By a Czech woman who wishes to remain anonymous |
As a child, I had very mixed feelings about Easter. On the one hand, it was a time when we all got together around a table, painted eggs and our parents and grandparents all told us stories about their lives. I loved it. I also loved the delicious smell of lamb-shaped Easter cake or round, sweet Easter bread, fresh from the oven. On the other hand, I was terrified of Easter Monday. Do you wonder why? Because as a girl in the Czech Republic, you get a lot of spankings on Easter Monday! When I was little, it was very hard for me to deal with that….
But first things first. For us, the preparations for Easter begin on Palm Sunday, which is directly before Easter. In the week between this Sunday and Easter, there is Soot Sweeping Wednesday to sweep the soot out of our homes. Today, it is mostly about spring cleaning.
Ratchets and clappers instead of church bells
On Maundy Thursday, or Green Thursday as we call it, the bells ring for the last time at evening Mass, after which they “fly” to Rome and remain silent until White (Holy) Saturday. During this time, ratchets and clappers are used instead. Legend has it that when the bells are rung for the last time, one should jingle their coins so that they will have enough for the whole year. Today, these traditions are maintained mainly in the countryside and in smaller towns in the Czech Republic.
This is followed by Good (Great) Friday. Good Friday commemorates the death and crucifixion of Jesus Christ and is therefore a day of fasting, mourning, silence and reflection. This day is associated with many legends and customs. For example, people believed in the magical power of the earth, which opened on Good Friday and revealed hidden treasures for a short time. People woke up before sunrise and washed in a stream to protect themselves from disease; they did not work in the fields or orchards to avoid moving the soil. No laundry was done, as it was to be washed with the blood of Christ and not with water. Good Friday has been a work-free holiday in the Czech Republic since 2016.
Holy Saturday – the day for hard work
On the contrary, Holy (White) Saturday is a day of hard work. People bake Easter bread and lamb-shaped Easter cakes, prepare Easter dishes, make whips from willow rods and decorate eggs and their homes. In the age of supermarkets, where you can buy Easter bread and cakes in the blink of an eye, many families sadly forgo these traditions; for me, however, the greatest joy is when I topple my Easter cake out of its tin with its lovely vanilla scent….
White Saturday also marks the end of the forty days of fasting.
Easter Sunday is about visiting. Families and neighbours get together and enjoy the good food they have prepared. In the past, the food prepared the day before was blessed.
The dreaded Easter Monday
And now comes the dreaded Easter Monday. It is feared because it is the day of whipping or spanking! Boys and men go door to door with whips and spank girls and women while reciting special Easter wishes. For their wish and also for the spanking, they receive a reward – a colourful ribbon on the whip and a decorated egg to take home. In some regions, the situation turns around after noon and the girls pour a bucket of cold water on the boys.
And why do the girls get spanked? A legend says that the new, fresh spring power stored in the willow rods from which the whip is made passes on to the girl, who is then full of health and life all year round. Honestly, I don’t really know where health goes when you can’t sit down for two days….
As I said, it was very difficult for me when I was a little girl. I felt embarrassed. Very much so. Showing my buttocks to classmates in order to be spanked voluntarily was something I found humiliating. Still living in a small village, I have to relive this childhood experience every year. But I try to enjoy it more today.
If you want to come to the Czech Republic for Easter, here’s a little advice:
- Girls, when you are being whipped, never (really never!) try to protect your buttocks with your hands. It hurts like hell!
- If you are a man, be prepared that you might have trouble walking back home, as it’s also customary to have a glass of liquor at every door, mostly a shot of slivovitz (plum brandy), cherry brandy or another homemade brandy.
- The traditional rhymed wish asking for eggs for the whip is „Hody, hody doprovody, dejte vejce malovaný, nedáte-li malovaný, dejte aspoň bílý, slepička vám snese jiný.“
- Beware! The eggs are not chocolate eggs but real chicken eggs! Sometimes they are hard-boiled, sometimes it’s just a blown out shell (I remember well how my dad blew out eggs so hard that he was all red). In most cases, the chocolate eggs are only given to small children.
After the exhausting Easter Monday comes another working week. In many cases it is a relief after the days of terrible overeating, drinking and seeing family members only once or twice a year. Nevertheless, the Easter holidays are very popular in the Czech Republic. Many historical traditions are revived and people forget for a while the hustle and bustle and stress of our modern times.