The beginnings of spring means one of the Czech Republic’s biggest holidays, Easter (or Velikonoce) is right around the corner.
During the Communist era, Easter was celebrated more as a generic Spring holiday than a religious holiday. And for many Czechs today, Easter is not a Christian holiday, but a non-religious Czech holiday. Czech celebrations of Easter are also often a little different than what most expats are used to back home.
For Czechs, Easter begins on Ugly Wednesday, or the Wednesday before Easter. This is the last day in school before the Easter break for most Czech children, who won’t have to go back to school until the next week. Green Thursday (often called Holy Thursday in Catholic households) is when young boys would traditionally walk around the village shaking a special wooden rattle, a řehtačka, which would be used to frighten away Judas. This noisy tradition is repeated on Good Friday and on White Saturday (Easter Eve), the only difference being that on White Saturday, groups of boys would go house to house rattling until they were given small gifts or a token gift of money to stop, which the boys would split among themselves.
Girls were traditionally put in charge of decorating the beautiful Easter eggs found in many Czech households. These elaborately decorated eggs would be prepared on White Sunday and Easter Sunday while the boys were causing troubles with their rattles and preparing their switches for Easter Monday.
Easter Sunday, is a religious holiday, but more often than not Czechs spend Easter Sunday preparing for the real celebration— Easter Monday. Easter Monday is also a state holiday, so all public and governmental offices are closed, public transportation runs on holiday schedules, and most people have the day off to celebrate with their friends and families.
Easter traditions often have a connection to young animals which would be born around this time in the year. One such animal that Czechs associate with Easter is the lamb. Some traditional Czech households will roast a lamb for Thanksgiving, though during times of scarcity, such as the Communist era, this tradition became expensive and much more uncommon. But don’t worry vegetarians— many other Czech families now serve a symbolic lamb made of gingerbread and covered in powdered sugar as an Easter dessert.
A stranger (to non-Czechs) tradition is that of the pomlázka, a switch made of pussywillow branches braided together. Young men would wander around the village on Easter Monday whipping young women lightly on the legs or bottom while singing traditional carols— a slightly-pagan ritual thought to encourage fertility and maintain a woman’s beauty in the coming year. In turn, the young women would reward young men with eggs and other treats. Nowadays, the whipping with a pomlázka is rewarded with chocolate or homemade brandy for older boys and young adults.
However, men that get carried away should be careful! There’s another Czech tradition—women who have been spanked by a pomlázka can (and do) throw ice cold water on men the next afternoon or even through the next day. So don’t spank too hard!
Enjoy the beautiful weather!
Your Team of PraguExpats