A week from today we will celebrate Easter here in the states. However, in the Czech Republic Easter is celebrated on Monday and their is an interesting tradition that is observed.
Easter here is a mixture of Christian belief and extensive marketing. Easter is the Christian celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. It begins with 40 days of lent as preparation, just as Jesus fasted in the desert, preparing himself for public ministry. The final week of lent is Holy Week which includes Maundy Thursday commemorating the last supper, and Good Friday to remember the crucifixion. Easter is also linked to the Jewish Passover.
Easter has increasingly become more about the “Easter Bunny,” the Santa Claus of Spring, who brings children baskets of jelly beans, peeps, and chocolate-shaped rabbits. People dye eggs, a symbol of new life, and hide eggs filled with sweets to be hunted by children. Easter is also a time to get together with family for a large meal. (painting by Joseph Lada)
Easter in the Czech Republic is also a time to share a meal with family, dye eggs, and celebrate the new agricultural year, but the Czechs also have bit of a unique tradition. Easter or Velikonoce comes from two words veliké and noci, meaning great night. It is the joining of Christian and pagan traditions that began in the 15th century.
The weekend leading up to Easter Monday is a time for fasting leading into a time of celebration with lots of good food. Starting on Green Thursday you will hear boys going door to door with rattles. The rattle is supposed to scare away Judas who betrayed Jesus. This continues into Friday and Saturday until the children are bribed with sweets to stop. Sunday is the day for preparation and baking. Rabbit, Judas rolls, and gingerbread lamb are traditional foods made for Easter. Kraslice or hand painted eggs are also made. They can also be dyed, waxed, or carved. (Look for my next post on Kraslice).
On Monday boys and men go caroling and symbolically whip girls and women on the legs and behind with pomlazkas. Pomlazka are braided willow branches adorned with ribbons. Pomlazka comes from the verb “pomladit” meaning to make younger. The whipping is supposed to bring the women beauty, youth, and good health throughout the year. It is also thought to chase away illness and bad spirits. The girls reward the boys by giving them eggs and sweets and tying a ribbon onto their pomlazkas. The men may get slivovice or Becherovka instead of sweets. The girls may also douse the men with water as revenge.
Though this may seem like a barbaric tradition and the feminist is me is screaming, it is a tradition rooted firmly in the past. Female roles up until the last 65 years or so placed the woman in the home cooking, cleaning and tending to the family. Because of its more recent freedom from communism in the last 25 years, the Czech Republic is not as open or liberal to women in non-traditional roles. (This is something I will post on soon). Whether you are in the Czech Republic or one of the U.S. Communities I hope you will have fun making eggs and pomlazkas, and if you are a girl- keep a bucket of water handy for revenge.
More about Czech Easter can be found here: http://www.expats.cz/prague/article/czech-culture/easter-in-prague/ and here: http://www.praguepost.com/166-expats-in-cz/38463-easter-whips-up-some-czech-traditions
A few of my sources: