Moravian Easter – a celebration of new life
Traditional Easter celebrations in the Czech Republic have a strong religious connotation. However, many of the customs connected with this season date back to pre-Christian days. This is especially true of the eastern part of the country. Moravia is a historically and culturally distinct region and this is reflected also in the way local people celebrate this most important Christian holiday of the year.
“Passion Sunday is celebrated by girls. They make an effigy of Death, dress it in rags and ornament it. It symbolizes winter and is carried out of the village and then tossed into water or burnt. These days, however, the girls usually get rid only of the clothes and ornaments and keep the effigy itself for next year. A fairly new custom is also to make a small procession around the village, carrying the Death effigy, singing folk songs, knocking on doors and collecting eggs or money. Then the participants either divide what they collected and go home, or they have a meal together.“
“The idea was that the strength and power of spring was concentrated in a freshly cut willow branch and was transferred to the person being whipped. That is why traditionally girls‘ legs were whipped with willow branches to keep them healthy and strong. That is also why in the olden days the roles used to reverse and the next day women would whip men.
“During the year, your body collects a lot of illness, evil, and unclean power. People believed that when the fresh willow branch touched the human body, it gave its best and accepted all the worst from it. So when the whipping was over, the whip itself would be burnt or thrown away so that it would not be connected with the people and households. All the evil and bad it had sucked in from the persons it touched was meant to go away.”
“Easter eggs are given as presents, as a symbol of new life. Even though, during the willow whipping, children get chocolates and sweets, and men often get a shot of brandy. In other words, Easter present-giving is only about food and that is probably why the commercial aspect is not as strong as with Christmas. Yes, you can see special chocolates and some other Easter-related items in the shops, but Christmas is incomparably more commercialized.
Nowadays, there are women who paint Moravian Easter eggs professionally. They do not always use the old methods, but the tradition survives and is an inseparable part of Easter in this part of Europe. Jana Poláková again:
With or without detailed knowledge of what lies behind the many traditions that are kept alive in Moravia, Easter in this part of the country is special and worth experiencing.