With Easter upon us, many in the U.S. are thinking about visits from the Easter Bunny and all the candy he’ll bring. Others may be getting ready to dye and decorate eggs. Still others who celebrate the Christian holiday may be more reflective, considering Easter to be perhaps the most significant Christian holiday. But, what are other Easter traditions around the world?
Egg painting dates back to ancient and pagan times. It was customary to give an egg as a gift to pagan gods,and to exchange eggs with friends and relatives on the first day of the New Year and on birthdays. Eggs also held powerful and magical meaning, representing life. It was considered a symbol of spring, marking the end of winter and magic rituals were performed relating to the first signs of Spring. Once Christianity was introduced into the Ukraine and Russia, the tradition of decorating eggs continued, incorporating the new religious beliefs with the old magical beliefs. Egg painting was usually done in rural areas during the late winter when there was little work in the fields. Farmers believed that eggs could put out fires and find lost cattle and even put eggshells in with seeds to improve the crop yields. Hey, I put eggshells in my garden, too!
On Good Friday, the Friday before Easter, locals fly homemade kites, traditionally shaped like a cross. It’s thought to have begun when a teacher tried to explain Christ’s ascension to heaven to his Sunday school class. The children had trouble understanding the concept, so he made a kite to explain the story.
Holy Week or Semana Santa, in Spain is the last week of Lent, which is the 40 day period before Easter. There are 'penance processions' through the streets that are performed by Catholic religious brotherhoods. They wear different colored robes to tell themselves apart and carry life-size images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, accompanied by somber music. Similarly, in Malaga, hundreds of lengthy processions take place. Participants dress in white robes and parade through the streets carrying altar pieces, candles, orange blossom and incense.
In Hungary, "Sprinkling," or "Ducking Monday” is a popular tradition, observed on Easter Monday, the Monday after Easter. Boys playfully sprinkle perfume or perfumed water on girls. Young men used to pour buckets of water over young women's heads, but now they spray perfume, cologne or just plain water, and ask for a kiss. People used to believe that water had cleaning, healing and fertility-inducing properties. Likewise, in Poland, it’s tradition for men to throw water over young women’s heads, then ask for a kiss. The custom can be traced back to the baptism of Prince Miezsko on Easter Monday in 966 AD, bringing Catholicism to the country. That's one way to get a date!
Back to the eggs. In Bulgaria, people take part in egg fights. The tradition is that, after Holy Saturday (the day before Easter) church services are over, people gather for the choukane s yaitsa. Opponents smash their eggs into each other. The one with an unbroken egg is declared the winner and will have good luck in the year ahead. The winning egg is kept until next Easter and is a sign of good luck. No egg on your face for the winner!
Like in Bulgaria, Greece has a tradition of throwing things. People in Corfu throw pots, pans and other kitchenware out of their windows on the morning of Holy Saturday. Some say the custom goes back to the Venetians, who used to get rid of any old items on New Year’s Day. As long as they aren’t throwing the kitchenware at each other!
Another tradition in Greece is to eat tripe soup or patsas, a stew made from the stomach of lambs, after Easter Sunday Mass. Thanks, I’ll stick with the chocolate bunny…..
On a more palatable note, in the town of Haux, it’s tradition to serve a giant omelet in the main square. And by “giant” I mean REALLY big. It’s made with more than 4,500 eggs and can feed up to 1,000 people. Why, you might ask? In the early 19th century Napoleon, a big omelet lover, allegedly stopped in Haux to eat one. As the legend goes, he liked the omelet so much that he ordered the locals to gather their eggs and make a giant omelet for his whole army the next day.
And by the way, in France, Easter church bells, not the Easter Bunny, deliver the goods. Church bells are silent between Holy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter) and the Easter Vigil (a church service, held in the hours of darkness between sunset on Holy Saturday - the day before Easter - and sunrise on Easter Day). During that silent time, the bells are off flying to Rome to get a blessing from the Pope. When the bells return they bring chocolate and gifts!
Book publishers actually come out with special "Easter Thrillers" known as Paaskekrimmen. It supposedly started back in 1923 when a book publisher promoted its new crime novel on the front pages of newspapers. The ads resembled real news so much that people didn't know it was a publicity stunt. Hmmmm, the original “fake news”?
Papua New Guinea:
Tropical heat and humidity are plentiful, but the supply of consistent electricity, to run refrigerators and air conditioners, is scarce, which can put a real damper on chocolate eggs and bunnies. So, residents have come up with a, uh, unique solution. They decorate the trees outside churches with cigarettes and packs of tobacco. After the church service, those “decorations” are handed out to the congregation. So, maybe tobacco isn’t the “normal” Easter tradition, but it tends to bolster church attendance!
Do you know of other Easter traditions? Let me know on Facebook or in Traveleidoscope's comment section!