You might have noticed that Czech culture is full of traditions and festivities and their origins can sometimes be traced back so far that it is not even sure where they actually came from! This is why we are continuing our series of taking you through major Czech holidays with a spring edition! And a period full of traditions par excellence are the Easter times, so let us dive into a take at the most famous traditions and myths surrounding Easter as we have it in the Czech lands.
Eggs symbolise spring and new life. Decorating them is a wide-spread Easter tradition in Central and Eastern Europe. People use different techniques to decorate them, some dye them in color, some people paint them with wax, creating original patterns and beautiful designs. Sometimes it can really be a piece of art! When we decorate eggs, we call them “kraslice” which comes from the czech word for ‘beauty’ or ‘beautiful’.
The ‘Pomlázka’ Whipping Tradition
Here comes the infamous one… As new willow twigs start growing around Easter time, the tradition says that boys cut these and braid them together, tying the ends to create a whip. The creation in itself is a work of art, because while some might settle at three twigs, eight are considered a standard. The result, called a ‘pomlázka’ is then taken on a door-to-door trip on Easter Monday, which is where a slightly controversial part ensues. The boys whip girls, which is said to make girls stay young and healthy and the girls are supposed to give boys decorated eggs, candy or alcohol for that. Every girl visited should also tie a colourful ribbon to the ‘pomlázka’, so that the stick gets more and more decorated as the morning passes. In the afternoon comes a bit of justice when girls can go and pour water on boys, chasing them around!
It should, however, be added that the whipping part is often taken as a light symbolic pat, not meant to hurt, only to express a blessing or a wish of good health for the upcoming year.
What’s on the Menu?
Of course Czechs have their special food that comes with Easter! Except for eggs in all forms imaginable, there are multiple kinds of sweet pastry that we bake at Easter. For example ‘beránek’ - pastry baked in a shape of a small lambkin, or ‘mazanec’, which is basically a type of sweet bread with almonds on it. Some people fast before the culmination of the holiday, others indulge all the period long.
As for the main course, this is often roast lamb or other meats with a stuffing. The stuffing is usually a combination of eggs, cut up bread, spices and herbs (frequently the just-blooming nettle - don’t worry, it doesn’t sting when baked and adds a delicious fresh twang to the stuffing).
Growing Grass Sprouts
Growing grass on the windowsill of your flat in the centre of Prague. Yep, you just read that. Now, let us explain what on Earth is going on with this one and why. Easter in folklore culture is also a symbol of the arriving spring, this providing a loose connection with growth and nature being re-born and all fresh. See the link? The fast-growing grass brings a spirit of awakening from the long winter to your home and is a reminder that soon, you will be able to enjoy nature in full bloom.
It is however necessary to complement our article with the fact that regions, villages and even families are an overflowing source of countless other traditions. This is because Easter is quite a varied holiday - depending on your religious status; whether you’re from Bohemia, Moravia or Silesia; whether you enjoy having your kitchen covered in food colouring and wax… you name it. For some, it is the most important holiday of the year, others just enjoy the traditions, and this degree of variety perhaps also contributes to its charm. Everyone celebrates Easter in their own unique way, so why not ask the locals that you know what is their ideal Easter?
Happy Easter on behalf of ESN CU Prague from
Lenka Kalvodová and Barbora Cypriánová
4 April 2020