As with Christmas, Easter is celebrated around the world as well since it’s also a religious holiday. So while some countries celebrate Easter, others may not even among Christians who might consider it too pagan like the Quakers, Puritans, and Jehovah Witnesses. Now also like Christmas, no two countries celebrate Easter the same way possibly due to seasonal patterns, old traditions, and other factors. And sometimes with American eyes, many of these traditions may seem strange. Not to mention, Easter didn’t really become a mainstream secular holiday until recently but students don’t get as many days off. Nevertheless, here are some of the strange Easter traditions you may see from around the world.
1. Czech Republic and Slovakia
If you’re a woman living in either of these countries, expect to be chased around by men hitting with handmade whips this Easter Monday. Of course, those who aren’t into BDSM shouldn’t be disappointed because they’re not intended to be painful. It’s also believed that whipping women on Easter is supposed to make them more healthy and beautiful.
It’s a popular superstition in Finland that all Finnish witches fly down to Germany to party with the devil on Easter. This has given rise to the tradition of children dressing up as witches with broomsticks hanging around their necks and wander around door to door to ask for treats. They also lit bonfires to keep satanic forces away that supposedly roam around this day. So Easter in Finland is kind of like Halloween. In Sweden, little girls take part in this tradition on April 30th known as Walburgis night as well as in Denmark where the children give out willow branches in exchange for candy. Another Easter tradition in Finland is watching grass grow to signify the start of spring. Once mature, children would decorate it with painted eggs and paper bunnies.
Instead of chocolate bunnies, Russians usually dig into a large piece of butter that’s in the shape of a lamb. This tradition is based on the religious idea that lambs are lucky since they’re the only animals whose form Satan couldn’t take.
4. Papua New Guinea
In this tropical country, you will find trees outside churches decorated with sticks of tobacco and cigarettes in the days leading to Easter. After the Easter Sunday church services, smokes are handed out and everyone lights up.
On Easter Monday, people in the town of Haux gather together taking all the eggs from their houses and bringing them to the town square. There, they put their eggs in a massive pan used to cook a giant omelet that could feed 1,000 people and contains over 4,500 eggs.
6. New Zealand
While the US has the cute, furry, Easter Bunny, if there’s a place Peter Cottontail should avoid this Easter, New Zealand would be it. And it’s not because of Orcs. Because on Easter, New Zealanders go out to hunt rabbits with a prize of $NZ 3,500 to who kills the most bunnies. Every year as many 20,000 rabbits are killed in this country.
One Easter Sunday, men aren’t allowed to cook or even stand in the kitchen or else his mustache will go gray and the Easter bread dough will fail to rise. They also believe that swallowing a willow catkin from a branch consecrated by a priest would bring health.
As for processions on Good Friday, Polish miners don ceremonial uniforms and at the Wieliczka Salt Mine where they perform the Underground Way of the Holy Cross. They march to an underground salt monument of Pope John Paul II in the underground Kinga Chapel, a place he once visited.
On Easter, women dress in traditional garb for Sunday Mass while men jump out and pour buckets of water at them as part of a “purifying ritual.”
While the US has the Easter Bunny, Australia has the Easter Bilby bringing the eggs. One of the reasons behind this change is to create awareness of the bilby which is an endangered species. Also, there’s a strong dislike for bunnies which are considered pests that destroy crops.
For their Easter dinner, instead of eggs and chocolate, the Colombians dine on iguana, turtles, and big rodents.
While children in other countries look for hidden Easter eggs, the Germans display their Easter eggs are displayed on trees and prominently in the streets. Some will have thousands of multi colored eggs hanged on them. This might be that these symbolize new life and the resurrection. They also burn their Christmas trees on Easter Sunday and eat a lot of green foods and spinach on Holy Thursday.
Germany is also home to the Oberammergau Passion Play in the village that bears its name which is performed every 10 years from May to October starting at 9:30 a.m. and continuing with a 12:15-3:00 p. m. lunch break before finally finishing at 6:00 p.m. However, the villagers do this as a thank you from God for saving them from a plague in 1633 and put a large painting of Jesus to show this. But nearly everyone in the village takes part in the play either as one of the actors or behind the scenes, making clothes and props to run it. Still, this play is very popular all over the world that bookings take place for many years before the play is performed.
While some countries have multi colored eggs, in Greece the eggs are only painted red to represent the blood of Christ and used for making Easter bread as well as banged on their neighbor’s heads.
In the town of Corfu, it’s tradition for the people to throw out their crockery and pots out the window on Easter Saturday. We’re not sure why they do this. Some say it’s to symbolize the rejection of Judas. Others think it’s simply the exuberance of having a smashing time after the penitential season of Lent. There are other theories of symbolism such as getting rid of evil or the change of seasons in which the old pots of last year’s harvest are exchanged for new ones. Some think it’s adopted from the old Venetian tradition of throwing out one’s winter things for new ones for spring.
In the village of Vrontados on the island of Chios, the two Orthodox churches face off every Easter with parishioners making their own rockets and teenagers leading the war against each other. It’s said to be a century old tradition which apparently started when some Greek villagers tried to scare away the Turkish army using fireworks. Some say that it started when some Greek sailors met Chinese men who taught them how to make fireworks. Anyway thousands of rockets are used and it attracts tourists every year on Easter, boosting the town’s economy.
On the Easter festival, the people of Ethiopia celebrate a noble feast featuring a large loaf of sourdough bread called, “Dabo.” During the day, visitors are greeted with a slice of “Dabo” to honor the crucifixion of Christ. They also wear white to exemplify purity and display headbands from palm leaves which symbolize the palm leaves Jesus’s followers greeted him with during his passage into Jerusalem before his crucifixion.
The Frankonian Swiss have an old Easter tradition of decorating wells with painted eggs and spring flowers to celebrate the gift of life.
Switzerland is not a fan of the Easter Bunny so the Easter Cuckoo is credited with bringing children eggs instead. Yet, they still sell chocolate bunnies though.
15. Great Britain
In the town of Bacup in Northern England, Easter Saturday is celebrated with the Nutter’s Dance which has been performed since the 18th century. It’s said to originate with Moorish sailors who somehow ended up in the area but why it’s performed on Easter Saturday, there’s no explanation. It’s a strange dance led by a Whiffer (or Whipper In), who cracks a whip to drive away evil spirits represented by a group of men with blackened faces in red, black, and white costumes and neck garlands.
The village of Hallaton in Leicestershire celebrates Easter with a game of bottle kicking which is essentially a no rules rugby game played with 3 beer barrels and a pitch spread over a mile of cross country land. Ambulances are on standby every year there.
On Holy Thursday, it was once used as the day when the monarchs showed their humility and washed the poor’s feet. It was symbolic of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, though only a select few poor got their feet washed. However, this was later changed with the ascension of the Protestant William and Mary in 1689. Nowadays the Queen just gives out money, usually the same amount as her age.
During the Easter season, the English village of Hungerford has what’s known as the Hockside festival. This begins each year when the new police constable blows his horn calling all men to the Hockside court. Two men are selected and they parade through the streets giving women oranges in exchange for kisses.
Britain also celebrates Easter with an Easter egg roll in which people try to roll colored hardboiled eggs on a hill. While this has taken hold in countries like the US, the Brits tend to be pretty competitive about it. Other strange Easter customs include Pace Egg plays mostly depicting Saint George and the dragon as well as Morris dancing which is an English folk dance said to originate through druidic rites but is better known to Americans as being mercilessly ripped on the first season of Blackadder. Let’s just say the Great Britain has a lot of strange Easter traditions and leave it at that.
In Norway, Easter is a 5 day bank holiday in which all the businesses close save the grocery store on the Saturday before. During this time Norwegians celebrate by reading crime novels known as Påskekrimmen as well as watching crime thrillers on TV. There are even mystery stories on milk cartons and magazines. Of course, why Norwegians celebrate Easter with this crime stuff is just one of those mysteries.
17. Netherlands, Belgium, and France
In these countries, it’s said that the church bells fly to Rome for a few days on Holy Week and only return on Easter morning bringing back colored eggs and chocolate rabbits. It’s said the tradition started because all church bells are silent as a sign of mourning Jesus for several days before Easter. In the Netherlands and Flemish speaking Belgium, the bells fly away on Holy Saturday. In France and French speaking Belgium on Holy Thursday. Either way, replacing Santa Claus with metal bells seems like a bad acid trip to those who may never heard of it. Seriously, I’m not making this up.
18. Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Mexico as well as Latin America
In some communities in these countries, it’s customary to burn an effigy of Judas on Easter, typically depicted as hung by the neck after a fake trial. Sometimes they’d make effigies of unpopular politicians and filling the Judas effigy with fireworks. It was once practiced all over Europe before it went into decline due to it’s possible association with being called, “the burning of the Jew,” especially in Latin America. However, the Orthodox Church has since defended the practice.
In the Philippines, many devout Catholics practice self-crucifixion on Easter replicating Jesus’s suffering. The idea behind this act of insanity was this morbid ritual is to help watch the sins of the world and self-purification. The Roman Catholic Church tried to discourage this for obvious reasons but with little success. It’s also said that it’s just one manifestation of old Filipino religions that require self-flagellation. Other theories suggest it sprang out of a misinterpretation of St. Paul’s Romans 8:13, “If you live after the flesh, you shall die, but if through the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.” Of course, while some people may equate self-mortification with purification, I’d suggest you don’t try this at home, please.
Bermudans celebrate Good Friday with flying homemade kites, as well as eating codfish cakes and hot cross buns. It’s said that the tradition started when a local teacher from the British Army had difficulty explaining Christ’s ascension to his Sunday school class and made a kite to illustrate it as a result. They also hold kite contests as well.
In Hati, Holy Week is celebrated with a mixture of Catholic and Voodoo traditions such as colorful parades and traditional “rara” music played on bamboo trumpets, maracas, drums, and coffee cans. Voodoo believers would make pilgrimages to the village of Souvenance, showing devotion to the spirits with drumming, chanting, and animal sacrifices.
In parts of Northwestern Europe, a key tradition is lighting up huge bonfires called Easter Fires on Easter Sunday and Monday. A most common explanation for this is said to originate with the Saxons as a tale of how spring triumphs over winter. However, today it just brings communities together with heavy consumption of lager, gin, and snacks. Egg tapping or knocking is also popular.
While the people of Cyprus also paint and hide eggs on Easter for the younger children to find, teenage boys follow this up with a rather violent contest of scouring for scraps of wood to use on a communal bonfire. The neighborhood with the largest bonfire at the end of the day gets the Easter bragging rights until next year. However, since there’s a limited supply of scraps among the teenage boys, it’s not uncommon for police being called in breaking fights over wood scraps or to help put out out-of-control bonfires.
In Florence, Easter is celebrated with building a Rube Goldberg machine containing shards from the Holy Sepulchre to symbolize the resurrection of Jesus. Called “the holy fire,” it’s placed on a candle as well as dragged through the streets on a massive cart which is over 30ft tall and has been used for well over 300 years before reaching its destination where priests and local officials carry it to the cathedral square. Once there, it’s stuffed with explosives and topped with a fuse and a fake dove when everything is ready. The Cardinal of Florence sets the fake dove ablaze while the bells of Giotto’s campanile ring out to signal that the show is about to start. What follows is 20 minutes of nonstop explosions in the city’s cathedral which would send Michael Bay weeping with adulation. If everything goes according to plan, then the fireworks signify a year of good harvests and successful business.
In Rome on Good Friday, the Pope commemorates the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) at the Colosseum. During this a huge cross with burning torches illuminates the sky as the 14 Stations of the Cross are described in several languages. However, Americans unfamiliar with this ritual and this significance might interpret this tradition quite differently and with great offense, especially since they’re more likely to link giant burning crosses with white supremacist violence against African Americans. On Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, Mass is celebrated with thousands of visitors in St. Peter’s Square to
On Holy Thursday, the streets of Verges set the stage for the macabre “Dansa de la Mort” or “Dance of Death.” In a procession traveling through the town, 5 people dress up in skeletons grab the lime light as they move to the sound of drum beats. Each skeleton carries different items with one holding a scythe, a clock without hands, and a banner warning that death could come at any time while two carry a box of ashes. Not the kind of warm sunny Easter most of us would imagine.
This isn’t to say that there are a lot of Easter processions in Spain dating to the Middle Ages. This is performed by many Catholic brotherhoods wearing different colored robes to tell each other apart. However, they also don conical hoods to retain their anonymity, even though they tend to scare the bejesus out of any African American tourist and it doesn’t help that some of these take place at night under candlelight. The music tends to vary according to days consisting of mournful music accompanied by dramatic drum beats on Holy Thursday, utter silence on Good Friday, to celebratory music on Easter Sunday. Many tend to walk barefoot as well as wear shackles on their feet with brotherhoods carrying floats of different scenes related to the Passion of the Christ or the Sorrows of the Virgin Mary. And there is great pride for taking part and it’s said that Antonio Banderas travels to his Malaga hometown every year to take part in this with his brotherhood, “Tears and Favors”, becoming the star attraction.
Though western holidays like Halloween, Christmas, and Saint Patrick’s Day have become rather popular in Japan, Easter is relatively obscure since the country doesn’t have a lot of Christians. However, this doesn’t stop companies from organizing Easter themed promotions in the spring and sometimes even the summer. Tokyo Disneyland hosts an annual “Easter Wonderland” which sometimes runs well into June.
A known tradition in Latvia is an Easter game played by children which is like conkers but with eggs. Players pair off and used hardboiled colored eggs joined together with string. Competitors bang the ends of the eggs together until one player’s egg breaks. The winner is the one with the stronger egg. Sounds a bit messy to say the least.
Each Easter in Guatemala, the people lace the streets of their villages with colorful sawdust carpets. On their way to Mass, the procession of faithful walk over the vibrant carpet leaving a trail of powdery rainbows in their wake.
While Bulgarians decorate their Easter eggs, they’re also known to fight with them by pair. The last surviving one is called a “borak.”
In Argentina, there is a kitsch theme park dedicated to telling the story of Jesus which unsurprisingly goes into overdrive on Easter. There’s a plastic Jesus that’s resurrected every hour and plastic statues depicting the Passion which is already a must see for the devout with hundreds gathering each hour to watch the statue emerge from a rocky outcrop to survey the crowds. On Easter, actors take up the role to bring the passion to life, carrying the cross through the park and being crucified by Roman soldiers. Sure it’s probably in bad taste but it’s a huge hit in Latin America nevertheless.
In Northern Argentina, there’s an elaborate carnival that begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts all through Lent. In this, mothers and grandmothers gather around a decorated arch and exchange dolls in a ceremony believed to unite women in an eternal bond. On Sunday in an Argentinian version of the Easter Parade, women dress up in colorful ruffled skirts and white hats in masks made with starch and water. Riding on horseback, they singing folksongs on their way to a dance honoring Pukllay, the Spirit of the Carnival. After the ceremony, the burn a large effigy of the Pukllay to signify the end of the celebration a la Burning Man.
While Good Friday is a somber time in the Easter season of Holy Week, it pays host to Kingston’s biggest annual street carnival complete with a parade, requisite debaucheries, and even preachers. Also predict the future with egg whites on water.
32. El Salvador
In the town of Texistepeque, there’s a ritual on Easter called “Talciguines” which is supposed to symbolize the fight between Jesus and Satan. Of course, Jesus is always the winner.
On Palm Sunday, the Welsh visit their relatives’ graves to lay flowers as well as stage Welsh singing contests called Gymafa Gan where choirs from various chapels in festivities take part and prominent conductors are invited.
34. United States
For 130 years, the White House has hosted the Easter Egg Roll on its South Lawn. This mainly consists of rolling a colored hardboiled egg with a large serving spoon. But nowadays an egg hunt is included as well along with other sports and crafts.
In Texas, the people of Fredericksburg hold an event called the Easter Fires of Fredericksburg Pageant, where the town gets together to celebrate an 1840 peace treaty with the Comanche and the significance with Easter by reinventing this story. It’s said that the Comanche would light fires in the hills of Fredericksburg to signify that there was no hostility between the settlers and the indigenous people. But as the fires burned the German immigrant children grew worried and to calm them down their parents told them that the fires were the Easter Bunny burning eggs in preparation for the festivities.
In New York City, you have the Easter parade that dates back to the 1870s and one of the city’s most significant seasonal celebrations. It begins at the famous Fifth Avenue and finishes north up 57th street. There you’ll find visitors and New Yorkers alike done their most elaborate Easter bonnets.
In Southern Michigan, on Easter tens of thousands of marshmallows are dumped onto by helicopters and are rewarded candy afterwards. This tradition has spread to other areas.