Crucifixion? Er… no – public flagellation actually
Easter – it’s a time of year that has a lot of different meanings for many people. For some it is the most important religious event of the year, a time to remember the suffering of the son of God; for others it’s a time to suffer with stomach pains after days of high-octane chocolate consumption. Here in the UK, eggs, rabbits and daffodils are very much à la mode at this time of year, but what about elsewhere? Our ABL Blog Easter special takes a whistle-stop tour of the globe to highlight some of the stranger Easter traditions…
Starting close to home, let’s hop over to France where from Good Friday they stop all bell-ringing from churches, telling children that the bells have gone to Rome for the weekend. The main reason for this mysterious practice seems to be that on Easter Sunday, when the bells return from their weekend in the sun they bring chocolate eggs for the children, like a sort of souvenir, straight from the Vatican. And in France the obsession with eggs doesn’t stop there – a traditional Easter game involves equipping yourself with an actual egg, laid by a hen, throwing it repeatedly into the air and then trying to catch it. The last person with a whole egg and not covered in yolk wins.
In Cyprus, children traditionally light fires in the playgrounds of their schools. The origins of this peculiar practice have been lost in the sands of time but, considering that the Cypriot academic year, like our own, sees exams begin shortly after the Easter holidays, perhaps the origins are fairly obvious. This year of course it may be difficult to distinguish the fires in the playgrounds from those burning around banks as savers desperately try to withdraw their cash and hide it under the floorboards at home.
In Italy (and only in Italy), specifically Florence, residents watch the unique tradition of “il Scoppio del Carro” or “the explosion of the cart”. In a custom full of long-forgotten symbolism, a fire is lit with some shards of the Holy Sepulchre, the place in which Jesus was supposedly buried, which in turn lights a firework carved in the shape of a dove, which flies up and along a wire and into a cart full of explosives. All of which seems an utterly reasonable way of celebrating Easter, if a little baffling.
Good news for those of you who are fans of Scandinavian crime dramas, particularly if you are planning on spending the Easter break in Norway. Whether your series of grisly murders of choice is Borgen, The Killing or Wallander (and let’s be honest, it should be Wallander), Norway is the place to be. Although the Norwegians have a range of other, more traditional Easter customs, a recent addition to the menu has been the almost-fanatical gathering around the telly to watch crime dramas. So if exploding carts or throwing eggs into the air isn’t your thing, then head to Oslo, snuggle under a blanket and witness a series of Scandinavians be brutally murdered to celebrate Easter.
But the worldbeaters when it comes to bizarre Easter traditions are most definitely our friends in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. On Easter Monday, Czech and Slovak men traditionally grab hold of a bundle of willow branches and then proceed to publicly whip their wives, partners or any other women in the vicinity whom they may have taken a shining to, on the behind. It seems a little unreasonable, until you learn that the purpose of this bit of public pain is that it will supposedly ensure that the whippee has health and beauty throughout the year to come, which presumably makes it alright. But don’t worry feminists – put the lighters down and put your tops back on. For you and all the rest of us who find that a bit awkward, the next day the women can exact their revenge by pouring water other any man/men they choose. So there you have it – Slovakia and the Czech Republic – the veritable home of gender equality.
So when you are chomping away at your Yorkie egg or working out how to get that collar with the bell on off one of those overpriced Swiss rabbits (easiest way to do it is simply just to smash the bunny’s head – tell your children), just think about all of the other places you can’t be. You could be in Rome with a bunch of French bells, toasting Pope Francis and drinking communion wine out of a font. You could be in Norway, snuggled up with the Scandinavian of your choice watching a seemingly endless montage of bloody murders and knitted jumpers. Or you could be in Central Europe, either getting a beauty whipping or engaging in the male equivalent of a wet T-shirt competition. See you in Prague?