The origins of Easter and are well known to around the world, especially where the Christian faith is practised. There are also many traditions and customs associated with this period to celebrate the end of lent and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But how about some lesser well known customs? Here’s a few we have discovered…
Easter bells in France
The sound of church bells ring every day of the year in France, except during Easter. The bells are silent from Good Friday to Holy Saturday to commemorate the death of Christ. The old tale, and what a lot of parents tell their little ones, is that the bells are silent because they’re flying all the way to Rome for a special blessing by the Pope. The bells then return Easter morning and begin to chime again. The Easter bells (les cloches de Pâques) are believed to bring chocolate and other sweet treats on their return.
Water Fights in Poland
In Poland on Easter Monday (where the day itself is known as Smigus-Dyngus), tradition dictates that young people are given free rein to soak whoever they please with buckets, water balloons and water pistols. It’s believed the custom dates back to fertility rituals, and originally it was only girls and young women who could expect a soaking.
Red Eggs in Greece
For Greek Orthodox Christians, one of the oldest Easter traditions are red-dyed eggs. The eggs are a staple for the Easter table and are associated with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The red is interpreting the blood Christ shed, but also a colour that represents life and triumph. Many will dye their eggs red on Holy Thursday to follow the story of the Last Supper. It is common belief that the eggs will stay edible for forty days without a fridge, but if a priest blesses them on Easter Sunday, the eggs can last a whole year.
Cheese Rolling in Italy
In Florence, on the morning of Easter Sunday, an old-fashioned cart is festooned with fireworks and set alight – a tradition dating back over 350 years symbolising a good year ahead.
In the Umbrian hill town of Panicale, there is game known as Ruzzolone. Competitors roll a massive wheel of cheese, weighing about 4 kilos (roughly the same weight as a domestic cat) around the village walls.
Bread in Portugal
Portugese traditions include Folar da Páscoa, a sweet or savoury bread that contains hard-boiled eggs in the middle. The eggs represent the rebirth and resurrection of Christ. Regions will add their own spin on the bread, lemon zest or other spices but the egg remains the same, held tightly in place by a cross of bread dough.
Egg Cake in Spain
In many regions of Spain, they’ll savour the day with a mouth-watering Mona de Pascua. The traditional cake is shaped like a doughnut topped with boiled eggs. Many Catholics would go without eating eggs during the religious period – so, the eggs were then saved for the cake and added as a symbol of abstinence. Today, bakers have begun to use chocolate eggs instead.
Fires in Croatia
Easter bonfires are a common tradition in Croatia. Villages gather together to sing songs and celebrate the season, all around the fire which symbolises Christ. On Holy Saturday, Christians prepare the fire cutting stone on stone and once the fire is lit followers will burn their own piece of wood that they then take home to transfer the holy fire.
Egg Jarping in Europe
Egg jarping crops up in a fair few cultures across the globe around Easter time, though it’s particularly popular in the North-East of England, Romania, Greece and the Netherlands. It’s a simple game quite similar to conkers, where two players go head-to-head with a pair of hard-boiled eggs, tapping them against each other until one gets cracked.
Osterbrunnen in Germany
The German tradition of Osterbrunnen—decorating public fountains with elaborate greenery and Easter egg décor—only began about a century ago. It’s said that German villagers wanted to honor both Easter and the gift of water, which also represents life and renewal.
Whipping in Czech Republic
The 800-year-old, Czech tradition of Pomlázka consists of young boys knocking on the doors of houses where young girls live. When the girl answers the door, the boys take braided sticks of willow branches and (gently!) hit the girl on the back of the legs or douse her in water whilst reciting a traditional Easter carol asking for an egg or two. This was meant to bring good luck and fertility to the girl, as well as chase away illness and bad spirits.
Butter Lamb in Russia
Lamb is seen as a symbol of the sacrifice of Jesus (The Lamb of God) made on Good Friday. It is also considered a lucky omen to meet a lamb. However, in Russia, Slovenia and Poland, they carve their lamb out of butter, using peppercorns or dried cloves for eyes and a red ribbon tied around it to symbolise the blood of Christ.