Czech spring traditions

Discussion in 'Culture' started by Julie, Jan 19, 2000.

  1. Julie

    Julie Member

    I've heard about a custom that used to be performed in the Czech Republic in the spring. I think it's meant to celebrate the end of the winter. I am not sure if I'm correct, but based on what I've heard, all the people living in the same village get together, form a procession and walk to the nearest creek or river to throw a straw doll that symbolizes the Winter in the water to "drown it". Is this true and is the custom still performed? Thanks!
  2. Anonymous

    Anonymous Guest

    Julie I am Not sure, I am just looking for
    a Czech church in Raleigh,NC or close by for my friend to go to. Or a Czech pastor or
    church she can get tapes or sermons from.She's very lonely and cannot speak or
    read English very well. Do you know anyone
    who teaches the bible in Czech?She also needs
    more Czech friends, can you Help?
  3. Anonymous

    Anonymous Guest

    i have many friends in czech and i will forward this question and hopefully soon they will answer
  4. Debra

    Debra New Member

    I'm not sure but I think the holiday is the end of April and is also a "burning of the witch" day. A czech student from Prague that was friends with my son said it is common in the villages but not celebrated in the city. I'll email him and ask for sure.
    Dobry Den, Debra
  5. Jana

    Jana Well-Known Member

    This tradition is joined with the Roman Catholic religion, however its roots are much deeper, reaching down to the pagan era of the Czech history. It is called "vynaseni Morany" or "vynaseni Smrtky", i.e. carrying out the Death, symbolized by a straw doll, dressed in rags and with an ugly face, which is taken out of the village and thrown into the running water - a nearby river or a creek. The doll must float away from the village. The whole ceremony, organized on the Sunday preceding the Easter (Passion Sunday, called Death Sunday in Czech = Smrtna nedele) by children and young people dressed in traditional national costumes, is accompanied by songs celebrating the oncoming spring and awakening nature. It is still to be seen in the country, especially in Moravia region, and sometimes as a show for visitors, too.
  6. Julie

    Julie Member

    Thank you all for your wonderful answers! It is so interesting to read about all this! By the way, Debra mentioned a "burning of the witch" day. Now, is that another tradition or just a variation of the "carrying out the Death"?
  7. Dayan

    Dayan New Member

    The burning of the witch day is a different tradition. The older kids of the village are placed in charge of building the biggest pyre they can with whatever they can find to burn. These fires get huge. The kids of the village I was in used tractors to haul tree trunks to the riverbank site. They set up the tree trunks in a TeePee style and then stuffed it full of dry grass, old tires and trash. As if that weren't enough they doused it with some sort of petrol substance. Building this pyre looked like a lot of fun for the kids. They worked all day on it. Villages on opposite sides of a river bank will turn this holiday into a competition. Biggest fire wins. Before dusk all the kids of the village gather at the end of town furthest from the river and light their torches. An ugly doll representing a witch is then paraded through the village. I'm not fluent in Czech, so I don't know what most of the kids were saying, but it didn't sound nice. In any case at the end of the parade route the witch is set atop the pyre and and set ablaze as all the kids throw their torches at it. I've only had the opportunity to go to one witch burning. It was so much fun. The kids build the biggest fire they can and the adults drink as much great tasting beer/pivo as they can. In the end all the evil spirits of the village go up in smoke with the foul witch.

  8. Julie

    Julie Member

    Thanks for your response Dayan! The burning of the witches does sound like fun!
  9. easthigh69

    easthigh69 Member

    Winter, the season of the year when vegetation is dormant, is a time of cold, often stormy weather, and short days. Darkness comes early and the resulting atmosphere is one of gloom. Before the development of modern lighting – when candles, pitch pine and the fire on the hearth provided the only illumination – the atmosphere created by darkness was even more unpleasant. The peasants of Europe believed that the demons of winter were everywhere, lurking in the shadows of house and barn, in the fields and woods, and especially in dark places. Signs and symbols of these demons were to be found in the cold atmosphere, the leafless trees, the barren ground, and the brown grass. Only the death of winter could dispel all this darkness.

    In the Czech Republic, the symbolic death of winter occurs on Black Sunday, fourteen days before Easter Sunday. In the Bohemian Forest, among the Chods, it’s customary to prepare a dummy (named Morena), who represents the old winter or Death. The figure is fashioned of straw or sticks, dressed in old white clothes (to symbolize the snow), and decorated with old rags and a necklace of eggs.

    The villagers carry Morena about the fields while the younger marchers in costume sing sad funeral music. They parade to the river, swinging Morena from side to side, and singing:

    We are carrying out the winter
    And bringing in the springtime.

    After the girls remove her clothes, Morena is beaten to pieces, her straw burned, scattered to the winds, or “drowned” in the river. As she is thrown into the river and floats away, the people shout:

    Death is floating down the river,
    And spring will soon be here.

    This ceremony is supposed to show that everything dead or dying must be done away with to make way for spring. After the dead winter is thrown into the stream, život (Life) or jarní čas (springtime) is carried about in the hands of the marchers. These are represented by small fir trees, decorated with gaily colored eggshells, red apples, and chains of flowers or bright ribbons, like miniature Christmas trees. They form groups and go caroling from house to house, announcing the coming of spring in song...

    St. George, the Saint of spring,
    Will soon be here to unlock the Earth with his keys.
    Our trees will soon grow,
    Like the ones we are holding.

    ... and collecting ingredients for holiday cakes and other gifts.

    This festivity can be seen in Valašsko, Horňácko, Českomoravská vrchovina or in the Chodsko or Blata regions.

    In the Podluží region, the same ceremony is done with a twig decorated with painted eggs. Special types of cakes are baked and symbolic ornaments are painted on thousands of egg shells to be sold by old village women at market places all over Bohemia and Moravia.

    In the Bydzov region, they used to put flax behind the window in the beliefe that no one would die in the house during the entire year if they did.
  10. easthigh69

    easthigh69 Member

    On the evening of April 30th, Czechs gather to build a bonfire and prepare an effigy of the witch that kept winter around so long. Czechs used to believe that the power of witches would weaken as the weather got warmer. So they thought that if they made something that looked like a witch and burned it, they could finally get rid of the cold weather.

    First, they tie two large sticks together to form a cross. Then they stuff old shirts, pants and socks with straw and place a pointed hat on the top of the stack. The witch is tied to a broomstick and set aside until darkness falls.

    When the fire is roaring, people roast sausages on sticks, strum guitars, and sing their favorite songs. Everyone looks forward to nightfall, when they will face the spirits of the witches. As soon as it’s dark, the effigy of the witch is brought out and held up for all to see. Then, with a heave of the arm, it is thrown on top of the bonfire. As the witch burns, so does the last of winter’s chill.

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