Nowadays, we live in a multicultural society and Easter offers a great opportunity to teach children about different cultures' customs as well as embracing our own traditions.
I fear that the magic of this special time of the year is slowly disappearing as it’s becoming far too much commercialized. The ‘Easter experience’ is all about the sugar rush they get from the amount of chocolate eggs the children receive (in our family we seem to still consume them months and months later).
When I was growing up in the Czech Republic it had never occurred to me how different the Czech traditions can appear to some people. I’ve already mentioned some in my Christmas blog, with the fish in the bath, but here we are again with Easter. I have many fond memories as a child of baking an Easter little ram collecting birch branches, or cooking my mum’s favourite, the ‘nettle stuffing’. However many English people get hooked on is the ‘whipping’ tradition. It’s usually my husband’s favourite party joke - how the Czech women get whipped.
Easter is big in the Czech Republic and it’s not just about the death and rebirth of Jesus Christ but it also celebrates the end of winter and the beginning of spring and new life. Painting the eggs (kraslice) is a big part of that. Here are some techniques we use:
One of my favourites is boiling the eggs in the onion skin for at least 20 mins, giving them a beautiful brown / red colour and ‘scratching’ various motives or ornaments with a sharp instrument (like a small kitchen knife).
Another technique is ‘painting’ the eggs with melted bee wax. The egg is then put into a pot of paint and once dried, the wax is gently removed, revealing the area underneath.
Another interesting technique would be collecting some various flowers or leaves and wrapping them around the egg using gauze, then boiling them in the water with some blue ink.
The Days before Easter Sunday
Children finish school on Ugly Wednesday (Škaredá středa), which is a good idea because they need to spend some serious time on making Easter what it should be. In the evening of Green Thursday (Zelený čtvrtek), every boy in the village equips himself with a wooden rattle (řehtačka), which is specially made for the purpose, the boys form a group and walk through the village, rattling their rattles vigorously, so the noise can be heard from afar. The meaning of the rattling is to chase away Judas. The same procedure repeats on Good Friday (Velký pátek) and one more time on White Saturday (Bílá sobota) when the boys don't only walk through the village but stop at every house in the morning and rattle until they're given money, which they then split between themselves.
Easter Sunday (Neděle velikonoční) is a day of preparations for Easter Monday. Girls paint, colour and decorate eggs if they haven't done so already, and boys prepare their pomlázkas!
Easter Monday (Pondělí velikonoční) is the day of the pomlázka.
The origin of the pomlázka tradition (pomlázka meaning both the whip and the tradition itself) dates back to pagan times. Its original purpose and symbolic meaning is to chase away illness and bad spirits and to bring health and youth for the rest of the year to everyone who is whipped with the young pussywillow twigs. Boys would whip girls lightly on the legs and possibly douse them with water, which had a similar symbolic meaning. An Easter carol, usually asking for an egg or two, would be recited by the boy while whipping. The girl would then reward the boy with a painted egg or candy and tie a ribbon around his pomlázka. As the boys progressed through the village, their bags filled up with eggs and their pomlázkas were adorned with more and more colourful ribbons.
This tradition is still largely upheld, especially in villages and small towns, although it may have lost its symbolism and romance and is now performed mainly for fun. Some boys and men seem to have forgotten that the whipping is supposed to be only symbolic and girls don't always like that. The reward has also changed - money and shots of plum brandy (slivovice) are often given instead of or in addition to painted eggs and candy. So by early afternoon, groups of happy men can be seen staggering along the roads...
All that aside, Easter remains one of the most joyful holidays on the Czech calendar. Next year we’re going to the Czech Republic for Easter, so our daughter can truly experience Easter traditions of the country.