One of the more clearly sacred holidays, Easter has traditionally been celebrated on a Sunday in Spring to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. A holy day observed by the Christian church for centuries, the First Council of Nicaea set the date for Easter to be the first Sunday after the full moon following the March equinox. Protestants remember this time of year as the period in which Christ was crucified, died, buried, and raised from the dead. For Catholics, Easter comes at the end of a season of Lent, forty days of fasting, prayer, and penance. A 2012 Barna study concluded that 78% of Americans age 66 and older continue to celebrate Easter as a religious holiday. The same study showed that only 14% of Americans don’t celebrate the holiday at all.
However, as with most holidays, the way they are celebrated changes depending on the time in history and the cultural location. The first thing that comes to mind for most when thinking about Easter is probably not the Christian symbol of the cross, but more likely a large bunny hiding eggs, a favorite meal that is eaten every year, or an Easter parade. Common foods enjoyed in America include deviled eggs, ham, and lamb. Historically, the holiday has some ties to the Jewish Passover, the arrival of Spring, and pagan ideas of fertility as symbolized by the rabbit. Today, the younger generation of Americans recognizes this diversity and 31% of those ages 18-27 don’t associate any religious observances with their Easter traditions. Culturally, people across the globe have produced some pretty bizarre traditions. Both religious and secular, different groups participate in some strange and surprising activities. Check out the list below for some of the most shocking ways people celebrate Easter around the world.
10. Keeping Witches Away in Finland
You might think you’ve got the wrong holiday if you consider the way some in Finland celebrate Easter. Based on the belief that witches come out to party with the devil on this day, some people burn fires to ward off these evil creatures. Children also go door to door dressed up like beggars asking for candy. Their faces are painted or rubbed with soot, and they put on old clothes. Can anyone say trick-or-treat?
9. Taking a Bath in Poland and Hungary
In these countries women have to dodge people tossing water at them. That’s right. On Easter Monday boys use buckets, water guns, or whatever they can find to soak one another and any ladies they can find as a “purifying ritual.” It’s said that whichever girls get soaked will marry during the next year. Sometimes perfume or cologne is used instead. The day is referred to as “Ducking Monday” and has it has roots in the act of baptism, and is meant to symbolize cleansing and fertility.
8. Thrill-Seeking in Norway
Although it would probably not be your first thought, the thing to do in Norway during the Easter season is to read crime novels. They are so popular that booksellers advertise their new publications as “Easter Thrillers.” Why the draw to crime novels, you ask? One clever publisher decided to promote his book on the front cover on the local newspaper back in the 1920s, the story goes. He did such a good job that people didn’t realize it was just an ad.
7. Lighting Up in New Guinea
Not all countries celebrate with chocolate or candy; for some places, nicotine is the coveted item. In Papua, trees outside of churches are lined with sticks of tobacco and cigarettes. Attending church service in the morning is extremely important, but before everyone disburses to family member’s homes for the afternoon meal, they pass out smokes and light up together.
6. Chocolate Bilbies in Australia
So you knew about the kangaroo, but Australia is home to another intriguing marsupial, the bilby. These endangered creatures are small, rabbit like animals with long tails and pointed ears. To raise awareness and help to support preserving these animals, companies began manufacturing chocolate bilbies as a substitute for bunnies around Easter time. Monies are donated to support bilby conservation projects, and children read stories about “The Aussie Easter Bilby.”
5. Throwing Pots in Greece
On the Greek island of Corfu on the morning of Holy Saturday you will hear the sound of shattering earthenware. Helping to welcome spring and new beginnings, people throw pots, jars, or other pieces of pottery out their windows. This is symbolic of new crops that will be planted in new pots and grow to new life in the spring season.
4. Hunting Easter Bunnies in New Zealand
A twist on the traditional idea of a life-size Easter bunny hiding eggs for children to find, the people of New Zealand are the ones hunting bunnies. A monetary prize is awarded to the person who is able to kill the most bunnies. While this may sound extreme, rabbits are a huge nuisance in the area since they don’t really have any predators. Each year up to 20,000 rabbits are killed, which acts as a form of population control.
3. Death Dance in Spain
In the town of Verges, Spain, people take to the streets dressed in skeleton costumes and parade around. Considered a “death dance,” the activity is intended to reenact scenes from Christ’s Passion. It begins around midnight on Holy Thursday and ends around 3am on Friday with a band of skeletons carrying ashes. What a way to ring in the Easter season.
2. Jumbo Omelet in France
Located in the South of France, the town of Haux takes their culinary tradition to the next level. Each year on Easter Monday, townspeople from nearby villages gather the eggs from their house and bring them to the town square. Using more than 4,500 eggs, an omelet is cooked in a gigantic pan and shared by about 1,000 people! The tradition goes back to when Napoleon and his army were passing through the area and stopped in the small town to eat an omelet. Because he liked it so much, the inhabitants were ordered to collect their eggs and cook another to feed his army.
1. Getting Spanked in the Czech Republic and Slovakia
Legend has it that the branches of the willow tree, supposedly the first tree to bloom in spring, hold within it powers of fertility, health, and beauty. Thus, men in this part of the world craft stick made from willow trees and decorate them with ribbons. Then, they take to the streets and hit passing women and girls in hopes of instilling these qualities. The tradition is all in fun and is not harmful to those involved.