Easter is without a doubt one of the most important religious holidays in the Christian calendar. Around the globe there are a huge range of different traditions and ways in which this festival is celebrated – much more than just guzzling down chocolate eggs! Let’s have a look at some other national traditions in more detail.
One of the more obvious differences between Russian and English-speaking countries when it comes to Easter is the fact that Russia primarily follows the Eastern orthodox tradition. This means that the date of Easter is calculated using the Julian calendar, rather than the Gregorian calendar, and therefore often falls on a different day to in Western countries.
One Easter tradition that is the same is that of the giving and receiving of Easter eggs, which plays an equally big part in Russian Easter celebrations. In addition to eggs, Russians also do a lot of baking and make traditional Easter cakes to share with family and friends as well. In fact, the spirit of giving is a very important part of Russian Easter, and it is traditional for people to give gifts of money, clothes or food to the poor and needy in society.
Something that you might also see in Russia is people greeting each other with a triple kiss. This is a special warm greeting specific to the Easter season, and is commonly referred to in English as “the kiss of peace”.
France has historically been primarily a Catholic country, and as such many of their Easter traditions are the ones which we recognise.
Easter eggs are given in France, just as in the UK. However, these eggs are not delivered by a bunny, but in fact by church bells! The bells of churches are not rung during the Easter season to mark the solemnity of holy week. Historically, bells were often sent off at this time to be blessed by the Vatican, and it is said that Easter eggs are dropped by the bells as they fly back home from Rome! In reality, Easter eggs are generally hidden by adults for children to find. These Easter egg hunts are often huge events that can draw thousands of people and tens of thousands of eggs.
The French also play a traditional game with their eggs, although this time the eggs are raw hen’s eggs. These are rolled downhill by children, and the most intact egg to reach the bottom wins.
As you would expect from a country with such a rich heritage of fine dining, French Easter also has a lot do to with food. Traditionally a dinner of roast lamb is eaten on Easter Sunday – the lamb being a traditional symbol representing Jesus.
Spending Easter week, or Semana Santa (Holy Week), in Spain can be a real treat, as it is easily the most important religious festival of the year. Easter traditions across Spain vary greatly throughout different regions of the country, but the brightest and most exciting events are generally agreed to take place in the southernmost region of Andalusia.
Throughout the country, it is common to see colourful street processions made up of hundreds of people. Often, they will be carrying large ornate floats depicting various scenes from the passion of Christ. Additionally these floats or tronos will be accompanied by “penitents”, men dressed in tall pointed hoods with their faces covered.
Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are very solemn and serious occasions. Saturday will normally be celebrated with a special vigil mass in the night as the day turns into Easter day. Sunday is the most joyous day, and is a day of un-bridled feasting and celebration, with the baking and sharing of sweet treats and the giving of small gifts.
Easter in Germany is quite different to the exuberant celebrations in other parts of Western Europe, but is no less culturally important. German Easter has a lot to do with the start of spring, and as such common things to see include brightly painted eggs, rabbits and daffodils.
The tradition of eggs and rabbits being associated with Easter actually has its roots in German culture, and is thought to originate in the pagan tradition of celebrating fertility and the new life that Spring brings.
Another German tradition is the Easter bonfire, which is traditionally held on Easter Sunday. This also has its roots in old pagan customs, where fires were lit to welcome the sun and the spring back into the world.
It’s not all fun and games though – many Germans use the Easter Monday bank holiday as the time to spring clean their homes!
Wherever it is celebrated, there are some things about Easter that are universally recognisable, but each country has its own take on this most special of Christian holidays.