Friday, 21 March 2008

Easter customs and traditions

Happy Easter to all that may read this over the Easter holidays :-)

Yesterday, on 'Green Thursday' as the Czechs call it, I breakfasted the traditional 'Judas' pastry. It's a sweet bun made from yeast dough - a little like the British Hot cross bun, except for the cross, as this one tends to be plain brown and platted, to symbolise the rope by which Judas hanged himself (you can also see a nice photo on which I can't publish for copyright reasons). Alas, to my shame I didn't do anything else that's required of a good householder on this day: one should get up really early, before sunrise, and sweep all ills out of the house, then wash with morning dew (or snow as the case may be) and take any sweepings to the crossroads, so as to avoid fleas in the year to come! One should then throw a piece of the Judas pastry spread with honey into the well to insure plenty of water. Good Christians would then ritually wash eachothers' feet and go to morning mass, and again to mass in the evening. This is the last time the bells are rung because the tradition has it bells fly off to Rome on the Thursday night. That's why a custom of rattling special wooden rattles has developed, an extremely noisy custom enjoyed mainly by young boys and men, which persists throughout the Easter weekend, during which all bells must remain silent. (by the way these rattles are similar to the ones football-fans use nowadays!) In some areas, people would also beat mortars with pestles, or rattle coins in their pockets, to ensure wealth in the coming year.

Good Friday (Great Friday in Czech), though very much observed as the Christian Passion day even by otherwise religiously tepid people, also has its folk beliefs and rituals - some more or less forgotten, some still enjoyed by many. Maybe the strongest belief is that you are not to disturb the soil on this day: it is a magical day when the earth may open up to reveal hidden treasures - if you walk out into the countryside at dusk, such a place will show itself by luminescent ferns, or by nooks and caves in rocks, issuing faint light. Altogether this was always seen as a day strong in magical powers: witches and watersprites were supposed to roam about, and you were not to lend anything to anyone as it may come back to you bewitched. On this day you would get up before sunrise and wash in a running stream, and observe a fast. Women would spin special 'passion threads' that they would sew into their shirts to guard against evil eye and lightning, and men would roam about with their noisy rattles....

Nowadays, with Tescos and others open day and night through most of the weekend, and offering ready-made Easter eggs and Judas pastries and all, will commerce win over tradition? Hope not: as I walked into my neighbour's house this morning, there was a huge mound of eggs in various stages of finish strewn on the kitchen table, and although Krumlov itself seems oddly silent, and later as I went to the riding stables at the nearby village, I heard the bold rattles laughing their wooden cackle in the distance.

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