From chocolate to fireworks, how the world celebrates Easter
On April 21 this year, around the world all of Christendom will be united in spirit in celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord. We reach beyond frontiers both natural and man-made in common jubilee. Here in America, I’ll be attending the usual services, painting eggs, and indulging in the cornucopia of mass-produced chocolate that I have been conditioned to salivate over since youth.
I feel I am not unusual among my fellow Americans in this regard, my experience not unlike that of most others. Yet Easter is, as mentioned a global celebration, with different nations and peoples all having their own ways of celebrating the Resurrection. Here, Catholic Digest presents a few of the more particularly interesting ones.
In Eastern Europe, coloring eggs is as popular as it is here in the States, though in addition to this is a ritual popular in Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, and parts of Hungary involving an item that is technically fitting for an Easter celebration, though not in the conventional way.
Often, Easter Sunday and Monday will involve boys find young girls and whipping them with thin branches or reeds, in addition to sprinkling them with water, cheap perfume, or perfumed water. Should a girl be totally drenched during this event, then folk wisdom dictates that she will marry within the course of the following year. Girls will then often do the same to the boys, often with buckets of water in exchange for the whipping. Among Polish-Americans, it is known as “Dyngus Day.” No known instances of using toy Super Soaker water guns during the celebration have been thus far reported, though one cannot help but wonder as to their efficacy.
In the region of Pampanga in the Philippines, Passion plays detailing the last mortal hours of the Lord are put on, as occur elsewhere in the world. What makes these interesting however, is that during the finale of the play, the crucifixion which is shown is not an illusion using people strung up with ropes or with wounds done with makeup.
Rather, the plays conclude with volunteers, often those seeking a great penance or to make their faith especially visible, will actually have themselves nailed to crosses in imitation of Christ along with the thieves he was crucified next to. While the nails used are made from stainless steel which is sanitized and are applied to do as little permanent damage as possible, observance of this regional custom is not for the faint of heart, and remains controversial outside of the region of Pampanga itself.
In France, the rabbit which brings chocolate and other assorted goodies to young children does not exist. Rather, the ubiquitous symbol of Easter is church bells. The larger, chocolate bells often contain additional treats inside. The reason for the popularity of the bells stems from the early medieval period, when the ringing of bells between Maundy Thursday and Easter was prohibited as a means of mourning for the death of Jesus. During this time, children were told that the bells were silent because they had gone to Rome to be blessed by the pope. Over the centuries, this tradition has become ingrained in French culture, with the bells bringing sweets to the children of France, ringing hollow or solid, milk, or dark.
In Spain, Easter celebrations vary by region, though there are some similarities between all of them. One is the procession of large and spectacular floats depicting various scenes from the Passion or Crucifixion. These floats are usually carried by large teams of men down the main streets of the city and presented before the cathedral, though given the immense weight of many of these floats, the men carrying them must switch out frequently in order to avoid overexerting themselves.
However, what would be of most note to Americans is the distinctive headwear adorning male practitioners in Easter rituals across the nation, the capirote. The average American would be forgiven for mistaking them as the garments of the Ku Klux Klan, for they are indeed similar to the preferred headwear of such a malicious group. However the capirote is in fact much older and distinctively Catholic garment, originally worn by flagellants to provide anonymity and later by those found guilty of by the Spanish Inquisition as a means of public shaming.
Since then, it has become a sign of penitence for Spanish Catholic men and is worn every Easter by Catholic fraternities throughout the country.
In Florence, Italy, a tradition, known as “Explosion of the Cart” dates back to the early years of the Renaissance, when an even earlier tradition of lighting large fires with flints taken from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem was updated with a new import into Italy, gunpowder. The ritual then assumed the form it still takes today, when during the Easter Mass the cardinal of Florence lights a fuse which travels down the length of the church and out to a large cart of sprinkled with gunpowder, creating a large amount of noise and smoke in celebration of the Resurrection. At this point, the city of Florence holds a spectacular fireworks display. Should the whole event go off without a hitch, then a good harvest and fruitful year as said to lay ahead.
Alleluia! Chris has risen!
Easter is a holiday for the world, for the world is one unto Christ. While the ways it is celebrated can vary wildly, it is all oriented toward one goal, our adulation for the Risen Christ and the redemption of the human race. Whether you follow ancient traditions this Easter or begin your own, do so in remembrance of the Lord and rejoicing in love for us all.