Czech Easter (Velikonoce)
By Dana Shanberg
You can read about Prague Easter
celebrations on our Easter
in Prague pages and get a
historical perspective of Czech Easter in
articles contributed to us by Petr Chudoba.
I was growing up in Czechoslovakia in the years before
1989, the meaning of Easter (Velikonoce - from Veliké
was limited to the welcoming of spring. The religious
connotations of Easter were suppressed under the communist
are again aware of the strong Christian background of Easter,
but Easter has not become a serious religious holiday.
Easter in the Czech
Republic is a fun time. Many traditions are still
observed and practiced, especially in villages, and different
may have their own Easter traditions and customs.
Many Czech Easter symbols
are related to spring and the beginning of new life. Some
of the best known are:
hand-painted or otherwise decorated egg (kraslice)
is the most recognizable symbol of Czech Easter. Girls
decorate Easter eggs to give them to boys on Easter Monday.
There are many Easter egg decorating techniques and the
more elaborate ones require a certain level of
skill. Different materials can be used, such as bee's wax,
straw, watercolors, onion peels, picture stickers. The most common designs are probably geometrical patterns, but you can also see flowers, leaves or snowflake patterns in a whole range of colors. There
are no limitations to creating pretty, colorful eggs.
A nationwide Easter
egg contest is held in Prague and other Czech cities around
live pussywillow twigs are thought to bring health and
youth to anyone who is whipped with them. An Easter pomlázka (from pomladit or "make
younger") is a braided whip made from pussywillow
twigs. It has been used for centuries by boys
who go caroling on Easter Monday and symbolically whip
girls on the legs. In the past, pomlázka was also
used by the farmer's wife to whip the livestock and everyone
in the household, including men and children. There
would be no Czech Easter without the pomlázka.
Boys used to make
their own pomlázkas in the past. The more twigs,
the more difficult it was to braid one. This skill is not widespread anymore and pomlázkas
can be bought in stores
street stands. Some men don't even bother and use
a single twig or even a wooden spoon!
One Easter tradition
is to bake a lamb. In the Czech Republic, real lamb is
usually replaced with one made from gingerbread.
Dousing a girl with water has a similar symbolic meaning
as the pomlázka.
Red and other bright colors symbolize health, joy, happiness
and new life that comes with the spring.
The following is based
on my experience of Easter in the Northern Moravia region.
Children finish school
Wednesday (Škaredá středa), which is
a good idea because they need to spend
on making Easter what it should be. In the evening of Green
Thursday (Zelený čtvrtek), every boy
in the village equips himself with a wooden rattle
which is specially made for the purpose, the boys form
and walk through the village, rattling their rattles vigorously,
so the noise can be heard from afar. The meaning of the
rattling is to chase away Judas. The same procedure
repeats on Good Friday (Velký
pátek) and one more time on White
Saturday (Bílá sobota)
when the boys don't only walk through the village
at every house
in the morning and rattle until they're given money,
which they then split between themselves.
Easter Sunday (Neděle
velikonoční) is a day
of preparations for Easter Monday. Girls paint, color
they haven't done so already, and boys prepare their
In my family, decorating Easter eggs
is a simple affair:
dip some hardboiled eggs in water filled with boiled onion
peels and then place store-bought Easter stickers on the
Easter Monday (Pondělí
velikonoční) is a
day off, the day of the pomlázka.
The origin of
the pomlázka tradition (pomlázka meaning
both the whip and the tradition itself) dates back to pagan
times. Its original purpose and symbolic meaning is to
chase away illness and
bad spirits and to bring health and youth for the rest
of the year to everyone who is whipped with the young
pussywillow twigs. Boys would whip
girls lightly on the legs and possibly douse
them with water, which had a similar symbolic meaning.
An Easter carol, usually asking for an egg or two, would
be recited by the boy while whipping. The girl
would then reward the boy with a painted egg or candy
and tie a ribbon around his pomlázka. As the boys
progressed through the village, their bags filled up
and their pomlázkas were adorned with more
and more colorful ribbons.
This tradition is still largely
upheld, especially in villages and small
it may have lost its symbolism and romance and is now
performed mainly for fun. Some boys and men seem to have
forgotten that the whipping is
and girls don't always like that. The reward has also changed
- money and shots of plum brandy (slivovice) are
often given instead of or in addition
to painted eggs and candy. So by early afternoon, groups
of happy men can be seen staggering along the roads...
All that aside, Easter remains one of the most joyful
holidays on the Czech calendar.
Happy Easter! - Veselé Velikonoce!