The Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center is an open-air folklife museum and research center dedicated to preserving and celebrating Pennsylvania German folk culture, history, and language in a unique educational setting at Kutztown University.

Good Friday

Karfreidaag (Good Friday)

Karfreidaag (Good Friday) is the penultimate feast day of Eastertide. As the day set aside for the remembrance of the crucifixion, the Pennsylvania Dutch consider it to be one of the holiest days of the year, and a major point of intersection between the liturgy of the church and domestic traditions of the home and farm.

Among observant families, working was forbidden on this day, except for the absolute essentials: milking the cows, cooking, or gathering eggs from the hens. The day was reserved for reflection, prayer, and typically an evening church service, during which the biblical Passion narrative is read aloud in a plain sanctuary stripped of all of its vestments.

An old tradition suggested that on this day of remembrance of the crucifixion the very sky itself would weep with rain each year—even if only a small amount. Good Friday rainwater (Karfreidaagsreggewasser) was carefully gathered and saved as a form of holy water, consecrated by virtue of having fallen on this most auspicious of days. The water was thought to have healing and protective properties, and especially was employed by members of local union congregations for baptisms, believing that the water imparted blessing and protection upon baptized infants. This was a folk practice that some rural clergy not only tolerated, but encouraged as a way to integrate the sacred calendar into daily life.

In a similar manner, eggs laid on Good Friday (Karfreidaagsoier) were thought to be blessed by virtue of having been laid on this holy day. Many local families made sure to eat these eggs on three successive mornings on Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter, and there were several variations of this practice. The belief was that consuming the eggs allowed them to take the blessings of this sacred time of year into their bodies, protecting them from sickness and injury, especially fevers and hernias.

Perhaps most notably, one Good Friday egg (Karfreidaagsoi) was carefully selected each year for concealment in the home as a house blessing. This egg was gathered in the morning, without speaking to anyone, and placed under a crock or in a wooden cheese box in the attic under the eaves. Among some families in Berks, Lehigh, and Schuylkill counties, this was done for each building on the farm, and it was thought to protect the buildings and their occupants from lightning, storms, fire, sickness, and disaster as long as the egg remained undisturbed. Each egg was given an inscription that included the year, and each successive Good Friday, the egg was replaced with a new one. Some families saved the eggs from year to year, not wishing to dispose of the previous year’s blessings. For those who saved these eggs, they were “gut fer brauche damit” (good for powwowing), and a Good Friday egg was frequently used wherever an egg was called for in healing rituals.

This tradition was also once widely practiced in Europe, where a Good Friday egg was concealed in or buried under the eaves or threshold of the home. Some sources suggest that some communities employed three dyed eggs in this manner: a green egg for Maundy Thursday, a red egg for Good Friday, and Blue Egg for Holy Saturday. Historic examples of eggs are regularly discovered as foundation or building offerings (Bauopfer) when old homes and barns are renovated, and today examples of Good Friday eggs are on display in many cultural collections and museums in Europe.

The Heritage Center at Kutztown University preserves examples in the museum collection of local Good Friday eggs and samples of Good Friday rainwater donated in 2016 by a family with roots in Schuylkill and Berks County.