From eggs to whips: Easter celebrations all over the world

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In the religious sense, Easter is a Christian celebration commemorating the resurrection of Christ. Today, it is considered a secular holiday too. It is celebrated much like Thanksgiving in Canada. Families gather for a feast and many fun activities. The only difference is that bunnies, decorated eggs and candy play a prominent role in the celebration. These symbols are used more for their relation to spring and rebirth than for religious meanings. Families hold Easter egg hunts where eggs are hidden for children to find. Kids paint and decorate Easter eggs which they place in baskets. Some exchange bunny or egg-shaped candy, or other small gifts. Good Friday and/or Easter Monday are celebrated as statutory holidays.

Eggs

What’s with eggs and Easter? It turns out that in many cultures, eggs have a traditional and Christian meaning. The egg has been a symbol of new life since ancient times. It has also been associated with pagan festivals celebrating spring. In the religious sense, they symbolize Jesus’ emergence from the tomb and resurrection. The custom of painting them, on the other hand, may have evolved from an earlier practice of decorating them during Lent (the period of fasting and penance) when Christians are forbidden to eat eggs (Easter symbols and traditions, History.com).

Eggs continue to be a part of Easter traditions not only in Canada but all over the world. For instance, in Germany, multi-colored eggs are displayed on trees and on the streets. Ukrainians prepare an Easter basket containing food and the krashenky (plain, coloured hard-boiled eggs) which are eaten first, and the pysanky (beautifully decorated eggs dipped in hot wax) which are given off as gifts. In Bulgaria, they have egg-fights, and in the US, the traditional Easter Egg Roll is held in the White House. In France, in the town of Haux, they make a giant omelet made out of 4,500 eggs. It feeds up to 1,000 people in the town’s main square.

While activities involving eggs are quite common during Easter, other countries celebrate the occasion very differently:

Whips and water for fertility

If you are a girl in the Czech Republic, prepare yourself for a “beating” on Easter Monday. The tradition is that males tap girls with braided whips made of willow decorated with ribbons. Don’t worry; it is done all in good fun. They are playfully whipped only around the legs. The practice is supposed to wish good health and fertility to women throughout the year.

Meanwhile, in Hungary, girls are not whipped on Easter Monday but sprinkled with water, perfume or cologne over their heads. Then the boys ask for a kiss. They believe that this practice bestows fertility and symbolizes healing.

Penitents, passion plays and processions

In countries like the Philippines, Spain, and Italy, celebrations revolve mainly on the religious theme. Filipino Catholics practice fasting and abstinence (usually from eating meat) during Lent and perform other forms of religious penance during Holy Week (the week leading to Easter Sunday). Some of these include visiting at least seven churches on Good Friday, singing the Pasyon (verse narrative on the life and suffering of Jesus Christ), watching plays on Jesus’ life, and joining religious processions. A feast is shared by families on Easter Sunday after mass.

Similarly, in Spain, hundreds of processions are held on the streets featuring religious statues. In Seville, masked penitents arrange lavish floats that make for the most spectacular parades. Meanwhile, in Rome, the Pope leads various ceremonies commemorating Jesus’ life. These include the washing of the feet of a dozen men (representing Jesus’ apostles) and the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday (showing Christ’s journey to his crucifixion). Thousands of Christians attend the mass on Easter Sunday held at St. Peter’s Square.

Weird but wonderful

In Corfu, Greece, traditional “pot throwing” is done on the morning of Holy Saturday. People throw earthenware such as pots and pans out of their window, allowing them to get smashed on the streets. This is part of the re-enactment of the earthquake that followed Christ’s resurrection. In some other parts of Greece and several Latin American countries, the “Burning of the Judas” is done. An effigy representing the apostle who betrayed Jesus is strung and burned (or exploded using fireworks). In recent times, the effigy has come to represent politicians or businessmen who have wronged the people.

Meanwhile, “Easter witches” come out in the streets in Sweden. Children wear long skirts and colourful head scarves and paint their cheeks red. Then they go around the neighbourhood exchanging drawings for sweets. This may sound similar to Halloween, but the practice comes from an old belief in Sweden that witches fly to the mountains to cavort with Satan on Holy Thursday. Traditionally, Swedes would light up bonfires and fireworks on the succeeding days until Easter Sunday to scare the witches away when they fly back.

How will you celebrate Easter?

Sources: Easter in Canada, Laura Neilson Bonikowsky, The Canadian Encyclopedia; 13 unique ways Easter is celebrated around the world, Craig, YTravel Blog; How Easter is celebrated around the world, Nick Squires, The Telegraph; Ukrainian Easter traditions are deeply rooted in the past, Cheryl Girard, Winnipeg Free Press; Easter customs in Corfu, Visit Greece.gr; Top 10 things you didn’t know about Easter, Time Magazine. All retrieved on March 30, 2017.

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