Ten surprising CEE Easter traditions

By Benedikta Schlange, RBI |

Easter is just around the corner and many families are already starting their preparations for the most important Christian event of the year.

 

During Easter time in Austria, eggs are dyed or artistically decorated with color. The children wait eagerly for the Easter Bunny to hide chocolate eggs, which are then searched after the Holy Mass. The Christian Easter also includes the Easter lamb in form of a cake or as a roasted lamb. Why lamb?  The lamb is considered a symbol of innocence and because Jesus is called the “Lamb of God”, because he sacrificed himself on behalf of the people.

We asked our colleagues from CEE what Easter rituals are traditional in their countries. Some of them are very similar to the Austrian traditions, but there are also a few curious ones that we do not want to withhold from you. Read for yourself and be amazed.

Of course, eggs also play an important role, both in Catholic and Orthodox celebrations. The eggs are boiled and colored. For example, with beetroot or red onions for red eggs, blueberries for purple ones or cornflowers for blue eggs.

  1. Candles

In Albania, part of Orthodox tradition is a kind of sweet bread with a red egg in the middle and a special kind of soup with which you “break” the fasting. Usually a lot of believers fill the square in front of the local church holding candles and waiting for the mass. It is quite a beautiful sight to see, but also a bit dangerous as you may end up with burnt hair or clothes. The tradition is that the light is distributed by the priest at midnight, and believers take this light into their homes.

  1. Flowers

This is also done in Bulgaria. Here, Palm Sunday is known as Tsvetnitsa (Flower Day). Since there are no palms in Bulgaria, willow branches are taken to church to be blessed. Willow crowns are often worn by younger girls and can be seen on houses’ and apartments’ doorways. Many people are also named after flowers or plants and celebrate their name day on Palm Sunday. Egg coloring is a great tradition in Bulgaria, too. The first colored egg is always red (a symbol of the blood of Jesus), the red color is also used for painting crosses on the forehead of children which is supposed to bring luck. But eggs are not just used for painting, the eggs are also taken to church on Easter Sunday. After mass the “Egg duels” take place there. Two eggs are beaten against each other and the last one to hold an intact shell can look forward to a very lucky upcoming year.

  1. Washing

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is a tradition for family members on Palm Sunday to wash their faces with cold water in which spring flowers, picked by children the day before, have been submerged overnight. The traditional supper consisting of fish, bean dishes and red wine is prepared on Holy Thursday as a reminder of the Last Supper. Most often eggs are dyed red to symbolize the blood of Jesus Christ. Traditionally, the eggs used to be boiled in water with ash, onion skin, dandelion flowers or roots of some herbs which provided different shades of yellow, red and brown. Nowadays, artificial colors are most commonly used.

  1. Easter procession

Croatia has no less than 13 cultural elements on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, and the one relating to Easter is the Za Križen procession on the island of Hvar. Easter Sunday includes Easter bread. It is baked the day before and garnished with eggs. On Easter Saturday the bread is taken to church and blessed. On Easter Sunday the Croats eat it with ham, cheese and herb curd for breakfast.

  1. Mutton

Just like in the rest of the Christian world, many pleasant customs are connected to the celebration of Easter in Serbia. One of the most important customs (even today) is the gesture of giving an egg as a symbol of birth. Or rather, as a symbol of rebirth of nature and life. By tradition, the eggs are painted on Big Friday, and the first egg – colored red by rule – is saved until next Easter as čuvarkuća (“the protector of the house”). For Easter lunch, it is common to serve roasted mutton or roasted pork.

  1. Bathing

In Russia, Maundy (or Pure) Thursday is the onset of active preparation for the upcoming holiday. The meaning of this name lies not only in spiritual lavation, but also in the physical purification: bathing in bathes, ice-holes, lakes and other water bodies was once especially popular in Russia. Doing all this before dawn was a must. Today, primary attention is paid to the festive table and painting Easter eggs in red, mainly using onion husks (while taking a dip in ice-cold water remains a tradition at Epiphany). On Maundy Thursday, housewives start baking all kinds of Easter products: various paskhas, pancakes, honey spice cakes and Easter cakes (kulichs).

  1. Baking

In Ukraine, the Holy Week begins with Willow Sunday. In most countries it is called Palm Sunday, but a combination of pre-Christian pagan symbolism and a lack of local palm trees led Ukrainians to adopt willow switches as their symbolic branches. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are spent preparing food for Easter: dyeing eggs, baking Paska, the Easter bread, and roasting meat. All the food must be prepared by Clean Thursday. On that day, Ukrainians should clean their houses and themselves. On Good Friday (Mourning Friday) people are not supposed to eat anything and spend the day in church. No work is allowed either. Saturday is the rest day, because there is a whole night service coming and you must be wide awake.

  1. Blessing of food and cheese pyramids

In Belarus, willows are used as well during Easter celebrations. Like Christmas, there are two public holidays dedicated to Easter for the Orthodox and Catholic denominations. Although 83 per cent of the population belongs to the Eastern Orthodox Church and only twelve to the Roman Catholic Church, both holidays are vital for the country. On Saturday night, people go to church to attend vesper service and to let the food prepared for the celebration be sprinkled with holy water. This service is often attended even by those families who do not regularly go to church. On Sunday morning, the celebration continues at home. People have a special breakfast with consecrated cakes, colored eggs and “paskha” (a cottage cheese cake shaped as a pyramid). While eating, children like arranging an egg-tapping contest.

  1. Spanking

In the Czech Republic, apart from the usual things such as colored eggs, ratchets and clappers being used instead of church bells etc., there is the custom of Easter Monday whipping. Boys and men walk door to door with whips and spank girls and women while reciting special Easter wishes. For their wishes and for the spanking, they even get rewarded – a colourful ribbon on the whip and a decorated egg to take. It’s also customary for the whippers to get a shot of slivovitz, cherry brandy or another homemade brandy. And why do the girls get spanked? A legend says that the fresh spring power kept in the willow rods of which the whip is made passes onto the girl, who is then full of health and life all year long. And who could not see the logic in that? To quote our local colleague, “Honestly, I don’t really know where the health is if you have trouble sitting for two days…”. She also advises “never to try to protect your buttocks with your hands if being spanked. It hurts like ****!”

  1. Water buckets

Right next door, “Oblievačka” (water pouring) is a typical Easter Monday custom in Slovakia. Men visit their female relatives and friends and whip them gently (a nice improvement compared to what’s going at their neighbor’s) with a special whip made of braided willow rods and decorated with colorful ribbons. They also may ask the women out of the house and douse them with a bucket filled with cold water. According to tradition, pouring water on women will guarantee their beauty and good health throughout the year. Recently, though, “oblievačka“and “šibačka“ (whipping) have not been as intense as they used to be in the past. In many regions, water buckets have been replaced with perfumes, a water cup or a water pistol. However, in some villages you may still see young men dressed in traditional folk costumes, who sing songs, play the accordion and come with rattles and braided whips. And the bucket.

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