I’ve always associated the custom of decorating wells, or holy wells, with the Celtic countries. I also had no idea that it was associated with anything practical. This wonderful article on Franconian “Easter wells” has proved me wrong on both counts.
Apparently, one of the spring chores was to go to the well and clean out the algae and gunk with long rakes. After that was done, you cleaned up the gunk that was on the rakes and well (and probably took it out to the field or garden for extra fertilizer). Then, after the well was clean, you decorated it — often in a spirit of gentle competition with the neighboring farms and villages.
In Franconia, apparently the time for well-cleaning and well-dressing was Easter. The oldest way to do it, accordingly to the article, was to tie Easter eggs to an egg tree near the well. (If you scroll down through all the pictures, there’s an example of such an Easter well egg tree.) Nowadays, it’s not done as often, but the people who still decorate wells for Easter seem to throw out all the stops. Pretty!
And now, I finally know why we were always making egg trees out of pussywillows and dead branches! It was our country’s German side coming out!