Easter is on the horizon, but what does it mean across the globe? How do various cultures embrace this celebration? Are traditions more religious or commercial? Perhaps some countries see both forms of celebrations as valid. Whatever the convention, just as we saw in the Valentine Blog, Easter festivities bring a whole variety of weird and wonderful quirks worldwide; Easter is not just about bunnies, chocolate eggs and hot cross buns!
Áldott Húsvétot kívánok! (Wishing you a blessed Easter!)
Hungary is home to a rather romantic tradition known as ‘Sprinkling’. This takes place on Easter Monday, whereby young guys try to woo young women by sprinkling perfume, cologne or water over their heads for the sole purpose of a kiss. The custom originates from the belief that water holds cleaning, healing and fertility-inducing benefits.
Wesołych Świąt Wielkanocnych!
Poland goes one step further when getting into the swing of Easter. The Polish ‘Smingus-Dyngus’ water throwing Easter tradition is an excuse for boys to drench anyone in sight with water, by means of a bucket, a water gun or literally anything they can get their hands on. If a woman is soaked in the process the story goes that they will marry within the year (sort of a good luck charm)! This ritual is said to originate from the time the Polish Prince Mieszko was baptised on Easter Monday in 966 AD.
As is well-known, Easter symbolises new life and new beginnings, hence the birth of the Easter egg. However, one small town in France, Haux, takes the symbol of the egg to a whole new level. Instead of the traditional chocolate Easter egg hunt celebrated in many countries, a massive batch of chicken eggs (4,500 to be exact) are cracked and whisked into ‘une très grande omelette’! This is then served up to 1,000 or so townsfolk. This tradition stems from Napoleonic times, when Napoleon’s army stopped to rest in a small town in the south of France, where the soldiers satisfied their hunger with omelettes. It seemed that Napoleon was so enamoured with his omelette, that he requested the townspeople gather enough eggs to make a giant version for his army the following day.
You might think the French omelette folly is rather tame in comparison to the crazy Brazilian tradition of crafting straw dolls to represent Judas (the apostle who betrayed Christ for 30 pieces of silver), which are hung all over the streets to be beaten up! Do not despair there is a less aggressive side to Easter, which will have you celebrating for joy and embracing the spirit of ‘Carneval’. All across Brazil, small towns hold their own mini version of this well-known festival on Easter Saturday, otherwise known as ‘Sábado de Aleluia,’ to rejoice in the end of Lent.
If you are looking for a more religious Easter tradition, then look no further – Spain is the icing on the cake! The Spanish take their festivities very seriously, spending a week welcoming in the unique and spirited Easter celebration of ‘Semana Santa’ (Holy Week). In this week leading up to Easter, several processions of floats spill out onto the streets carrying religious figures commemorating the Passion of Jesus Christ. These ‘pasos’ (floats) are held by ‘costaleros’ (float carriers) and led by a fraternity of ‘nazarenos’ (penitent ones), a Christian brotherhood of eerily dressed and conical hooded men, women and children, carrying life-size depictions of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ or of the Virgin Mary.
This vibrant and colourful scene could come across as a rather haunting sea of people looking like something out of a ghost story (you’d be forgiven in thinking you’ve come across the Klu Klux Clan, although there is no correlation to this American group, as the conical shaped hoods are a symbol of rising towards heaven in the hope of taking one’s penitence ever closer to God). This spectacle is made all the more eerie by intense and rhythmic drum beats accompanied by the rather poignant ‘saeta’, a sacred song that sounds like mournful wailing and reminiscent of the immensely emotive flamenco songs. Andalusia is a region especially reputed for its highly charged emotional processions. What can appear quite dark and sinister to outsiders is also hauntingly beautiful packed with plenty of raw emotion! The city of Zamora is known for its 16 brotherhoods one of which is called ‘Cristo de la Buena Muerte’, whilst Seville boasts the most brotherhoods, La Paz being one of 50. Depending on the area of Spain, the colour of dress varies, for instance, from completely white or purple, to white and black, with red or purple hoods.
Another rather macabre-looking custom is the ‘dansa de la mort’ (death dance) performed on Holy Thursday in the medieval town of Verges. This tradition depicts The Passion, and in order to make it most effective, parades of people dress up in skeleton costumes and dance through the streets.
The Swedish Easter tradition could be mistaken for Halloween in so far as the children transform themselves into Easter witches. Dressed in colourful headscarves and long skirts with painted red cheeks, the children walk from house to house within their neighbourhood, hoping to exchange their paintings or drawings for some sweets.
Καλό πάσχα (Kaló pásha)
Greek Easter is often celebrated at a different time to other countries due to the fact that the Eastern Orthodox Church follows the old Julian calendar when calculating the date of this festival, unlike much of the world that tends to follow the Gregorian calendar. On some occasions Easter coincides, but more often than not it varies. However, Easter is considered the most important holiday of the year and is much more religious than the more commercial Western Easter. Instead of Easter bunnies, chocolate eggs and pastel colours, traditions include ‘tsoureki’ (Easter bread) on Holy Thursday and red eggs (the colour of life as well as symbolising the blood of Christ) and roast lamb or goat kid on Easter Sunday.
Customarily recognised for their smashing of plates at wedding celebrations, the Greek in Corfu take pride in their ‘Pot Throwing’ tradition on Easter Saturday, which involves the throwing of earthenware pots and pans out of their windows, resulting in pile of broken terra cotta along the streets. This custom apparently welcomes spring and symbolises new life, in other words fresh plants potted in new earthenware pots.
With Catholic influence from bygone days of Christian Portuguese missionaries, Indonesia celebrates Easter by parading the streets with statues from this time. Young men see it as a great honour to act as Jesus and be tied to a cross.
In what could seem a rather disturbing public performance of men spanking women with willow-crafted whips decorated with ribbons, the Czech Easter tradition plays out a legend in which the branches of the willow tree, apparently the first blossoming tree of spring, supposedly transfer the tree’s vitality and fertility to the women. However, it is only ever done in a playful manner.
In Italy you will find another quirky tradition dating back 350 years in the Tuscan city of Florence. Known as ‘Scoppio del Carro’ (the explosion of the cart), a huge two to three story wagon is pulled through the streets by white oxen adorned in garlands of flowers, where it offers onlookers an incredible fireworks display outside the cathedral. The explosion occurs after receiving what is known as the ‘Colombina’ (dove–shaped rocket) from the Archbishop, which is lit whilst the ‘Gloria’ is being sung.
Further south in the town of Prizzi in Sicily, locals wearing red robes and rather terrifying masks perform the ‘Abballu de daivuli’ custom on Easter Sunday, whereby they represent the devil tormenting various souls. The souls in this instance are people made to pay for the devils’ drinks, who are redeemed once the Virgin Mary and the risen Jesus Christ arrive to save the day and send the devils away with angels.
Христос Воскресе (Hristos Voskrese)
We like to hunt for chocolate eggs, whilst the Bulgarians like to have egg fights ‘choukane s yaitsa’! Our goal is to see who can collect the most eggs, their aim is to be the ‘borak’, winner of the game with an unbroken egg (the egg is kept until the following Easter and seen as a sign of good luck). Another bizarre tradition sees the oldest woman in the family use an egg she has dyed red to rouge the cheeks of the children, which signifies her desire for them to be healthy and strong with rosy cheeks.
Don’t expect to go on an Easter egg hunt in Germany. Their eggs are hung in trees proudly displayed in all their colourful glory, with some trees being adorned with thousands of multi-coloured eggs.
In the U.S. the traditional ‘Easter Egg Roll’ believed to date back to the early 19th century witnesses children rolling their coloured hard-boiled eggs with a large serving spoon. Meanwhile in Washington D.C. the President carries out the traditional Easter Monday Egg Roll on the White House lawn.
Whilst eggs are on the agenda in the U.S. they are most definitely not in Bermuda. Homemade kites crafted from colourful tissue paper with long tails dominate this country’s Easter celebration. Legend tells the story of a local teacher from The British Army who found explaining the Ascension of Christ to his Sunday school class challenging. He therefore fashioned a kite that looked like a cross to illustrate what he meant by the Ascension. Today Bermuda locals fly homemade kites and feast on codfish cakes and hot cross buns on Good Friday.
Norway is renowned for its crime dramas, therefore why should the Easter celebration be any different. Traditionally known as ‘Easter-Crime’ or ‘Paaskekrim’, you will find Norwegians spending their time reading crime novels or TV crime detective series. To make the most of the celebration, families take time off from the Friday before Palm Sunday right through to the Tuesday following Easter Monday. This enables them to escape to the mountains to spend time in their ski cabins catching up on a good read, playing Yahtzee and watching crime dramas.
Depending on how religious you are in the UK, Easter signifies different things. For many it has become more of a commercial holiday, where it is all about eating hot cross buns, what the Easter bunny has brought and egg hunts to see who can find the most chocolate eggs. The chocolate fest does not stop there as large chocolate eggs are exchanged as gifts. It seems to be all about the chocolate! However, children may also be encouraged to make Easter bonnets and baskets at school and taught the symbol of the egg as being a sign of the coming season, spring, when birds lay their eggs. For Christians, it means a representation of new life, in other words the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some families also have the tradition of baking a Simnel cake, traditionally given to ones mother by servant girls returning home for Mothering Sunday from their jobs. This is a light fruitcake covered in marzipan and decorated with eleven marzipan balls, which is supposed to represent the apostles except for the traitor Judas.
So as you can see from the various traditions above, Easter holds a wealth of meanings across the world, but whatever it means for you, we wish you a very Happy Easter from the team at Peak Translations.
By Madeline Prusmann, Project Manager, April 2019
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