The Christian celebration of Easter is marked in around 95 countries across the world. As well as the many festivities directly relating to the resurrection of Christ, it’s also a time for a host of other surprisingly diverse secular cultural events and traditions, from throwing buckets of water to reading crime novels. Here are just some of the highlights.
While most European countries have their own take on Easter, one tradition that unites many countries in northwestern Europe is the lighting of Easter Fires, usually on or before Easter Sunday. While they are often called ‘Judas fires’ and form part of religious celebrations, the custom is thought to predate Christianity and to have originally been a celebration of the end of winter and the arrival of spring.
In the UK eggs chocolate eggs are exchanged, or hidden by the ‘Easter Bunny’, and the holiday is also often celebrated by decorating real eggs, making of Easter bonnets or baskets and the baking of fruit-filled ‘Hot-cross buns’ on Good Friday. Another famous tradition is the giving out of ‘Maundy Money’ by the Queen on Maundy Thursday, an event whose origins lie in remembrance of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples before the Last Supper.
In France the church bells do not ring for three days from Good Friday as a token of mourning for the crucified Christ. Easter morning sees children watch the sky to see the bells ‘fly back from Rome’, while their elder family members hide chocolate eggs for them to find.
Italians celebrate with a Paschal feast of roasted baby lamb and a crown-shaped bread studded with coloured candied eggs. Dramatic processions take place including ‘devils’ rampaging around Prizzi and locals in Trapani carrying life-sized wooden sculptures through the streets for 10 hours. Easter processions are also spectacular in Spain, with special celebrations of note taking place in Valladolid, Malaga and Seville.
The Germans call Easter Ostern, and celebrations include the lighting of Easter Fires and preparing special meals. Unique festivities take place in Traustein, where riders in traditional Bavarian costume take part in an Easter horseback parade and there’s a sabre dance to celebrate the victory of spring over winter. In the village of Oberammergau a special Easter Passion Play takes place every 10 years.
In Sweden, this time of year is called Påskdagen and is predominantly a secular holiday, celebrated with a meal of eggs, herring, and Jansson’s Temptation (potato, onion and pickled sardines baked in cream) and where children may dress up as ‘Easter witches’. Meanwhile, close by in Norway many use the holiday to read mystery books and watch deceptive series, calling it Paaskekrim or ‘Easter-Crime’.
In several Central European countries including Slovakias and Hungary, Easter Monday is known as Śmigus-Dyngus, meaning Wet Monday, and sees the men in the community throwing buckets of water at women, who then respond with the same the next day.
Christians in Jerusalem, Israel, mark Good Friday by walking the same path they believe Jesus took before his crucifixion, many with their own crosses, before attending mass.. Pilgrims also congregate for an Easter sunrise service at the Garden Tomb.
In the Philippines bloody Easter rituals see some Filipino Catholics whip their backs with blades and bamboo sticks in religious penance as a form of worship and supplication.
Many Christian communities in Africa celebrate with an Easter Vigil, for which the church is decorated by ‘Vitenge‘ and ‘Kanga‘, clothes formed into shapes including butterflies and flowers. Mass is followed by traditional dances held outside the church and a celebratory meal.
One of the USA’s most famous Easter celebrations is the White House’s Easter Egg roll, hosted by the first family and Easter egg hunts and decoration are popular throughout the country.
In Bermuda, Good Friday is celebrated by flying home-made kites and eating codfish cakes and hot cross buns and in Haiti, Holy Week sees colourful parades and traditional “rara” music played, apparently mixing Catholic and Voodoo traditions.
In Mexico, Easter celebrations involve two big observances, Semana Santa (Holy Week) and Pascua (Resurrection Sunday to the following Saturday). Starting on Palm Sunday, Semana Santa sees Passion Plays take place and locals buy special elaborately woven palms from outside churches, before hanging them on their doors to ward off evil. Easter Sunday morning marks the start of Pascua, where great celebrations follow the morning service, with towns often having fêtes including stalls and even fairground rides.