Easter is a feast full of various customs and traditions all over the world. Decorating and collecting eggs is undoubtedly the most common activity during this time. However, there are also many interesting and extraordinary traditions, and we think that ours in Slovakia deserves your attention. The time has come to have a look at Slovak customs.
In fact, in Slovakia, Easter is the most significant Christian holiday. That’s why most of our traditions are connected with religion. We start celebrating Easter on Palm Sunday and end on Easter Sunday. For each day of that week, we have different traditions and activities.
We also celebrate Death Sunday, which is not included in Easter week. In the past, people used to make Morena – a cloth doll, impaled on a stick, symbolising winter. To ensure the arrival of Spring, people ”killed” a doll by ignition and drowning in a lake. Nowadays, we still celebrate this day, but only as symbolic.
The Palm Sunday
This is the day of utmost importance when it comes to Easter as it marks the beginning of the Holy Week. The literal translation of Slovak expression for Palm Sunday is “Flower Sunday” due to the rituals performed on this day. The ceremonial arrival of Jesus Christ at Jerusalem is reminded by decorating churches and temples with flowers and blooming osiers. Osiers are consecrated with prayer, incense, and holy water. To protect the house from lightning, people used to put osiers behind the paintings.
Green Thursday is the beginning of the Easter triad (the last three days of the Holy Week). We commemorate the last dinner of Jesus and the designation of eucharist. There is no use of bells during the mass, only clappers and flaps.
The typical colour for the robe of the priest is green. Moreover, the menu of the day shall be green as well. Hence, spinach and other green foods are frequently served in many households in Slovakia. According to the tradition, Slovak girls washed in the stream in the belief that they would be clear, without freckles, and their hair would grow faster.
Good Friday is a commemoration of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. On this day, we keep a strict fast refraining ourselves not only from meat but also alcohol. As long as you don’t break your fasting, you won’t be thirsty in summer. The first healing herb is ready to be collected on Good Friday. Therefore, people associated this day with the reappearance of the riches of nature.
As a recurrent symbol of vitality and revival, water also appears in the traditions related to Good Friday. For example, ill people were showering in the stream, boys dived and tried to catch small stones with their mouths open to ease teeth pain; if they caught the stones, they would then throw them behind themselves by the left hand. Girls, on the other hand, girls used to brush their hair under the willow tree and weave pieces of bark into it in a vision for healthy-looking and long hair.
The last day of the Holy Week is Holy Saturday, a climax of Easter. Christians meditate upon Jesus’s suffering and death beside his grave. They await the Resurrection of Christ until the sunset when the holy mass takes place. Following the religious rituals of this day, people celebrate the Resurrection of Christ by breaking the fast. The foods served this evening include ham, eggs, roast pork and in some parts of Slovakia also lamb.
This day has several mystical sayings specific to Slovak folklore. One example is the removal of fat from ham to ensure protection against snakebite and speed up healing of wounds. Another saying advises housewives not to wash their hands after dough kneading so that they can touch all the trees that are about to bring their first fruits or those that produced only a little.
An essential part of the day was the lighting of the Easter candle called Paschal. The fire from the Paschal candle should have the magical power to protect. According to the myth, you should run three times around the house with coal from the fire. It is supposed to protect your house from floods. Also, ash from the fire was scattered on winter cereals such as barley, rye, wheat so that the storm could not destroy them.
Holy Saturday was considered to be the right day for planting. That is the reason why in some parts of Slovakia around cakes were rolling along the field.
After Holy Saturday, all Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, a symbol of victory over death. According to the old traditions, you should not cook or even cut with a knife. When the girl entered the church, she threw a coin through herself. It was supposed to bring her luck. And for the first time, they gave a well-ornated headband to the girl’s head.
On Easter Sunday, people bring prepared food to the church, where the food is consecrated by the priest. The food is later served as a lunch, with the first course being an egg cut into pieces and divided amongst all present. The main course comprises meat and poultry. All food served ought to be eaten to prevent the poor harvest.
Easter Monday, day favoured mainly by boys, is the most specific day of Easter in Slovakia. Indeed, only a couple of other countries can be “proud” of such a tradition as we, Slovaks, have. The boys go from house to house and seek girls and women, who are soon to be whipped with a willow whip decorated with ribbons on its top. The whipping is accompanied by the poem recited by the boys. If you think it could not get any worse for the girls, you are mistaken.
The next is splashing with cold water. And if they do not have enough water, a lake or pond is a solution. This tradition has its root in the belief that whipping and splashing cold water on girls and women will bring them health and beauty. Following the whipping and splashing, the boys receive a small present in the form of money, decorated egg, chocolate and ribbon. The number of ribbons on a boys whip testifies about his popularity amongst the girls.
If you are asking about a girl’s opinions, they are not thrilled about that. But even worse is if boys miss her home or don’t come. In some regions of Slovakia, the very next are the roles changed, meaning that girls won’t owe boys anything.
We hope that this article has you to better understand Slovak traditions. Even though it may seem strange, cruel or unacceptable for some, these are the unique traditions transmitted from one generation to another. Naturally, anyone who engages in these traditions does so voluntarily. But in the end, we are proud of our traditions, and we love to keep and spread them.
Edited by: Alexandra Šabová, Matúš Mlynár