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Slovenia's diverse Easter celebrations
25.3.2005 - Michael Manske

Slovenia may be small and may have just two million people but it has a surprising number of different ways in which to celebrate Easter.

A typical Easter meal in Slovenia includes ham, horseradish, bread and a special type of nut cake called "potica." Easter eggs are also included, of course, but will look different depending on what part of the country you're enjoying your meal.

Not only do Slovenes in different regions use different methods for decorating their Easter eggs, they also don't agree on a name for them. In the southeast and east, they call them "pisanice," by the Hungarian border they call them "rumenice," elsewhere they are "remenke." The generally used word is "pirhi."

There are various ways of decorating them, and again certain regions prefer certain techniques. In the southeast and east, as well as at the coast, people will put wax on their easter eggs. After hollowing out the egg, they use candle wax to design a pattern on the shell. (In the southeast, they usually make geometric shapes: lines, circles, dots, etc.) The egg is then soaked in red dye for a few hours. The color red symbolizes the blood of Christ. The dye will stain the parts of the egg not protected by wax. When the egg is dry, another wax pattern can be added and the process repeated to add another color.

Slovenian Easter eggs will often be dyed using natural colors. Dying with tree bark provides a brown color, eggs cooked in tea end up in various shades of green, Dried blackberries make the eggs yellowish-orange, while things like hollyhock, logwood, and moss leave the eggs blue. These natural dyes take hours to do their work, and their intensity can be affected by using additional ingredients, like vinegar.

In Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana, as well as in Styria and Upper Carniola, people prefer using oils to decorate their Easter eggs. In Lower Carniola, they prefer using knife carvings.

In the town of Idrija, for example, they will decorate eggs with a thousand holes in the shape of a flower.

Besides being eaten or used as decoration, Slovenian Easter eggs were often given by girls to boys as a symbol of affection. They also served interesting purposes during old rituals.

Peasants in the north and southeast would often make a circle of blessed Easter eggs around their homes for good luck. Some of them would even stick the eggshells in the ceiling to keep away cockroaches. Styrian Slovenes, on the other hand, thought that spreading eggshells around their homes was a good way to keep away snakes, not roaches. In Lower Carniola, Easter eggs would be fed to hens, in the hope that they would then lay more eggs.

On the Saturday before Easter, people in Slovenia will gather for blessings and the next day, families will sit down for their Easter morning breakfast. Occasionally they will also play games then involving Easter eggs. This can include such things as hiding the eggs, or egg duels, where two people hit their eggs together in the hope of cracking the egg of their opponent.

Slovenes will also decorate their homes with colourful palms for the Easter holidays. These are known as "butara," a word that literally means "bundle." They will often be blessed on Palm Sunday, and then placed in the home for the holiday.

In the end, regional differences still exist in Slovenia today, making Easter there a surprisingly diverse celebration.



Easter a real feast for music lovers in Poland
25.3.2005 - Michal Kubicki

In predominantly Roman Catholic Poland Holy Week and Easter is a very special time for most people, a time of religious reflection along with centuries-old traditions, which are also observed by those who are indifferent to religion. Somewhat surprisingly, it is also a real feast for music lovers.

In addition to the usual fare of music by Bach, Haydn and Mozart, it is this sort of music, which resounds every year in Polish churches and many other venues in the run-up to Easter. Poland has a long-standing tradition of Passion song, going back to the 15th century. It is also known for its dramatized Palm Sunday processions staged mostly in monasteries and places of pilgrimage. The range of the week's musical events in all Polish cities is truly astounding and small wonder that it is a busy time for people like journalist Marcin Sobczyk, who is also a bass in one of Warsaw's early music ensembles.

"Poland has a relatively rich tradition of Easter music and passion music. And now there are more festivals organized during Easter time. It's a good time, it seems, for people to simply reflect. That's why its usually a very busy period for any singer, any music artist. Almost every day there is something, actually in Warsaw this week there will be so many things to choose from that music lovers will have to miss something in order to see something else."

In Warsaw, most music lovers try not to miss the Easter Beethoven Festival. The event is the brainchild of Elzbieta Penderecka, the wife of the famous composer Krzysztof Penderecki. Its programme includes some 15 concerts spread over ten days, ending on Easter Sunday, and brings together such household names as the pianist Garrick Ohlsson, the Norddeutscher Rundfunk Orchester under Christoph von Dohnanyi and the American conductor John Axelrod:

"I am undoubtedly impressed at the range and volume of music that is offered over the course of this festival and particularly by the quality of the orchestras and the soloists and the conductors who come and perform here. I feel very honoured to be able to share the podium with the likes of Dohnanyi and Antoni Wit and Krzysztof Penderecki and Jacek Kasprzyk and the great musicians of this country. And myself being a third generation Polish-American I feel an inextricable link to the musical continuity of this country."

Now in its ninth year, the Easter Beethoven Festival enjoys a growing international reputation.

"Beethoven said the great phrase from Schiller "Alle Menschen werden Bruder" - "All mankind will be brothers". And there's probably no other festival in Poland that allows artists, patrons and public to come together as brothers and sisters to share in the great experience of Beethoven and the music that we make. The Beethoven Festival is not only for the public of Warsaw and of Poland but, I think, that the Beethoven Festival is a festival for the world. Just as Beethoven's great theme and the words of Schiller is a theme for the European Union and essentially a theme for mankind."



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, too!"

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!



Baking "Paska" with Radio Slovakia
25.3.2005 - Martina Grenova

There is a common thread through many of the Easter traditions of Central Europe, whether you're in Austria or Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Poland, or Slovakia. The main dishes on family tables are likely to include ham and of course eggs, men will chase women to either beat them with a whip or splash them with cold water and bad perfumes. But we were determined to find something exclusive to Slovakia and found "Paska" in the east of the country. The sweet kind of bread will be the basis of many meals this Easter.

Although "Paska" is known in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria or Greece, it is only the north-eastern part of Slovakia that really knows what this word means. "Paska", a round bread like sweet cake, is an inevitable part of the Easter table in the regions inhabited by the Rusyn minority. Northeast Slovakia marks the border between the eastern - Orthodox line and the western - Catholic religious tradition. Wooden churches and eastern "paska" delimit the cultural frontier. However, ethnologist Katarina Nadaska says:

"Paska has a specific meaning. It is not only a dish but caries great symbols. Just look at its shape - it is a round cake. Round cakes are known from pre-Christian times when they stood for the symbol of the sun."

Although we see the Easter holiday closely connected with the Christian tradition of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it has its roots in pagan spring rituals.

"The almost ball-like shape of Paska represents the sacrifice people used to give to the sun. By baking it they showed that they honour the sun."

Paska is not the cake for a weekday tea. It is baked only for Easter, once a year.

"It's served instead of bread and you eat it with ham, sausages and eggs so it's a nice combination of salty sausages and ham and a sweet sort of cake or bread with raisins."

Ivana Komanicka comes from Bardejov, a northeastern Slovak centre situated at the frontier between western and eastern cultures. The Eastern rite represented by wooden churches scattered around this mediaeval town borders the western-Catholic tradition. This is symbolised by the Gothic cathedral standing right in the middle of Bardejov's UNESCO enlisted square. What makes eastern Paska different to western bread?

"It's basically made of two kinds of dough so we distinguish sweet and white."

In case you want to give it a try and have a Paska on your Easter table, here's the recipe:

For the sweet dough you need a litre of milk in which you cook nine spoons of semolina. Leave it to cool.

Then we mix the yeast about one cup of milk, one spoon of plain flour and a little bit of sugar. We leave yeast to ferment for about 15 minutes. Then we prepare the dough - we take yeast, about 1.5 kilo plain flour, one cup of oil, 3 eggs, 2-3 spoons of sugar and 1 pack of vanilla sugar not forgetting about raisins. We mix it all with semolina.

The white dough is made out of yeast, a cup of milk and a pinch of sugar to make the yeast ferment. Pour the mixture into a kilo of plain flour, add 2 eggs and a cup of oil. Mix well and leave it to ferment.

At the bottom of a nice thick pan we put the white dough, then we put the semolina one and we top it again with the white mixture. We bake it for about 45 minutes at 170 - 180 degrees Celsius.

Serve with sausages, smoked ham, eggs and beetroot. Don't forget to have everything blessed. Martina Grenova wishes you Bon appetite with your Easter breakfast ala east Slovakia!



Old Hungarian Easter customs
25.3.2005 - Agi Varga, Balint Sebestyen

In Hungary, most of the old Easter customs are still observed today. For Radio Budapest, Balint Sebestyen has been looking at the origins of these Easter traditions:

Water, as a life-giving and purifying element of nature, receives a central role on Good Friday. According to a belief, those who take a bath before sunrise on Good Friday will be immune to all maladies. Bathing was considered to be a form of beauty magic. When someone took water from the river or the brook home, they had to walk home in silence. Hence, the name of the water: wordless water.

According to a widespread custom, there was no baking of bread on Good Friday, no lighting of fires and there was also a ban on chores connected with animal keeping.

In the early Church, candles used to be put out for the last three days of holy Week, not to be lit until the resurrection celebrations began. The custom survives in today's literature. It is the fire blessed as part of the service on Holy Saturday that is used to light the candle emblematic of the risen Christ.

In the old days, the resurrection procession was held at dawn. But for practical reasons, the church has transferred it to the evening of Holy Saturday. In many Hungarian villages, people would not light a fire, even in their homes until the new fire had been lit in the church. They would take some amber or coal from the church fire to light the fire at home, which in turn, serves for them for cooking the traditional Easter meals.

On Holy Saturday, people finish cleaning their homes, bake cakes, and cook their meals for the holiday. Just why ham has become traditional Easter food has its roots in the practicalities of peasant life. In the period leading up to Easter, people did not eat any meat, so they still had some leftovers from the smoked ham and sausages of the pig-killing feast held earlier in the year. Horseradish is eaten with the ham, as the pungent odour of horseradish is thought to possess some magic powers, warding off evil. According to legend, those who eat horseradish escape colic.

Eggs are another indispensable food on the Easter table - a symbol of life and rebirth. According to some, the egg shell symbolises the Old Testament and the inside embodies the New Testament. Moreover, eggs recall the resurrection of Christ. The redeemer, in this image, rose from his grave the way a chicken hatches from the egg.

Two additional obligatory dainties are the Beigli - a sweet cake with a ground walnut or poppy-seed filling rolled up in the shape of a Swiss roll, and the Easter brioche or milk loaf.

On the morning of Easter Sunday, the mistress of the house used to put the ham, the eggs, the horseradish, the salt, and the brioche in a basket, covered with a cloth for the family to take it to morning service, where the priest would bless the contents of the basket. The standard Easter Sunday dinner consisted of lamb probably as a reminder of the Old Testament Jews eating the sacrificial lamb.

Finally, another folk custom - the "Perambulation". On Easter Sunday at dawn, the parishioners used to walk out into the fields on the village bounds for a ritual reputed to give magic protection to the spring sowings.



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