If you’re from the United States, like me, you probably have a number of set traditions to celebrate Easter. The spring holiday is typically filled with baskets bursting with candy, customary (although sometimes frightening) snaps with a giant costumed bunny, and boiling copious amounts of eggs to dye.
Of course, every country and culture has unique ways to pay homage to this sacred day. As with most religious holidays, many of the traditions are derived from pagan celebrations. With some being centuries old, this can translate into what seems like truly bizarre traditions to us in the States. Then again, what is normal about joyfully eating the heads off of chocolate bunnies? To each their own!
And without further adieu, here’s a look at some truly interesting Easter traditions from around the globe.
The Easter Whip
In the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and parts of Hungary exists the ritual of men and boys gently whipping women and girls on Easter Monday. The whip can sometimes just be as simple as a willow rod or other stick or can be a special handmade switch decorated with colored ribbons.
The whipping tradition is said to bring about “fertility, beauty, and health” in women. While still largely practiced, this tradition isn’t always favored by those being whipped.
In Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and several other European countries, big bonfires are lit on the days leading up to Easter Sunday. And this is definitely a tradition we can get behind. I mean, who doesn’t love sitting around a bonfire?
The bonfire is typically lit by a priest with a Paschal Candle. The tradition behind lighting the large bonfires is said to hasten spring and drive out the winter. In the Christian tradition, it is a symbol of the “undimmed light of Christ.” These days, in many communities, Easter fires are a big event complete with rides for kids, beer, mulled wine, and snacks.
A graveyard party may sound more like something that wayward teens in a scary movie would partake in on Halloween. But, in the country of Georgia, graveyard parties are common on Easter. A deeply religious country, the majority of the population of Georgia practices Orthodox Christianity.
On the Monday after Easter, like in many cultures, Georgians visit their relatives. However, in Georgia, the remaining living relatives visit their deceased relatives at the graveyard to celebrate. They toast the deceased, and even pour out a small amount of wine over the graves of loved ones, calling it “knocking over a goblet.”
In Finland and Sweden, children, typically young girls, dress up as witches and go door to door. They recite a poem and give a small card or trinket in exchange for candy and other small prizes.
In the Finnish tradition, the young witches and their gifts are said to drive away evil spirits. In Sweden, the legend goes that witches would travel to an island called Blåkulla to meet with the devil. The tradition of dressing up as witches commemorates the witches’ travel to the island.
In parts of the Philippines, Mexico, and Italy, some devout Catholics take part in self-flagellation rituals. Inflicting wounds on oneself is seen as a form of penance for sins committed. Those who partake compare the practice to sharing in the sufferings of Jesus. That said, these events are not typically sanctioned by the church.
On the Greek island of Corfu, on Holy Saturday, people throw big clay pots filled with water off of their balconies. Swarms of crowds gather below, hopefully out of range of the large clay pots, and later scoop up a piece of the pot to take home as good luck charms. The custom takes place as the First Resurrection is signified by bells ringing from the churches on the island.
According to several sources, the custom was adapted from a Venitian tradition of throwing out their old belongings to make room for new ones to start the new year. The Greeks altered the custom a bit, making it an Easter tradition, and adding in the Botides, or clay pots.