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Many of us Brits will be rather disappointed this weekend with the current COVID-19 lockdown preventing us from taking part in our usual Easter traditions, such as going to church, seeing family or heading on a long weekend getaway.
Similarly, many Easter traditions and ceremonies all across Europe have had to be put on hold because of new social distancing rules.
So while you’re sitting at home gorging on chocolate eggs for breakfast, I thought that I’d put my Anthropology degree to good use and bring you some light virtual entertainment with a few of the most unique European Easter traditions…
Finland – Easter Witches
In Finland young children (mostly girls) dress up as Easter witches in colourful clothes with freckles painted on their faces.
They go from door to door offering to bless their neighbour’s houses and drive away evil spirits with willow twigs decorated with colourful feathers and crepe paper. In return, people reward them with Easter eggs and other treats.
Sounds a lot like Halloween to me!
As well as the witches, Finish locals also light bonfires and set off fireworks during Easter as part of a Nordic practice originally believed to ward off evil spirits.
Corfu, Greece – Pottery Smashing
In Corfu, one tradition which has been carried on for years is the Easter Saturday Pot Throwing. After 11am when mass has finished, locals throw clay pottery out of their windows to shatter on the streets below.
This is done on Holy Saturday (‘Mikri Anastasi’) to mark the First Resurrection. The tradition supposedly derives from Venetian times when people would throw out their old possessions on January 1st in the hope of receiving new ones for the next year.
Poland – Wet Monday
Easter Monday in Poland is also known as Śmigus-Dyngus (Wet Monday), on which young boys throw water over girls using buckets and water pistols and spank them with willow branches. Tradition says that the girl who gets soaked the most is likely to be the next to get married.
One belief is that this tradition originated from the pagan spring rite of pouring water as a means of cleansing, purification and fertility. Others believe it is connected with Polish ruler Prince Mieszko I who was baptized in 966 on Easter Monday and therefore sprinkling water is an expression of gratefulness that Catholicism entered Poland.
Nowadays Śmigus-Dyngus has lost much of its traditional meaning and has instead become a fun nation-wide water fight which anyone can get involved in.
There are similar traditions in Ukraine, Hungary and Czech Republic.
Verges, Spain – Dance of Death
The Dance of Death (“La Dansa de la Mort”) is an ancient medieval tradition still carried out in Verges, a village near the Costa Brava in Catalonia, every Easter Thursday (Mandy Thursday).
Locals dress in skeleton costumes and perform a spooky dance as they proceed down the street to the beat of drums.
The evening starts with a theatrical re-enactment of Jesus’s life and death, followed by the procession to symbolise the final judgement after death when it is decided if the soul goes to heaven, to purgatory, or to hell.
Definitely one of the creepier Easter traditions (yes skeletons freak me out)!
Florence, Italy – Explosion of the Cart
In the Italian city of Florence, one important Easter tradition is called the ‘Scoppio del Carro’, or the ‘Explosion of the Cart’.
In this tradition, a large and elaborate wagon built in 1622 is pulled by a pair of oxen decorated in garlands through the streets of Florence until it reaches the central Piazza del Duomo.
At the start of its journey, a priest rubs three ancient flints together until they spark and light the Easter candle, which in turn is used to light some coals which are placed in a container on the waggon.
Once at the Cathedral, the Archbishop of Florence uses the ‘holy fire’ from the coals to light a dove shaped rocket, which sets off an elaborate firework display inside of another cart already waiting at the Duomo.
The ‘Explosion of the Cart’ supposedly originates from the First Crusade, when Europeans laid siege to the city of Jerusalem in a conflict to claim Palestine for Christianity. In 1097 a prominent man from Florence was the first to scale the walls of Jerusalem. As a reward for his act of bravery, his commander gave him three flints from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the very flints which are now used to spark the ‘holy fire’ every Easter.
Romania – Painted Red Eggs
An important Easter tradition in Romania is the painting of eggs, more specifically, painting eggs red to symbolize Jesus’ blood.
Unlike some other countries where children are also encouraged to paint eggs for fun at Easter, egg painting in Romania is taken very seriously and is an art form in itself. The eggs (known as ‘oua incondeiate’) are intricately painted with complicated designs and adorned with beads.