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České Velíkonoce: Easter traditions in the Czech Republic

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

With temperatures rising and days getting longer, one can feel the joy and spirit of the spring season, more specifically the display of colours, exquisitely decorated eggs, and folk dancers in vivid costumes for Easter celebrations.

Things may be different this year but usually two weeks before Easter, Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square and other plazas throughout the country are filled with stalls for the traditional Easter markets. The Old Town Square market in Prague hosts more than 90 stalls. One may expect to find Czech handicrafts, beautifully hand-painted eggs, wooden toys, dolls, and various Easter decorations.

The Czech Republic certainly has some fun Easter traditions like “Kraslice” decorated Easter eggs. ‘Kraslice’ is a name derived from an old Czech word which means ‘beautiful’ and believe me, they truly are beautiful! Most eggs are decorated in different motifs - geometrical, floral, or religious, using ancient techniques and patterns varying from one region to another. In Czech households, it is usually the girls who are in charge of decorating the eggs as the boys are busy making whips. (I’ll come to the whips in a bit :)) “Pomlázka” (the whip) is made of willow branches, often decorated with coloured paper strips or ribbons. Originally, pomlázka was a pagan ritual, used to chase evil spirits and diseases. According to the legend, the ritual gave youth to whoever was whipped. On Easter Monday, boys and men in cities and villages arm themselves with pomlázka. Girls and women allow themselves to be ‘whipped’ by this Easter stick. You may hear boys reciting the ‘whipping’ poem:

“Hody hody doprovody

dejte vejce malovany

Nedate-li malovany

dejte aspon bily

však Vam slepička snese jiny”

“Give me a coloured egg,

if you won’ t give me a coloured egg,

give me a white one and

get your hen to lay another.”

As it is made from willow branches, pomlázka is said to give women good health and beauty for the year. In return, the boys/men are rewarded with the painted or chocolate eggs, or a shot of ‘slivovice’ (plum brandy) if they are older. Czech Easter would not be Easter without the sweet round Easter bread — “Mazanec”. It contains raisins soaked in rum, topped with slivered almonds. You will also find other Easter treats such as “Beránek”, a lamb-shaped cake.

In the days leading up to Easter, some other notable traditions celebrated in the North Moravian region for example include Green Thursday (Zelený čtvrtek) where boys in the village equip themselves with a wooden rattle (řehtačka). They form a group and walk through the village, shaking their rattles (“klapačka”) vigorously, so that the noise can be heard from afar. Apart from substituting bells, the meaning behind the rattling is to chase away Judas. On Good Friday (Velký pátek), the same procedure repeats and once again on White Saturday (Bílá sobota).

Easter is certainly one of the most joyful holidays in the Czech Republic. Even though celebrations may be different this year, I already find myself looking forward to the Easter season, a period of rebirth and cheer. I may have outgrown painting eggs (I’ll have a chocolate egg ready, just in case :)) Nevertheless, my husband and I are certainly looking forward to Easter mazanec.

Veselé Velikonoce! Happy Easter!

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