If you’re sick of Peeps getting stuck in your teeth, or are just looking for something different to do this year, Easter is one of the most underrated times to explore some of the world’s oldest and most idiosyncratic traditions, eat some delicious local delicacies, and take some stellar selfies covered in flowers, chocolate and food dye.
One of the most important festivals of the Christian calendar, Easter celebrations worldwide have become incredibly diverse and a really excellent way to explore aspects of new places you’d never get to see. Prepare for some culture shock if you choose to travel.
Here are 10 of the most amazing places to be this Easter weekend, whether you’re an eggs-for-breakfast person or more of a French toast fan.
Haux, Southern France
Think you have a fondness for Easter eggs? You probably pale in comparison to those living in this beautiful town located in Southern France. Every year the inhabitants of this area come together for their annual omelette festival on Easter Monday; the last giant creation served over 1,000 people and used over 4,500 eggs. The tradition is said to come from a visit by Napoleon to Haux as he travelled through the French countryside. He enjoyed a traditionally-prepared omelette he was served there so much that he demanded the townsfolk provide the same meal for his entire army. The huge, eggy creation has come on a long way from its original, militant origins; Haux currently holds the Guinness World Record for the largest egg dish ever made. Vegetarians and those with concerns for their breath may do better with sticking to pain au chocolat on their visit, though, as additional ingredients last year included around 50 kilos each of bacon lardons and onions.
Aside from being arguably one of the cooler destinations to visit at any time in Western Europe, Stockholm and its surroundings become particularly vibrant around Easter as the tradition of påskkärring takes to the streets. This is part of the Swedish Easter tradition, and looks a lot like a particularly adorable American Halloween; little girls paint their cheeks and dress up as witches in old clothes, hauling copper pots around the town asking for candy. In the week leading up to Easter Sunday, the Stockholm nights are also lit up with huge firework displays. Easter has become a secular holiday for most Swedes, but a traditional smörgåsbord lunch is easy to find if you’re a fan of good company and maybe some delicious smoked herring.
If you’re up for some truly traditional street entertainment, you couldn’t do better on Easter Weekend than heading to Mexico City for one of the world’s biggest Passion Play events. Over a million people flock to Iztapalapa every year, to watch all or a part of the week-long festival that culminates in the (actual!) crucifixion of the actor playing Jesus. Although he is taken down from the cross after a short period of time has passed, emotions run high in this event, which is broadcast all over the Spanish-speaking Catholic world.
Greece is a country with a very serious religious attitude; some of the Easter traditions celebrated by the Orthodox church are staggeringly beautiful. The late Mass on Saturday night in the Athenian Cathedral is an event not to be missed; a procession goes through the town and Easter is rung in with rousing cries of “Christos Anesti”, to which the traditional response is “Alithos Anesti”. Celebrants light their candles from the “Holy Flame”, which, legend has it, comes from the Nativity Cave of Christ, and then exit to a jubilant parade of bells, song and fireworks. Whether or not you participate in the religious aspect of the holiday, however, the breaking of the Lenten fast the next day is something everyone can enjoy. Traditional fare includes the ubiquitous eggs (dyed bright red in Greece) and bonfire-roasted lamb.
The Semana Santa , or Holy Week, is a complicated and beautiful time of ritual in most of Spain, but especially the city of Seville. Comparable to a very serious Mardi Gras, or to the Macy’s parade in terms of its pageantry, the city is filled with enormous groups of the faithful who gather to see the colossal handmade floats, depicting Biblical scenes, pass through the streets. These floats are followed by groups of white-robed “penitents”, who wear garments that hide their entire bodies so that ‘only God will know their identity’. The culmination of these events is the Holy Thursday parade, which is a wonderful time to pick up a little street food, find a place in the crowd, and marvel at the amazing sights before you.
For an alternative procession spectacle, hop in a car and head to the Paraguayan village of Tañarandy for an amazing parade that attracts over 15,000 visitors every year. The Stations of the Cross, part of the Christian Easter tradition, are commemorated in this parade, but not before the village’s main street has been completely carpeted with candles. Made from hollowed-out oranges and animal fat, these tiny glowing beacons are placed all over the road throughout the day by celebrants, so by the time sunset comes Tañarandy is split by a river of soft light. Following this trail will lead you to a carnival of ‘living Easter paintings’, tableaux set up by the local artist Koki Ruiz.
If you’re looking for a little charm and light entertainment this Easter and you’re in the DC area, you could do worse than showing up to the annual Egg Roll at the White House. The theme, inspired by the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative, is “Hop into Healthy, Swing into Shape!”, and lots of daytime shenanagins are planned for the White House lawn. The main event, the Egg Roll, comes from a tradition that President Hayes started in 1878; turn up, paint an egg some pretty colours, indulge in some chocolate and keep your eyes peeled for the Obamas. Ticket-holding children receive a carved wooden egg signed by the President and family on their way out of the grounds.
Even if the grand Mass in Rome isn’t for you, elaborate and fantastical celebrations are happening all over Italy for Holy Week , as the Catholic community celebrates one of its biggest annual events. One of the most famous goes on in the ancient city of Florence – the “Explosion of the Cart” has been celebrated since 1622. A three-story high wagon is pulled through the streets by a pair of flower-strewn white oxen, bringing the Holy Fire to Il Duomo, the church of Santa Maria Del Fiore. When the cart and the huge crowds which always turn out for the pageant arrive at the cathedral, the archbishop uses the fire the oxen have brought across the city to light a dove-shaped rocket, which in turn sets off a colossal firework display. Florence is an amazing city to visit at any time, but the medieval splendor of this unchanging spectacle is truly not to be missed.
Prague, Czech Republic
Haven’t been able to make it to any of these places in time for the main event? You have a day’s grace to get to the Czech Republic, where post-communism Easter mayhem in the form of one of Europe’s most controversial Easter traditions still reigns until Red Monday. Probably more fun for the gentlemen than the ladies, Slovak Easter Monday practices involve whips, water drenchings and potentially lots of kisses for the girls. Men in the CZ go from door-to-door visiting female relatives and friends, and are allowed for the course of the day to (ideally gently!) whip them with specially-braided willow switches, demand treats and candy, and douse them with water and perfume. These traditions stem from fertility traditions of the region, and getting whipped and drenched is supposed to grant one health and beauty for the coming year. Foreigners are usually safe from the excesses of the pomlázka, so whether or not you agree with a gendered Easter festival, there’s a lot to see and experience this April.
Victoria, The Seychelles
If you’re looking for a less frenetic, religion-optional retreat, one of the most scenically amazing and lively places to vacation over Easter is the Seychelles. The Arts Festival goes on for the entire month of April, and celebrates contemporary Seychelles art and culture. Most events are highly participatory; expect to be dancing energetically whether you attend this or one of the many Easter parades that happen In Victoria and the surrounding islands. Take the opportunity to enjoy a break from traditional chocolate and candy, and try the unique and marvelous Seychellois cuisine; fresh seafood for the conservative, or if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, a Rousette fruit bat or shark chutney.