Easter is one of the most popular religious festivals all about. Although, it is a Christian holy day, Easter is now freely associated with spring-coming, fertility and nature’s new circle of life.
There is no school on Easter Monday in most countries, and it is a day-off for grown-ups, too. As it is usually warm enough already, folks gladly spend the time outdoors enjoying the weather after the long and cold winter months. Many people like to arrange picnics in nature’s lap with families and friends. While travelers at Easter are bound to come in touch with numerous fun Easter traditions as well as a few weird ones, observed by peeps in strange countries. Here are some examples:
- At Easter, Brazilians make straw figures of Judas and take pleasure in punishing him; as you may guess, many a Judas resembles a local politician.
- In part of Nordic countries, people burn bonfires to ward off witches who are believed to become especially active the few days and nights before the Resurrection.
- In Spain, they arrange skeleton-costumed parades probably representing the macabre dance of evil that led to Christ’s crucifixion.
- Quite a few Eastern European countries have a custom of spanking or sprinkling passers-by with water. If you plan to travel there at the time, keep in mind you may always have an unexpected encounter with a cold shower out of the blue.
Origin: Easter egg
Easter is a happy festival associated with the beginning of a new life. That explains the origins of Easter egg symbolism. Eggs are a must-have on Easter Sunday menu. Eastern Rite followers put decorated Easter eggs into wicker baskets alongside the traditional Easter bread, cottage cheese, butter, and meat. The baskets are covered with colorful embroidered cloths to be taken to church where the food should be sprinkled with holy water. Only after that, the food is ready for consumption.
The new beginnings this holiday is linked to, bring us to the mention of probably its most popular character: the bunny. This prolific critter, with large litters of kittens, has become a favorite emblem of fertility and abundance.
“Rabbit symbolism is commonly observed in various Easter attributes and pass-times.”
Quite often, however, the origin of Easter traditions is traced back to pre-Christian times: there is much more to the bunny than meets the eye. The little furry animal is credited with a strong inner sense of direction, able to find the right way even through total darkness. On the other hand, the rabbit knows how to trick his persecutors. In certain world myths, the rabbit serves as a guide between heaven, earth and the underworld, while shamans call upon this animal spirit to assist them in rituals.
When hares or rabbits clean their faces, they stand up on hind-paws putting their front paws to the face – an endearing position resembling a prayer-offering posture of a Christian believer. And do you happen to know the origin of the English word ‘Easter’? It comes from the name of a Celtic goddess Eostre who presided over fertility and earth reborn. Her sacred animal was – yes, you’ve guessed right – the hare, whose shape the goddess took each time it was full moon.
Fun Easter traditions
The drenching customs of Easter Monday, already mentioned above, are common in Poland, Hungary, and Ukraine. Of course, the most active part of the populace is the youth who adore this fun ritual and virtually slosh each other with water. Wielding squirt-guns, pierced plastic bottles, and similar provisional devices, boys pile into streets and can attack passers-by feeling it is quite legit to do so. So anyone traveling there at the time should be aware that Easter Monday is a risky day to step out if you do not wish to end up dripping wet. In former Czechoslovakia, the drenching custom fades away giving way to the lashing of girls with willow twigs – not in earnest, of course. Thus, the willow is supposed to lend its fertility to women.
In fact, the pussy willow or sallow is a universal symbol of spring-coming. It is one of the first trees to bloom, with lovely fluffy catkins. The willow is an attribute of some of Easter rites, too. On Palm Sunday, people in Orthodox countries bring along bunches of willow twigs when they attend church. After that the twigs are used to hit each other while reiterating that the ‘Great Day’ is only a week from now. The willow bouquets must be kept at least until Easter Sunday.
In Sweden and parts of Finland, Easter is, surprisingly, a holiday of and for witches. It is tradition for children to put on long dresses and colorful scarves, paint cheeks scarlet and go from house to house begging for chocolate eggs in return for crafts. On one hand, they burn bonfires up there to ward off witches, on the other hand, they have children dress as witches to take advantage of the day.
Unusual Easter traditions
Australia is one of the countries where Easter is not a spring celebration. It is the first holiday for school children since ‘cherry Christmas’, so families can take long weekends to relish the last days of warmth before the chill of winter, which is, however, warm enough in Australia to skip the word ‘last’. Otherwise, down there they follow the usual Christian Easter traditions. They, too, have painted Easter eggs. But they have no Easter rabbit, which has been replaced with Easter bilby, an endangered indigenous species distantly resembling the hare. The rabbit turned out to be too prolific for Australia.
Not always the origin of Easter traditions goes far back in time. Some of them are quite recent. A rather peculiar Easter tradition was born on the day in Norway in 1923 after people received papers with criminal news on the front pages. Actually, the publications were a publicity stunt a fiction book author had come up with to advertise a new story. It certainly worked! Wonder if Easter in 1923 was near the Aprils Fools Day for that could have been one of the best April Fools pranks ever. The hoax launched the tradition of reading crime novels at Easter. Pretty grim, isn’t it? But folks living in a gloomy country for most of the year may have a peculiar sense of what is entertaining. Perhaps, after all that winter doom and gloom slowing down their metabolism and reactions, Norwegians yearn for a nerve-tickling thriller at the end of the day – or season.