Another year and another Easter spent overseas! Below, I wanted to share some unique Easter traditions that I’ve learned over the last few years.
Poland shares many traditions with their neighboring countries. Starting on Palm Sunday, the Polish people prepare special palms which they take to church for a blessing. After the palms are blessed they are kept in the hose for the whole year. Tradition says that they protect the household from all evil. In the following year they are collected by priests and burnt in a fire outside the church. Their ash is used on Ash Wednesday.
On Holy Saturday every Polish household prepares an Easter basket (święconka) which is full of goods that will be eaten on Easter breakfast. In the basket there is usually some bread, eggs, ham, lamb-shaped cake, sausages, salt, horseradish, ćwikła and nowadays also chocolate. The baskets are decorated with white serviettes and flowers or willow branches. They are taken to church to be blessed by the priest who uses an aspergillum (kropidło – little brush that’s dipped in holy water) and sprinkles holy water over people’s heads and Easter baskets. This tradition dates back to the 7th century.
On Easter Sunday (Niedziela Wielkanocna) Polish families celebrate their traditional Easter breakfast and eat all the food that was blessed the day before. The most common Easter food includes: coloured eggs, bread, ham, sausages and horseradish. As a dessert Polish people eat mazurek (flat square cake), baranek (lamb-shaped cake), babka (spongy, brioche-like yeast cake with a hole in the middle), cheesecake and chocolate eggs and bunnies. Before the Easter Breakfast begins, Polish families share Easter eggs with each other wishing their relatives all the best. Sharing eggs, involves first cracking the eggs against your relatives’ eggs. Whose ever egg is the most cracked, is considered the most unlucky. Then you bite off (or cut off, if you’re slightly more posh) your relatives’ eggs and give them Easter wishes.
Easter celebrations end in Poland on Easter Monday (Poniedziałek Wielkanocny / Lany Poniedziałek) when the cruel tradition of Śmingus-Dyngus is performed. Traditionally, boys throw water over girls (gentlemen use perfume) and spank them with pussy willow branches. Every Polish girl and woman fears this day as this tradition is often abused and there is no way you can get away with getting soaking wet! The most popular tools for this horrible custom are water guns and large buckets!
The most common symbols of Easter in Poland include: lamb and lamb-shaped cake, Easter bunny (or ‘hare’ in Polish), chicks, Easter palms, spring flowers (e.g. daffodils), pussy willows, and the Easter Bunny gifts (Easter egg hunt and baskets).
In Czech Repubilc, an old tradition is carried out on Easter Monday. Often, you can see males carrying a special handmade whip called a pomlázka. A pomlázka is made up of young, live pussywillow twigs braided together with colorful ribbons attached to the end. These are used to whip the girls legs with the thought to bring health and youth to anyone who is whipped. Then, the girls would reward the boys with a painted egg or candy and tie a ribbon around their pomlázka. As the boys progressed through the village, their bags filled up with eggs and their pomlázkas were adorned with more and more colorful ribbons.
In Germany, Easter Saturday is a great day to visit an open-air Easter market, where you can browse for artistically handcrafted Easter eggs, carved Easter decoration, and local arts and crafts. Stop by a German bakery for a special Easter treat: a sweet cake in the shape of a lamb. In the evenings, regions in the north of Germany will light Easter bonfires, chasing away the dark spirits of winter and welcoming the warm season. Easter Sunday is the highlight of the holiday weekend. In the early morning, parents hide baskets filled with colored, hard boiled eggs, chocolate bunnies, sweets, and little presents for the kids. A Kinder Surprise is very popular in Germany and would always be seen in German baskets. However, it is forbidden in the USA. A Kinder Surprise is chocolate shaped like and egg with a surprise in the middle; maybe some toy. It’s illegal in the USA because of our government’s rules and regulations about toys in food are a choking hazard. After all the sweets, many families attend an Easter Service, followed by a traditional Easter lunch of lamb, potatoes, and fresh vegetables.
There are a lot of interesting folk customs still alive all over Hungary. Many of them are connected with religious holidays, while others have older origins, from early, sometimes from prehistoric years. The two, most known customs of Easter are the “sprinkling” and the egg-painting. Both are very common in both urban and rural areas, among people of every age-group. Today women wear casual dresses for sprinkling, not folk costumes. Also, men sprinkle with cologne, not with water. A couple of decades ago men poured water on women in rural areas and women changed their clothes after each sprinkling. Boys often dragged girls to the well and poured water on them with pail. Sometimes they washed them in creek. The possible reason for this very old tradition is that people believed in the cleaning, healing and fertility effect of water.
Easter is a 2-day holiday in Hungary. On Monday boys and men visit all of their women relatives, friends, neighbors, often even if they are not close friends. Boys in small groups, fathers with their sons, or single men leave early in the morning and their “tour” last all day long. They greet girls and women with shorter – longer poems (mostly with a funny poem about “Eastern sprinkling”) and sprinkle them with cologne. Women must be well-prepared, they treat men with dessert and beverages – and with hand-painted eggs. Women usually prepare in the previous days by cleaning up the house thoroughly, decorating, cooking and painting a couple dozen eggs.