Easter weekend is a special time worldwide as Christians on every continent celebrate this most holy of days for the Christian Church. Music, choirs, color, parades and pageantry are all a part of the Easter remembrance services. I thought it would be fun to collect a few examples of how various countries and cultures celebrate Easter.
Russia’s Easter traditions are very interesting. On Easter eve night church services are held which include processionals around the churches. Kulich, the traditional holiday baking, symbolizing the body of Christ, would have been prepared before these services and Easter eggs would have been painted. Easter morning begins with visiting neighbors and giving away Easter eggs, with the salutation, “Khristos Voskres!” Truly He is risen! Then there are many hugs and triple kissing, called the “kiss of peace.” The Holy Week of Sedmitsa has begun and the feasts will last seven days.
Easter in Ukraine is very special. One Ukrainian said, “Easter is the major religious holiday. Christmas is fun and all, but Easter is the Big Time.” After 40 days of fasting during Lent with no meat, eggs or dairy products, a large feast is very much welcomed.
The week previous is spent preparing for the Easter celebration. Pysanky (decorated raw eggs) are made and painted with colors and designs that tell of God and the Easter story by the ladies, as they gather, pray and sing. Holy Week starts with “Willow Sunday,” instead of Palm Sunday. There are no palm trees in Ukraine, so they use the willow. The willow branches are blessed during Mass and then passed to the people.
It’s not me hitting you, It’s the willow hitting you
In a week it will be Easter. Soon you will have a red egg
Don’t ask me! It is tradition and I am just the messenger.
Holland’s Easter traditions are worth visiting. The observant Christian makes a special effort to be in church Sunday morning where the service is longer than usual and ends with a feast. In the northeastern part of the Netherlands, Easter fires are set. In 2012, the 350 resident village of Espelo set a Guinness Book of Records mark with the biggest Easter eve bonfire ever, at 45.98 meters, or 150 feet high. (Well, somebody had to do it!)
Easter egg “clicking” is very popular with the Dutch. Taking the hard boiled eggs, contestants hit the pointed ends together. The one whose egg crack first loses. It is such a popular custom that you can actually find hints on the Internet on how to win at “Egg Clicking.” Easter Monday brings the Dutch to the furniture shops. Yes, it is a day off and everyone goes to the furniture stores. Retailers anticipate this big day of sales.
Easter in Brazil is actually observed in the fall. Most of the country is in the southern hemisphere and so spring is from September to November. At the start of Lent, the whole country begins Mardi Gras. During Lent the people eat Bacalhau, a salted codfish, and rice and potatoes. Good Friday is a very festive day with many outdoor parties and vendors everywhere. Going to church, then relaxing with friends and family is Easter Sunday in Brazil. Egg hunts are not observed.
The children are given oversized white chocolate or milk chocolate eggs with toys or candy inside. One Brazilian said, “In Brazil we try to educate the kids and let them know that it isn’t just about the Easter Bunny, it’s about Christ and the resurrection and the teachings of God.” During Holy Week, townspeople decorate the streets and have great processionals while statues of Mary and the body of Christ are carried.
In the Philippines, Palm Sunday begins Easter Celebration. Businesses close their doors on Maundy Thursday, radio and television stations go off the air, except those owned by the Catholic Church and those that broadcast religious programming. At the Easter Mass, parishioners bring palm branches to be blessed by the priest and many take them home to garnish their doors with in order to ward off demons and lightning. The Filipinos in San Fernando, north of Manila, take Easter to the extreme as they re-enact the crucifixion of Christ with first century costumes, processionals and the actual crucifixion of volunteer citizens.
Some have been crucified on Easter numerous times. One man was to experience his twenty-third time to be nailed to a cross. He said, “I will do it as long as my body will allow me. I hope God will see my sacrifice and take good care of my family.” We must emphasize here that the Catholic Church does not sanction this extreme ritual.
As we who are on staff at churches across America observe the “church going” habits of our church members, it is lovingly mentioned that will see the C&E Christians on Easter Sunday. These are the Christmas and Easter folks who can only force themselves to attend a church service on those two annual occasions. But we get to see them and encourage them on those two days, and see them in their finest attire.
So, Easter has many different and varied ways of being celebrated and expressed each year. This has been a fun exercise in different countries’ Easter traditions. I hope you investigate more and appreciate your own family’s Easter traditions.
Have a blessed Easter!