For travelers, Easter is one of the most interesting times of the year to visit a new country. The Eastern European countries are an excellent choice for this time of year, as they largely regard Easter as the most important religious holiday (yes, even more than Christmas), and celebrate it in various interesting ways. Read about the ways Easter in Eastern Europe can be a unique experience.
Celebrating Easter in Eastern Europe
Most of the population in Eastern Europe is either Orthodox or Catholic Christian. Usually, their Easters don’t fall on exactly the same day (as the former follow the Julian calendar and the latter tend to follow the Gregorian), but sometimes they overlap. This is the case this year when both Orthodox and Catholic Easter is celebrated on the 16th of April. Let’s have a look at the fun (and strange) traditions that make Easter in Eastern Europe unique.
Poland And Wet Monday The Polish use the week before Easter to do their spring cleaning. People may decide to paint their houses or barns in the countryside, as this is a time for renewal and rebirth.
On Easter Saturday, they prepare Easter baskets containing a variety of Easter foods: “pisanki” (dyed eggs), some sausage or ham, salt and pepper, bread, butter, a piece of cake and an Easter Lamb made of either sugar or plastic. They are then taken to church in order to be blessed.
The Monday after Easter is called Wet Monday (Śmigus-dyngus). During the whole day, groups of young boys carrying water guns or buckets of water wait to make girls wet while they sing rhymes to them. Girls exchange the favor the next day, by doing the exact same thing to boys.
Croatia And The Huge Bonfires Croatia is yet another Eastern European country attaching importance to Easter. What is special about it is that the remains of the food Croatians have taken to church for a blessing in special baskets, are either burnt or kept to place in the first furrow when ploughing.
On Easter evening, Croatians make huge bonfires that burn all through the night and scatter their ashes in their fields and gardens in the morning, in the belief they will be made more fertile.
Here, too, it is customary to paint and decorate eggs. What is unique in Croatia, though, is that apart from the red and other brightly colored eggs, people may also paint eggs black. Decorated Easter eggs (“pisanice”) are offered as presents, showing affection and love. They are given to relatives and friends, but there is also something special about them – pisanice are traditionally offered by young men to the girl they like.
Greece And The Rocket War Greeks take Easter very seriously. On Holy Saturday they go to church holding candles that are lit up with the holy fire that travels on a special plane from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where it is believed to light up miraculously every year.
There are various traditions for Easter Sunday, depending on which part of it you’re in. The most impressive is the custom of pot breaking in Corfu, where the resurrection service in the morning is followed by the words “Christós Anésti” (meaning “Christ has risen”) against a background of loudly pealing bells and the joyful sounds of the island’s best philharmonic bands as they parade through the streets. People then hurl clay pots from their balconies and windows, as a symbolism of the way death was beaten when Christ resurrected.
In another island, Chios, the Rocket War traditionally takes place between two rival parish churches, St. Mark and Virgin Mary, located on opposite hillsides about 400m away from one another. On the eve of Easter Sunday, around 70,000 rockets are fired between the two camps with one aim: to hit the bell tower of the opposite church. The weirdest thing about it? All this takes place during the Holy Liturgy when both churches are full.
Men, on the other hand, go caroling on Easter Monday carrying braided pussy-willow twigs (called pomlázka) they use to softly whip girls’ legs. The custom symbolizes youth and health, as the fresh twigs are believed to make those hit with them stay young and healthy.
Bulgaria And The Painted Egg War In Bulgaria, eggs are decorated on the Maundy Thursday. Then, it is customary to hold a big (boiled) egg fight at church, known as the “choukane s yaitsa”. The person who has the last surviving (uncracked) egg (which is called “borak”, meaning “fighter”) has to keep his egg until next Easter. It is believed that the blessed egg won’t spoil during that time.
Russia And The Butter Lamb Russia is considered to be one of the countries that celebrate Easter with great piousness. They also have the traditions of painted eggs and food baskets, as well as some pretty hard to make (but well worth the effort) special Easter cakes.
A strange tradition, however, among the strangest on Easter in Eastern Europe is that of the butter lamb. In Russia, as in other European countries celebrating Easter, the Easter meal is exceptionally rich. Here, however, it is accompanied by a knob of butter that is shaped as a lamb. The tradition dates back to ancient times, when people considered coming across a lamb during these days to be a lucky omen. Christians take the lamb to be a symbol of their faith and they are certain it can never be Satan in disguise (even though he is believed to take the form of every other animal there is).
With so many customs and against such a beautiful spring backdrop, not spending Easter in Eastern Europe would be a sin.
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