Czech Easter - Holy Week: Green Thursday
Contributed by Petr Chudoba

Maundy Thursday commemorates Jesus' last supper with His disciples and the institution of the Lord's Supper. Holy Thursday is called Maundy Thursday in English from the old Latin name for the day, "Dies Mandatum," i.e. "the day of the new commandment".

With this day begins the so-called Holy Three-Day Period, among the most significant days of the Church year. This Holy Three-Day Period (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) was a time of holy obligation all through the Middle Ages. The Christian people, freed from servile work, were all present at the impressive ceremonies of these days. Due to the changed conditions of social life, however, Urban VIII, in 1642, rescinded this obligation. Since then the last three days of Holy Week have been classified as working days, despite the sacred and important character they bear, which was powerfully stressed by the renewal of the liturgical order of Holy Week in 1955.

Zelený čtvrtek (Green Thursday) is how the Czechs and Moravians refer to Maundy Thursday. One explanation is that in many places, before the thirteenth century, green vestments were used for the Mass that day. Another is that this is a reference to "the Green Ones," the penitents who, being re-admitted to the Church, wore sprigs of green herbs to express their joy. The "grün" in the German name for the day ("Gründonnerstag", literally Green Thursday) does not derive from the name of the color but is a corruption of the word "greinen" (weinen, to weep).

A strict fast used to be observed on Green Thursday. Because only a single, meatless, complete meal - free of any food of animal origin - was allowed, only vegetables were eaten. Thus, Green Thursday. The eating of green vegetables is still a customary part of the meals served on this day in many parts of Europe and, to some extent, in the United States. The Czechs and Moravians eat a soup of green herbs, followed by a green salad.

According to another explanation, Jesus prayed on a green meadow in the Garden of Gethsemane.

On Zelený čtvrtek in the Czech Republic, the children must go out very early in the morning and bathe - naked! - in the river. This is supposed to be a cure for laziness. And when they come in, shivering and complaining that they’ve just been made to do something they would be punished for in summer, when they would enjoy it, the rope-like jidášky are eaten. Jidášky are served with honey at breakfast. These breakfast cakes, made to look like rope, suggest the fate of Judas Iscariot, who "went and hanged himself" (Matthew 27:5 NKJV) in remorse after he had identified Jesus to His enemies.

Before sunrise, the owners of horses in Slovakia lead them to the river and into the water to a depth of two feet or so. It is believed that this will bring the horses good health and sound feet for the entire year.

It is believed that the floor and the bedding should be beaten with a willow blessed on Palm Sunday. The house should also be sprinkled with holy water from a new pot with a wisp of straw.

In Slovakia, the housewives diligently sweep around the home, the yard and the street to ward off harm to the home for the coming year. During the course of this Thursday, the women wash the wooden boards upon which they make noodles. They also wash the rolling pin, the large wooden mixing spoon and the bowl used for mixing the dough for bread and koláče.

In the evening of  Zelený čtvrtek in the Czech Republic, the village boys used to equip themselves with a wooden rattle (řehtačka), which was specially made for the purpose. They formed a group and walked through the village, rattling their rattles vigorously so the noise could be heard from afar. The meaning of the rattling may have been to chase away Judas. The same procedure would repeat on Good Friday (Velký pátek). The last rattling day was White Saturday (Bílá sobota), when the boys didn't just walk through the village, but stopped at every house in the morning and rattled until they were given money which they could then split between themselves. This custom ceased to exist around the beginning of last century.

The racket they made served as a substitute for churchbell ringing during Holy Week, a time when all church bells were believed to have flown to Rome on Zelený čtvrtek to make a pilgrimage to the tomb of the Apostles, or to visit the bishop of Rome to be blessed by him. The bells then would sleep on the roof of St. Peter's Cathedral until morning on Bílá sobota, when they would return, bringing glad news and colored eggs.

The men in the countryside rise at midnight on Zelený čtvrtek and walk to the nearest brook to wash themselves. They do this in honor and imitation of Jesus Who - according to legend - tripped and fell into the Brook Kidron on His way to His hearing before the high priest.

In the Czech Republic, the hawthorn tree is supposed to weep on this day. According to tradition, it is the tree from which the crown of thorns was fashioned. Of all the plants mentioned as the source of the torturing crown, none is better known than the hawthorn. So abundant are its white blossoms in spring that its long, spiny thorns are hardly noticeable, but they are capable of inflicting a painful wound and their sharpness is soon apparent when branches are carelessly handled.

Sources include: My Czech Republic (