As I mentioned in my previous posts, I enjoy research and finding unusual settings for my books. One of the places I focused upon for six books and one novella was the Amana Colonies in Iowa. During that time, I learned many of their religious and cultural beliefs and traditions. With Easter approaching, I thought I would share some of those with you.
In the colonies, Easter was celebrated with special services held each noon during Holy Week. During these gatherings, Bible passages describing the last days of Christ’s life were read in sequence. The verses were read in German and spoken in soft and reverent tones. Hymns written especially for Holy Week were sung during these meetings. Without instrumental accompaniment, voices blended in harmony to lift up praises to the Lord. Good Friday was a day of fasting: bread and water was all that was served except to the very young, the very old, and the ill.
On Easter morning the colonists would celebrate by singing, “Ere yet the dawn hath filled the skies, Behold my Savior Christ arise.” After a lengthy service, there would be a special dinner, and if the weather had cooperated, the villagers would share in fresh lettuce salad, asparagus, radish salad, mashed potatoes topped with toasted bread crumbs, and smoke-cured ham.
After the meal, each child clutched an Easter basket that had been made especially for him or her by the village basket weaver. At the signal, they would scurry into the yards behind the kitchen house and hunt for the Easter eggs that had been colored with onion skins or with bright colored dyes from the woolen mill’s dye works that were then mixed with glue from the woodworking shop. Both dying processes took time and effort and certainly weren’t as simple as those packets we pick up at the stores nowadays.
Another special treat was the Oster Hasen or Easter Rabbit Cookies. These were made from a basic sugar cookie recipe and there were lots of shapes: squirrels, chickens, lambs and deer, and the rabbit cutter, shaped like a hare on the run, was the largest of all. And on Easter, I’m certain the children thought the rabbit cookie was the finest tasting of all the animals that had been cut from the sweet cookie dough.
The village tinsmith fashioned the designs from strips of tin. Cookie cutters were one of the few things the tinsmith produced that permitted him a bit of artistic interpretation and whimsy in his work. Each cookie cutter was different and the tinsmith could create whatever he fancied. As years passed, the youngsters of Amana enjoyed cookies shaped like camels, fish, leaping ponies, swallows, swans and many others—but the beloved Oster Hasen has always remained the favorite.
After an afternoon of good food and hunting eggs and cookies ended, everyone returned to church for the evening worship service where they may have sung one of the hymns written especially for Holy Week, including this 380-year-old German hymn.
Lord Jesus Christ, my Life, my Light,
My Strength by day, my Trust by night,
On earth I’m but a passing guest
And sorely with my sins oppressed.
(Martin Behemb, “Herr Jesus Christ, Mein’s Lebens Licht,” 
The Amana Church Hymnal)
Though you’ll notice some differences in the celebration of Easter, I think you’ll see there are many similarities, as well.
As you prepare your heart through these weeks prior to Easter, may you reflect upon the joy of a risen Savior. Easter Blessings to each of you.