Our World Easter around the world

Photo of Stephen Scourfield

Hop around the planet to see the ancient roots in Easter's many variations.

The world’s cultures are brought to rich life during festivals. This is when our differences and similarities seem most intense. Knowledge is one of the great rewards of travelling with our eyes and hearts wide open.

We often see cultures at their most intense during celebrations. And all around the world, this Easter, culture and belief are being lived and displayed.

Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ, though Easter has roots in Eostre, the pagan festival celebrating the start of the northern spring. Eostre was a goddess symbolised by a rabbit or hare — and so, we have the Easter bunny of today.

It used to be that the eating of eggs in Holy Week, leading up to Easter, wasn’t allowed by the Church, so any laid were saved, then decorated, and given to children as gifts.

The first chocolate eggs were made in Germany and France in the 19th century but were solid and bitter. Hollow eggs came with better chocolate handling techniques.

In Slovakia, women are ambushed with cold water and whipped with willows. On the Greek island of Corfu, pots and pans are thrown from windows.  In Finland, bonfires are lit.

We all have our traditions: 

AUSTRALIA

. . . not that the rabbit is particularly well thought of in Australia. While we might have hot cross buns and chocolate eggs, there has long been a move towards the Easter bilby.

ISRAEL

In Jerusalem on Good Friday, Christians walk the path that they believe Christ took on the day he was crucified. On Easter Sunday, many attend a service at the Garden Tomb.

ITALY

In Rome, thousands of people congregate in St Peter’s Square to receive the Pope’s blessing..."urbi et orbi", meaning "to the city and to the world". 

SICILY

In the medieval town of Verges on Holy Thursday, locals do the “death dance”, dressed in skeleton costumes, re-enacting scenes from The Passion, and carrying ashes.

GREECE

Churches are decorated and eggs painted red to represent Christ’s blood. On the island of Corfu on Holy Saturday, traditionally there’s a “pot throwing” — pots, pans and other earthenware are tossed out of the window, smashing in the streets. It is believed to represent the start of spring, when new crops will be held in new pots.

SPAIN

In the medieval town of Verges on Holy Thursday, locals do the “death dance”, dressed in skeleton costumes, re-enacting scenes from The Passion, and carrying ashes.

FRANCE

Napoleon Bonaparte was so keen on his men starting the day with eggs that, the story goes, when marching through the little town of Haux, he ordered the locals to make a giant omelette for his army. It’s still the Easter tradition to make one — now with 4500 eggs feeding 1000.

GERMANY

Easter Sunday is still known as “Family Day”, and cakes can still be found cooked in the shape of a lamb. Some Germans keep their Christmas trees to burn, marking winter’s end. Eggs are hidden in gardens for an Easter hunt. Painted eggs are hung in the “egg trees”.

NORWAY

It won’t surprise some to hear that at Easter, many Norwegians turn to. . . crime novels. Publishers even come out with special Easter thrillers for the season.

FINLAND

Sooty faced and with scarves around their heads, children carrying willow twigs collect money in the streets. Bonfires are associated with Easter Sunday, from a Nordic belief that flames scare off witches who appear between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

UKRAINE

Easter is big in Ukraine, it is a major religious holiday. 

Raw eggs are decorated with intricate, symbolic designs using wax and dyes. The designs contain three elements — the Sun, the Moon, good harvest; the three elements of the Holy Trinity. Women make these Pysanky eggs privately during Lent. Men are not allowed to see them.

 A big family might make up to 60, each having their own patterns, as featured on our cover this week.

RUSSIA

Eggs are decorated! Are they ever? 

Russia’s Easter egg tradition dates back to the pre-Christian era when eggs were symbols of fertility and as items that gave protection — eggs represented new life.

SLOVAKIA

In what has become a somewhat controversial tradition in modern Slovakia on Easter Monday, women are drenched with cold water by men, often by surprise and ambush.

Boys might think it’s a bit of fun. Men take it seriously as a valued tradition supposed to make women healthy for spring. Women should reward the men with a dyed hard- boiled egg and perhaps a vodka shot. 

While some women brag about the number of men who have doused and whipped them, others hate it.

It is also still practised in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.

An Easter decoration at Prague Old Town Square. Picture supplied. 

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