Blue Monday, Green Thursday and White Saturday? What Czechs call Easter days

In the English-speaking world, we know the days during Holy Week leading up to Easter as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and so on. But, despite also sharing a Christian heritage with Anglophone countries, the Czechs call these days by pretty different names in most cases – and many of their Easter traditions are quite alien to people from Anglo-American cultures, as they often pre-date Christianity, originating from Slavic pagan times.

Palm Sunday = Blossoming Sunday

Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, is known as “Květná neděle” or Blossoming Sunday in Czech. People would decorate their houses with pussy willow, and according to Czech tradition, one shouldn’t bake anything with flour on this day. Farmers would watch the weather, as the saying went that whatever the weather was like on Palm Sunday was an omen for the coming harvest.

Holy Monday = Blue Monday

Pučálka - dish of sprouted and roasted peas | Photo: ivabalk,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

In English, Blue Monday refers to a Monday in January – usually the third Monday of the month – said to be the most depressing day of the year. But in Czech, Blue Monday is Holy Monday, the Monday before Easter. On Blue Monday, according to tradition, Czech churches were decorated with blue or purple cloth. It was also the peak of fasting for Lent, so people limited how much and what they ate, and didn’t cook with grease or fat. Even cattle and poultry were given less feed. A popular meal to eat on this day was ‘pučálka’, a dish of sprouted and roasted peas.

Fig Tuesday = Grey Tuesday

More often known as Holy Tuesday, this day is also known in English as Fig Tuesday as it was the day Jesus passed a barren fig tree, which he later used as an example to teach his disciples, on his way back to Jerusalem from Bethany. However, in Czech, in keeping with the colour theme started by Blue Monday, this day is known as Grey Tuesday. It was mainly a day for cleaning and fixing things around the house and garden in preparation for Easter.

Spy Wednesday = Ugly Wednesday

Jidáš | Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

Although this day has a quite different name in Czech compared to English, the reason for both names is the same – it was the day that Judas decided to betray Jesus. Sometimes this event was commemorated in Czech culture with pastries in the shape of the letter ‘J’ for Judas (Jidáš in Czech). Other foods eaten on this day were often purposefully made to look bad – for example, potato pancakes that were torn up to make them look more unsightly.

Maundy Thursday = Green Thursday

While in English, the unusual name ‘Maundy Thursday’ (deriving from the Latin ‘mandatum’ meaning ‘command’) refers to Jesus’ commandment to his disciples to emulate his humility by washing the feet of others, Czechs, after their brief departure on Wednesday, return to the theme of colours with ‘Green Thursday’. This was supposed to be a day of forgiveness. A number of superstitions to do with cleanliness and disease were also connected to this day. For example, people believed that if they left their rubbish at a crossroads, fleas would leave their house, and that pounding a mallet against mortar was the best way to drive away insects and mice. Meanwhile, washing with dew was said to ward off skin diseases.

Dew | Photo: pasja1000,  Pixabay,  CC0 1.0 DEED

Good Friday = Great Friday

Known as ‘Velký pátek’ in Czech, Good Friday is one of the few occasions when the Czech and English names bear at least somewhat of a resemblance to each other. Although you might know ‘velký’ to mean ‘big’, it can also mean ‘great’. It was a day when miracles were supposed to occur. In churches, decorative features were covered up, with only the statue of the dead Christ in the niche under the altar on display. Children would shake rattles as they went around the village ‘chasing away Judas’.

Black Saturday = White Saturday

Photo: Štěpánka Budková,  Radio Prague International

Holy Saturday is sometimes known as Black Saturday in English – yet in Czech it is precisely the opposite! Farmers planted fruit trees on this day to ensure they would bear a lot of fruit. Housewives would make cakes and pastries, and then go out into the orchards with dough on their hands and pat trees that were withering to make them bloom again. There were no church services held during the day, but the night was the culmination of Holy Week, with candlelight, bells and organs. It was called the Great Night (Velká noc) because it was the night that Jesus rose from the dead. Interestingly enough, that is also where the Czech name for Easter comes from – Velká noc became Velikonoce.

Easter Sunday = God’s Day

While in English, this day is known simply as ‘Easter Sunday’, ‘Easter Day’ or even just ‘Easter’, Czechs call the day ‘Boží hod’, which is the same name they use for Christmas Day (just add ‘velikonoční’ (Easter) or ‘vánoční’ (Christmas) to differentiate). ‘Boží’ means ‘God’s’, but most Czechs would struggle to tell you the meaning of ‘hod’. In modern Czech, ‘hod’ means ‘throw’, but ‘Boží hod’ has nothing to do with throwing. The word most likely derives from the old Slavic word ‘god’ meaning ‘time’, so ‘Boží hod’ means something like “a time specially dedicated to God”, or “God’s Day”. People weren’t allowed to work on this day - anyone who picked up a needle or an iron would have their fingers cut off. The day was also marked by the eating of rich foods like sausages and stuffing.

Easter Monday = Easter Monday!

Photo: Jihočeská centrála cestovního ruchu

Finally, we’ve found a match! This is the only Easter day where the English and Czech names are direct translations of each other. Easter Monday is the day that has some of the wackiest (for people from Anglophone cultures) Czech traditions associated with it, stemming from pagan times. Boys and young men would go around the village with homemade whips made out of braided willow branches which they used to playfully ‘whip’ the local girls to ensure they remained healthy and fertile until next Easter. In return, the boys received decorated eggs from the girls. This tradition still survives to this day in some places!

Authors: Anna Fodor , Barbora Kvapilová | Source: Český rozhlas
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