Czech Easter traditions
25.3.2005 - Dita Asiedu
Many people around the world celebrate Easter in memory of the resurrection
of Christ but with some forty percent of the Czech population atheist, most
Czechs celebrate the holiday to say good-bye to Winter and welcome Spring.
Most customs and traditions show that Easter has very little to do with
Christianity in the Czech Republic.
Jirina Langhammerova is an ethnologist at Prague's National Museum:
"A Czech Easter will never be without eggs. The symbol of life is in
an egg. The eggs are beautifully painted and decorated with various
techniques and are called 'kraslice'. It comes from the old-Slavonic term
'krasny' or red, the symbol of life and fertility. Years ago, kraslice had
to be red, like the colour of blood. The eggs also had to be full because
an egg carrying the embryo of a little chick represents future life.
"But with so many types of decorations nowadays, people want to keep
some of the most beautiful and so people started blowing out the yolk to
decorate just the empty shell. However, most Czechs still stick to the
tradition that when it comes to giving an egg to someone as a gift, it is
not emptied and is personally coloured - then it doesn't matter whether
it's as nice as those you find on the markets."
...and in the hundreds or even thousands of years in which eggs were
coloured and decorated, numerous techniques have developed - eggs are
decorated with straw, wax, grass pulp, fabric, bobbin lace, covered in
crochet work, batik printed, and even dyed in onion skins before scraped
off carefully to reveal beautiful patterns. But of course, there also are
wooden eggs and eggs made of chocolate.
One prime example of a pagan Czech Easter celebration is the
"pomlazka". Farmers used to believe that a strong whipping after
the winter period guaranteed health, prosperity, and most importantly a
good harvest. This tradition remains to this day, although slightly
modified. It is only the women who are given a good spanking with whips
made of willow twigs, decorated with colourful ribbons (as if a little bit
of decoration would help to ease the pain!). It is mainly younger boys who
go from door to door, hoping to thrash a few girls to get some eggs in
return, while singing traditional Easter carols.
The whipping or "pomlazka" is to get rid of all the bad things
that had accumulated during the winter and bring the vitality back in the
ladies, as well as ensure beauty and, of course, fertility. Andrea
Fajkusova comes from northern Moravia, where this tradition is still very
much alive today:
"I love the Easter holidays in general but I never enjoyed Easter
Monday. All the preparations that precede that day were fun - decorating
our home, painting eggs, baking the special Easter bun or the Easter
lamb... but then came Easter Monday to ruin it all. I always tried to hide
but somehow they always found me. Where I'm from, the boys not just run
around to whip you and get an egg or if they are older a shot of home-made
brandy - as they do in Bohemia - they come and throw you in a stream, or
put your head under a water pipe to be sure to give you a good shower...
and NOT just once.
"It's only when you're in a town that you're lucky there's no stream
around and the worst they can do is give you a shower in your own
bathroom. But as if that weren't enough, they spray you with perfume,
Well, Andrea hoped to be spared this year. But I'm afraid no woman, no
matter what age, is safe on Easter Monday. Let's just hope that the spring
is really back in full swing in northern Moravia, so poor Andrea won't
catch a cold!