nature's gifts for colouring eggs (like onion skin for a brownish colour, parsley or other herbs for green...). The eggs are dyed while they are still hot, and then they are put somewhere to dry and cool down. The last touch is greasing them (either with a bit of oil, margarine or even with a little piece of bacon fat) so they shine. They are then put in a little basket on a bed of (artificial) green grass where they wait to be eaten during the Easter days.
On Easter Sunday, in the very early hours of the morning, the Easter bunny visits every house especially if children live there. It hides chocolate eggs and little gifts in the garden for the children to search for. And when the weather forecast predicts rain, the bunny also goes inside the houses to hide its eggs and gifts indoors. And just in case you ever wondered why you find colourful eggs hanging in bushes in the front yards or gardens of German houses: that is needed to show the Easter bunny where the little children live and where to hide eggs (At least that is what my sister told her children!).

Decorations are very widespread for Easter. Now that winter is finally over, we like to decorate our houses, flats and gardens in spring colours and with spring and Easter symbols: eggs are hanging or sitting everywhere, together with bunnies, flowers and lambs. Preferred colours are pastel colours like yellow, light green, rose, pink... Nowadays most people buy these decorations in the shops where they sell more and more articles every year. For me as a child, however, Easter always was a time of crafting and painting. We would take real eggs, drill little holes in the upper and lower side, blow out the contents and then paint the eggs with whatever means available. Our preferred paint was mom’s nailpolish. In the end we put a little ribbon on the egg and hung then outside in a yellow-blooming bush in the front yard.
But not only houses and flats are decorated. In some areas it is a tradition to decorate public springs with eggs and green. This tradition is said to go back to 1909 and is more common in Southern Germany than in the North. The Easterly decoration of springs was meant to symbolize the meaning water has for life and growth.

Easter decorations at a spring in Maulbronn, Germany

It is said that the decoration of springs goes along with another tradition I have never experienced myself but only read about: the so-called Easter water. It is said that water scooped from a spring or ditch in the Easter night will have healing power and flatten/glaze one’s complexion. The water has to be scooped between midnight and sunrise and it has to be scooped and carried home in total silence.

From my teenage years in the North of Germany, I remember well the Easter bonfires that were held everywhere in the night of Easter Saturday. In Hamburg, the place where I grew up, the biggest bonfires were along the river Elbe. For these bonfires huge piles of wood were assembled (the higher and the bigger, the better), and on top of these piles a puppet made from straw (often a witch) was added. When it turned dark, the bonfires were started. It is a very old tradition, dating back to pre-Christian times. The idea behind these bonfire was to chase away the winter, to burn it out, and to ask for a rich harvest. In Christian times, this tradition prevailed and priest would light an Easter candle with the bonfire and carry it to the dark church, thus symbolizing Jesus Christ as the light for the world. I do not remember ever having seen the lightening of a candle, though. I recall the Easter fires as very social events with a lot of people who sat by the fires, talked and had a beer.

All in all, Eastertime is lovely here, in Germany! And I hope you enjoyed reading about it. But now I will go and put some colourful eggs in my little bush in the front yard so that the Easter bunny will find its way to my garden, too!

"Vesna in Slovenia"

Slovenia is a predominantly Catholic country and many families still celebrate it by going to church and following the Easter traditions. There are some Easter bunnies and chocolate eggs available at the shops (more and more each year), but they are not traditionally Slovenian even though some younger generations adopted them. I won't write about these though. I'll try to describe how my family and my husband's celebrated Easter in the past and how we two still celebrate it today. My grandma said – It is OK if you don't go to church, but if you consider yourself a Catholic, you should go to church at least twice a year: on Easter and Christmas!

Blessing of the fire

The preparations for Easter start the Sunday before Easter Sunday. We call it "cvetna nedelja" or translated: floral Sunday. People bring "butarica" to church and have it blessed then have it in the living area of the house/flat. Butarica is an arrangement of green branches and ribbons, but some people also bring small olive tree branches. Traditionally one of the boys who is still at school was the one who took butarica to church to be blessed, but not many people remember this tradition nowadays.


On Holy Saturday everything is in preparation for Easter Sunday. Women bake potica (traditional Slovenian cake), cook ham, children colour eggs... All the food is then put in a basket and taken to church to be blessed. Food that must be in the basket: potica (represents the Jesus' crown), ham (represents Jesus' body), horse radish (represents the nails) and coloured eggs (traditionally they are coloured read and represent Jesus' blood drops). In my area we also put "zelodec" (stomach) in the basket. It is smoked pig stomach filled with bacon, eggs and bread filling, which is then baked.

Typical Easter baskets

Traditionally, the oldest unmarried daughter in the family was the one taking the basket to be blessed, but, again, not many people remember this tradition. At the time, women wait in the church for the food to be blessed, men and children make a fire in front of the church and burn a dried wood mushroom on it. After the priest blesses the food he goes outside and blesses the fire. The kindling mushrooms are then taken home and put on a fire so that the fireplace is also blessed. This tradition is not alive in the towns and cities because most households are heated with central heating, but in rural areas it's still practiced. We practiced it until a few years ago when we moved to town. I really liked it because it's a rare occasion when the whole village got together (even the people who only got home from towns for the holidays). I usually put the basket in our small church and then joined the men and also a lot of women outside to catch up and hear the latest gossip. In the evening it's time for Easter Vigil.


On Sunday morning it's time for church again and after the morning mass a breakfast for the whole family is prepared from the food that was blessed on Saturday. Traditionally it's only allowed to be eaten by hands (no cutlery) and it's not allowed to give any of the blessed food to cats. On this day the whole family should stay at home.
Easter Monday is a day when people visit their friends and family. During these visits they often exchange Easter eggs.


Thank you Katharina and Vesna!!! It was great reading your splendid articles! Hope to see you again in Penpalling & Letters!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

"Cantinho das Artes e Lojinha da Inês" winner!

Inês from Cantinho das Artes e Lojinha da Inês was visiting Penpalling & Letters in March to tell us about her penpalling experiences and her abilities in the handcrafts world. Besides, Inês decided to organize a contest and offer the winner a fantastic butterfly cross-stitched bookmark and keyring. The contest ended a few days ago, and after deliberating together about choosing a winner (not easy at all), we came with a result, finally:

All the names of the participants were written in little pieces of paper

All the little papers were put inside a bag

An innocent hand took the papers out of the bag. The name which was out first for three times in a row was the winner this time!

The winner is Maria! Many congratulations Maria! You are so lucky to get these fantastic handmade items from Inês!!!
Thank you so much everybody for reading Inês' interview and supporting her, as well as for taking part in the contest! Inês is very happy and pleased with all the lovely comments received and the compliments regarding her participation in P&L!
More surprises will be on Penpalling & Letters in the future so remember to keep an eye on the Blog!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Hamburg memories

I have recently received this postcard: "Hamburg: der russische Dreimaster "Mir" vor den St.-Pauli-Landungsbrücken während des Hafengeburtstages" or "Hamburg: Russian threemasted vessel "Me" in front of the Saint Pauli landing bridges during the anniversary of the harbour". This is a view of an area in the city of Hamburg, Germany. When I received it I felt nostalgia about the place. Some years ago I had the chance to study in Germany, in a city not far from Hamburg, under the Erasmus programme of the European Union. I spent an unforgettable time. Living abroad meant broaden horizons, thoughts and ideas, besides having the chance to meet people from many different countries of the world. It was interesting and enriching in all senses, as there aren't that many chances to live together with so many overseas at once. This is why sometimes I miss those times and that international atmosphere. I feel lucky I had the chance to live that experience because the memories are great! I was in Hamburg a few times, which I hope to visit some time in the future again... I have never lived in Hamburg but still feels nostalgia when I see pictures of this city or receive postcards from the places in Germany I had the chance to see with my own eyes. If it only was possible to go back in time...

Saint Pauli is one of the one hundred five quarters of the city of Hamburg and it is located in the Hamburg-Mitte borough. It is situated on the right bank of the River Elbe, being the "Landungsbrücken" a northern part of the port of Hamburg.
If you are interested in learning more about this quarter of Hamburg you always can check about it here: Saint Pauli.

The stamp enclosed belongs to a series called "UNESCO World Heritage Sites - Old Town of Regensburg". The old town of Regensburg was listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006. These stamps were designed by Prof. Dieter Ziegenfeuter and issued on February, 3rd 2011. The motif represented is the Cathedral of Regensburg. The value of each stamp is 0,75€, valid to send letters up to 20g from Germany to any international destination at present. A detailed description of the stamp series can be found at Deutsche Post Filatelie.