Christmas may feel like it is long gone now, but there’s always another celebration on the horizon. In this case, it’s Easter that’s looming large, as we head into the forty days of Lent that will culminate in Easter Sunday.
In this country we are accustomed to eating a meal of roast lamb and gifting chocolate eggs during the Easter period, however this isn’t the same across the whole of Europe. Here are some interesting traditions found on the continent.
In the Czech Republic and neighbouring countries, Easter Monday is not a good day to be a woman. The morning starts with men spanking them with a bunch of willow rods that can measure anything from half a metre to two metres long. In most cases, this will be done to ladies who they find attractive and is said to help them keep their youth and beauty for the next year. Rather than being offended, though, the women welcome this ritual, offering thanks to their spankers and even feeling downhearted if they are not sought out to be spanked.
The Hungarians take part in a tradition that is very similar to what takes place in the Czech Republic. However, instead of spanking women with willow branches, the men throw buckets of water over them to ensure that they don’t ‘wilt like the flowers of spring’.
During Easter, or Påske as it is called in Norway, there is a spate of crime across the whole country. There is no need for nationals to call the police though, as these wrongdoings are purely fictional. In a tradition that started when a publisher paid to have his new crime novel advertised on the front page of a national newspaper as if it was a real event that had happened, people in Norway spend their Easter weekend reading thrilling stories known as Påskekrim. This pastime is now serious business, with TV stations showing specially produced dramas and even milk companies printing stories on their cartons.
On Easter Saturday, the Greek island of Corfu shows off its proud tradition of smashing by residents throwing pottery out of their windows at 11am. This is said to mark a new beginning and symbolises getting rid of the old and welcoming the new. Locals buy and decorate the biggest, most elaborate pots that they can find before launching off their balconies, sending the crowds below into raptures.
Whilst we keep our firework lighting mainly to the month of November, traditions in Florence dictate that Easter is a time for releasing them. Each year, on Easter Saturday, a cart ladened with fireworks is pulled into the central square of the city by white oxen. It is then lit by a rocket in the shape of a dove, which shoots along a wire and sends sparks flying in every direction. This ritual is said to symbolise the starting of the Sacred Fire of Holy Saturday, which was done using stone fragments from the Holy Sepulchre when Pazzo de 'Pazzi returned from the first Crusade in 1096.
Sweden is another country which takes part in Easter activities which we usually limit to the 5th of November. In rural, western parts of the country, people light bonfires in an attempt to scare away the Easter witches that are said to cavort with Satan during this holiday. Young children also dress as the witches and go door to door looking for sweets in a ‘trick or treat’ kind of tradition.
In this town in Palermo, things take a scary turn around Easter. The ‘abballu di li Diavuli’, or ‘Dance of the Devil’, festival involves two people dressing up as devils and running around the town capturing people. If captured, money or sweets have to be given in order to be released. The celebrations culminate when a statue of Jesus and a statue of the Madonna are carried from opposite sides of the town to meet in the middle. The ‘dance’ part of the festival refers to the devils’ attempts to stop this from happening, before they are banished by the angels that accompany the statues.
If you would like to see any of these traditions for yourself, we can offer European city breaks to all of the places listed above. Please call of helpful team for more information or submit your request via our online contact form.