It's coming up to Easter, and people are busy with their preparations - they do take their Easters seriously in this country. Of course it's a major Christian holy time, but it's the pagan customs that seem to dominate the early Spring here. The houses sprung flowerpots and boxes with willow branches hung with decorated eggs and ribbons, and women are busy baking Easter lambkins (see blog entry below for the recipe) and 'mazanec' pastries, and of course, decorating eggs - the most important part of their pre-Easter activities.
The men, meanwhile, are prowling the countryside searching for the most moist and bendy willow shoots from which they'll be making their special 'whips' with which to symbolically beat their women in exchange for the eggs and the cakes, of course with some slivovi to make the cakes go down.
I will report on how this Easter goes, but for now I'll stay with the preparations. The egg decorating is a fine art, honed by generations of women who pass their know-how on, and with very defined regional variations, indeed almost every village has some particular design or particular method of egg-decorating. The techniques vary from simple painting to elaborate wax batique or scratching, some are even clad in fine lace. The designs are abstract, but very meaningful, and the women here mostly know what all the symbolism means to every detail.
Same with the whip-making, like the egg symbolism a fertility rite: there are so many ways of plaiting the whip, from simple three or four shoots strong, to a twelve-shoot, complex, design. It the duty of the elderly men in the community to teach the boys this art, and some villages even make a communal whip, competing in its length with the neighbouring groups of men. Very phallic, of course, but that's the fun of it.
Well, we've been lucky to have neighbours who are incredibly dilligent about their folk traditions so each year we get to be included, and our visitors too. So we're learning to decorate the eggs and to plait the whips, and it's been great to watch the British men struggle with the unforgiving willow, coming up with variously bent and sorry-looking creations next to the expert perfection of the old man's from next door, but it's all in good humour, because we all know that only years of practice make perfect :-)
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I'll write more on the subject as we get nearer the dates, meanwhile I shall be stocking up with eggs: only my own decorating is a bit freer than the tradition would allow! Here's my Easter bunny with three Easter Graces.