It's not Easter without a good whipping!

Photo: Czech Television

Prague welcomed Easter early this year, maybe even earlier than usual. The cold weather and the return of snow almost made me forget a few weeks ago that spring and the Easter holiday are around the corner. But the rows of identical house-like stalls that one morning landed on one of my favorite squares in Prague – Náměstí Míru – served as a somewhat cynical reminder.

Photo: Czech Television
The stalls quickly filled with toys, decorations, fried food, kitchen utensils, honey and so many other objects that are sold from the same counters over Christmas, except that this time there are more eggs, lambs and bunnies involved. Of course, we cannot forget the pomlázky– the interwoven willow branches with colorful ribbons used to whip Czech women into health and, presumably, fertility.

Although Prague, as any big city, usually seems miles away from the non-commercialized folk traditions that still linger in some Czech villages, the pomlázky sold at the markets, and even in many Vietnamese grocery shops, never fail to endear Prague Easter to me. This semi-pagan ritual of men trying to tag any female in site, still practiced in small towns and villages, makes a somewhat stunted appearance in Prague, at least to the extent that many families buy a pomlázka and keep it in the house until it dries out or starts getting in the way.

This week I had another Easter encounter that made me smile. A new bakery opened up recently on my regular route to work. Disregarding the usual cautious attitude of Czechs towards anything free, the Italian owner began promoting his shop with samples of baked goods on a daily basis. When I came in a few days ago, a woman behind the counter began convincing me to try a sample of a whole variety of mazanec, the traditional Czech sweetbread made for Easter. Some had raisins, others almonds, yet others were without butter. With a barely noticeable Ukrainian accent, the women added proudly at the end – the ingredients are almost all Italian!

For me, Easter has no particular religious or ritual significance, though the first Seder of Passover that fell on this past Monday night has gotten me into a festive mood. But don't get me wrong, when I visit my Czech in-laws over the Monday holiday, I definitely won’t turn down a piece of the grandmother’s mazanec. And, maybe fortunately, I won’t have to keep looking over my shoulder in fear of a pomlázka whipping.

Happy Easter and Passover!