Czech student explains homecountry’s Easter traditions

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By alenastvanova

Courtesy of Drew McCalmont

My name is Alena Štvánová and I am from Czech Republic.  My major in the Czech Republic is business management and human resources.

Since this major does not exist at Union, I enjoy taking various courses to learn things outside of my major, like art and anthropology.

One of the things I love about Union is that it gives me the opportunity to learn about different cultures and their traditions. Today I would like to share with you some Czech Easter customs.

Easter in my country has always been strongly associated with welcoming spring and celebrating new life. That is where the two most typical symbols of Czech Easter, pomlázka and kraslice, originate from.

A pomlázka is a braided whip made from pussywillow twigs. The twigs are believed to chase away illness and bring youth and health to anyone who is whipped with them.

The skill of braiding pomlázkas is a source of competition among the men, because it is becoming less common to know how to braid them. The men who can braid a pomlázka from four, six or even eight twigs are respected for that skill.  The word pomlázka comes from “pomladit” which means “to make younger.”

Back in the olden days, the pomlázka was used by  farmers’ wives to whip members of the household and the livestock, to keep them healthy for the next year.

This custom transformed into the tradition that has persisted into present day. On the Monday after Easter, men go from house to house with their pomlázkas decorated with colorful ribbons, and symbolically spank girls on their legs and sing an Easter carol that asks the girls to give the men some decorated eggs.

The spanking is not intended to cause suffering, though. It is supposed to bring health, according to the previously mentioned common belief.

Depending on local traditions, the men can be also invited to have some food and a shot of liquor in the visited household. In some regions, the woman can take revenge on the man by throwing a bucket of cold water on them in the afternoon.

On Easter Sunday,  girls prepare kraslice, hand-decorated eggs to be given out on the Monday after Easter. There are many ways to decorate kraslice. Traditionally, the eggs are colored with natural dyes using leaves, onion peels or beetroot.

More elaborate techniques include wax or straw hand-decorating. However, nowadays many eggs are decorated using artificial colors and stickers. Girls give these eggs out to the men who come caroling on the Monday after Easter.

Kraslice, again, represents new life and serves to thank the men for visiting the girls and securing their health and beauty for the entire next year.

Giving out kraslice was also seen as the opportunity to show attraction.

Young women used to save their best kraslice for the most popular men in the village.  It is considered offensive if a girl does not get a visit.

Another symbol of Easter that adds to the celebration of new life is baby animals, most often bunny rabbits, chickens and lambs.

These are part of the Easter house decorations, and it is very common to eat gingerbread in a shape of a lamb during Easter Monday breakfast.

In recent years, the symbolic meaning of the Easter holiday seems to be fading away and the traditional handmade products like kraslice and pomlázkas are being substituted by ones from the supermarket.

However, the Easter customs are still largely upheld in smaller towns and villages, where Easter remains one of the most joyful holidays of the year.

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