Easter around the globe

Picture of David Ahern

David Ahern

David is the editor of The Majellan

Celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and representing hope and renewal, Easter is the most important event on the Christian calendar. Observed in many countries, Easter customs and traditions can vary significantly.

 

Czech men, for example, bestow their good wishes by playfully swatting women with braided willow twigs while in parts of Germany, locals set fire to a giant ball of straw and send it careering downhill in the dark.

 

And in some narrow lanes in Corfu, Greece, visitors need to watch out as residents drop clay pots from their windows and balconies and then cheer as the pots smash into pieces on the street. Not all countries have such hair-raising customs.

 

Here are some delightful Easter traditions from around the globe.

 

Denmark

In Denmark the early blooming snowdrop isn’t just a flower – it’s also a symbol for a friendly trickster or tease. And it’s in that spirit that Danes love to begin their Easter celebrations with ‘secret snowdrop letters’. Called gækkebreve in Danish, the snowdrop letters combine three fun elements in one charming tradition: the thrill of receiving a Valentine’s-type note, the challenge of guessing the sender’s identity, and the artistry of intricate paper cutting.

Guatemala

The Easter festival in Antigua, Guatemala, is one of the world’s largest Easter celebrations. It commemorates the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus with Good Friday marches featuring floats with enormous sculptures of Jesus and Mary that need as many as 100 people to carry them. The streets are coloured with dyed sawdust laid out by local artisans in intricate patterns called alfombras, Arabic for carpet, which the procession marches over. On Easter Sunday, the city lights up with fireworks as they celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

France

Beginning as a Pagan holiday celebrating Spring, Easter is all about the eggs and in the French village of Haux they take it to the extreme. On Easter Monday in the morning, each family will crack their eggs at home and take them into the main square where a gigantic Easter omelette is made to serves more than 1,000 people. The biggest Easter egg hunt is in Chateaux Vaux-Le-Vicomte, southeast of Paris. Their Easter egg hunt is widely considered one of the best, where children hunt for eggs in gardens, ride on ponies and hunt for a giant chocolate squirrel.

Finland

Elements of paganism are part of people’s beliefs in Finland. As Christianity did not arrive there until the 11th century, many of these customs form part of current celebrations. One of these is the little Easter witches who wander the streets. Children dress up and hunt for treats in a tradition that is said to have originated from the superstition that witches would fly to Germany and cavort with Satan. Bonfires are lit to scare them away.

 

Greece

Red, the colour of life, is the only colour egg you will find in Greece. Since ancient times, the egg has represented the renewal of life, while red eggs symbolise victory over death. Greek Orthodox Christians follow the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian. The Holy Fire, believed to emit from the tomb of Christ each Holy Saturday, is flown from Jerusalem to Athens and delivered throughout Greece. During midnight church services, this flame is passed from candle to candle, illuminating dark spaces. Even the Easter feast is symbolic. They enjoy roast lamb to represent Christ, braided tsoureki bread to symbolise the Holy Trinity and red boiled eggs for Christ’s blood.

 

Poland

The Polish celebrate Easter Monday Śmigus-dyngus with a massive water fight. Across the country, residents load up with buckets, balloons and water pistols in a ritual believed to have roots in fertility rituals. The men throw water over the women and on the following day the women return the favour. Poles also paint hard-boiled eggs, called pisanki. Some use store-brought kits which make the colouring and decorating easier, others continue to make dyes the traditional way – with boiled onion skins.

Bermuda

Making the most of its natural landscape, the island of Bermuda becomes even more colourful and vibrant during its Good Friday kite festival. Islanders create and decorate homemade kites, formed from a cross to represent the Crucifixion. Services are held at sunrise over the water and codfish cakes are popular along with the traditional hot cross bun. However, superstition dictates you must eat one or your house will burn down!

 

Germany

According to an old German story, a poor woman who loved children hid brightly coloured eggs in her garden as Easter treats for children. As the children searched, they noticed a hare hopping past and believed that the bunny had left the eggs. Coloured eggs are a hugely popular decoration in Germany, used to decorate trees, tables and even fountains. The Osterbrunnen or Easter fountain is a local tradition of decorating public wells or fountains with eggs for the whole town to enjoy.

 

Spain

Easter celebrations begin before the actual holiday with what is called ‘Semana Santa’, Spanish for Holy Week. Parades that date back hundreds of years take place on Palm Sunday and throughout the week as Catholics build floats covered in flowers, candles and an elaborate statue of either Jesus or the Virgin Mary. The floats are carried on the backs of dozens of men and paraded around particular cities. Part of these processions are the inclusion of hundreds of people dressed in robes, often white or black, with tall pointed hats and carrying large candles. The hooded costumes represent penitence.

  

Italy

Italy holds solemn processions on Good Friday or Holy Saturday with costumed participants carrying statues of Jesus and Mary. Some towns also stage Passion plays or Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. Italian Easter bread is braided with three strands to represent the Holy Trinity and shaped in a crown like the crown of thorns with coloured eggs baked into the bread. Some areas of Italy bake their bread in the shape of a dove to symbolise hope. With plenty of time in the home, families can experiment with baking bread for Easter.

 

Mexico

Many of the traditions that originated in Spain in centuries past have continued in their colonies in Central America and South America. Traditionally, the festivities begin with Carnival that leads up to Lent, the 40-day religious observance representing the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, spanning from Ash Wednesday to Easter. Carnival is all about dancing, eating and partying. Processions on Palm Sunday are traditional in some cities in Mexico, observing Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. The town of Iztapalapa holds one of the largest Passion plays, known as the Via Crucis.

 

Ireland

Good Friday is a solemn day in which eggs are collected, but not eaten. Bread is marked with a cross when it is baked on Good Friday, similar to hot cross buns in England and Australia. Catholics attend Mass on Easter Sunday, then return to their homes for a large meal. Homes are also prepared in advance for a priest to come and bless them on Easter Sunday. At home, Irish soda bread is baked on Good Friday with a cross cut into the top of the bread before baking.

 

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