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People here tell their children that on the night before Easter in 1847, the original fires scared German children, who did not understand that the flames signified peace. Legend also has it that German mothers calmed those children by telling them the fires were set by a rabbit who was boiling eggs for an Easter celebration.
The fires may have another root as well. A handbook published by the Texas Historical Society points out that the people of northwestern Germany ancestors of some of today's Fredericksburg residents lighted Easter fires on the hills for centuries. The practice might even have started as a pre-Christian celebration of spring.This town of about 9,000 people, 70 miles west of San Antonio, is teetering on the cusp between an authentic and an unabashedly commercial celebration of its heritage. "The old mom-and-pop stores are turning into tourist attractions," said Troy Ottmers, 47, an oil salesman who has been a participant in the pageant since childhood and a principal organizer since 1980. "We've got a little more corporate, I guess you could say. We've lost a little bit of the hometown flavor."