Cracking Easter customs and traditions from around the world
There’s much more to Easter than chocolate and bunnies. How about some perfume-throwing in Hungary or a giant omelette in France?
Join us on a trip to discover some of the most speggtacular Easter celebrations from across the globe – they’re no yolk!
It’s all about the eggs
Ok, so let’s start off with the origins of the ones we probably all know best: Easter eggs.
Symbolising both fertility and new life, eggs are the essence of Easter in many parts of the world. It’s said that eggs are associated with ancient pagan celebrations of spring. For Christians, the Easter egg represents the resurrection of Jesus Christ, with the hard shell being his tomb.
Decorating and filling Easter eggs
As with many religious holidays, there are plenty of treats about at this time of year, and let’s face it, Easter wouldn’t be Easter without chocolate eggs, and eggs filled with sweets. If you haven’t got yours already, make sure you head to the Reward eShop where you can pick up some goodies at stores like Thorntons and Hotel Chocolat, while earning CashPoints at the same time.
Eating chocolate eggs and filling them with treats is actually a relatively new tradition. Historically, Christians would abstain from eating eggs during Lent, so instead they were boiled, painted and used as decorations.
The Easter Bunny
Easter bunnies first popped up in Germany at the end of the 1600s.
Legend has it that the Easter bunny was actually a bird that had to change itself into a rabbit to escape hunters. So far, so good. But, the bird-rabbit missed laying eggs, so it was granted permission to do so every Easter.
German immigrants took the bunny legend to America, where it became a popular symbol of Easter, and eventually added chocolate and sweets for children to its morning egg deliveries.
Greece: Candles and fireworks
There are many awesome reasons to visit Athens, but if you’re heading there around Easter time, then you’re in for a real treat.
Easter is the high point of the year for orthodox Greeks. It’s a big family occasion and one of the highlights is the day before Easter Sunday when Greeks flock to the churches, each with their own candle.
The candles are all slowly lit from the church candle that has a flame brought all the way from Jerusalem. Eventually, when all the candles are burning, the skies light up outside with a fantastic fireworks display.
Germany: Light the bonfire
In Germany friends give each other exquisite hand-painted eggs or hang them from trees for decoration. The day before Easter Sunday, friends and neighbours gather around a big Easter bonfire.
Ever practical, the Germans often make this bonfire from Christmas trees left from the year before.
Hungary: Sprinkling party
In Hungary the Easter tradition is called “sprinkling”. Boys aim to douse women with buckets of water or sprinkle their hair with perfume.
Originally, the targets were young women of marriage age, as the water was said to represent fertility. Nowadays, any woman in the family can be doused. Often a poem is read before the sprinkling begins, and the men are given gifts of chocolate, cakes and alcohol.
Poland: More water and baskets with meaning
In Poland you can also get really soaked on Easter Monday. Here people wish each other good health by spraying ice-cold water on them. Absolutely everyone is involved, so it’s not unusual for passers-by to get a generous dousing of chilly water from complete strangers.
Another tradition is the Easter basket of food that people take to church to be blessed. All the food in the basket has a symbolic meaning. Red-painted eggs signify the resurrection of Jesus and some special sausages stand for the wish for more food and fertility in the future.
France: Napoleon’s army and enormous omelettes
As we said, eggs belong to Easter. In Haux, France, they make a giant omelette of no less than 4,500 eggs. This is enough to feed the some thousand people who meet up in the square to take part in the tradition.
According to history, Napoleon and his army stopped here for a rest and a plate of omelette when they were passing through. Napoleon was said to have liked the dish so much that he ordered a massive one for his men the next day, too.
USA: The Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival in New York
The Easter Parade in New York goes back to the mid-1800s when society streamed over 5th Avenue on the way to the Easter church service. Women liked to take an extra walk afterwards, mainly to show off their new spring clothes and lovely hats, and thus this fashion-based parade was born.
The tradition continues in Manhattan today, where the roads are closed and the Easter Parade goes from 49th Street to 57th Street, beginning at 10am on Easter Sunday. Here you’ll also see the revellers sporting some spectacular, creative, and oftentimes, over-the-top bonnets.
Tip: Once the parade is over, head for a typical Sunday brunch. You can find some recommendations for brunch in our post on the best places to eat in New York.
Spain: Processions in Spain
In Spain the Easter celebration is also strongly connected to religion, and you won’t find too many egg hunts and rabbits here.
Instead, massive processions take place, and one of the most famous and most spectacular is that of Seville. Here, participants dress in masks, robes and pointed hoods. Some walk barefoot through the streets while some carry massive floats on their shoulders. The floats, often covered in gold, depict scenes from the Passion.
Sweden and Finland: Beware of the Easter witches
Since the 1800s it’s been a tradition in Sweden and Finland for children to dress up as witches and come to people’s doors with poems or small greetings that they can swap for sweets, a bit like Halloween in some countries. In many places children carry willow branches that they gift in return for the sweets.
Brazil: Judas dolls
Judas is not the most likeable character in the Bible’s Easter story. He has even become a symbol of devastating betrayal. In Brazil, they’re not quite finished with him.
Here they make tall Judas dolls that they beat up, burn or hang during Easter. Often they make the dolls look like people they believe are present-day Judases, such as unpopular politicians.
Norway: Easter trip to the mountains
In Norway, many people travel to the mountains for Easter. Norwegians even have a name for the mountain they go to then: påskefjellet (the Easter mountain). Even if there’s only a little bit of snow left at this time of the year, Easter will be celebrated on exactly that patch of snow with sun, oranges and chocolate.
Czechia: Good health
In The Czech Republic, Easter Monday can get a bit hazardous. The young men make whips out of braided willow branches, decorate them with feathers and use them to smack girls and women on the legs while singing traditional songs. Likely derived from a pagan celebration, the “whippings” are supposed to grant the ladies good health.
This tradition is now more symbolic than real, and really the whips are more like gentle taps. That said, you could still get a bucket of water thrown on you if you’re not careful, as like the Hungarians, they also have the “sprinkling’ tradition.
England: Beer keg rugby
In Leicestershire you can see the traditional ‘hare pie parade’ before the neighbouring towns of Hallaton and Medbourne meet each other in a unique kind of rugby match.
The Hallaton Bottle Kicking contest dates back centuries, and involves teams from two neighbouring Leicestershire villages trying to get a keg of beer over the hills back to their respective hometowns. The game can get quit rough and tumble, a bit like a rugby scrum.
If you’re up for it, Medbourne recruits players from anywhere but the Hallaton team is only open to handpicked players.
Fly to London then take the train up to Leicestershire.
Denmark: A guessing game
A traditional Easter in Denmark consists of a slap-up lunch with herring, salmon and Scandinavian open sandwiches combined with schnapps and Easter beer. The children write letters for the adults, especially grandparents. If the adults don’t manage to guess who wrote the letters, they have to pay with Easter eggs.
Bulgaria: You should be so lucky
Eggs and egg painting are also big in Bulgaria and cooked eggs are decorated before Easter. One bright red egg is kept until the next year. If the egg is white when taken out a year later, it means good luck.
On Easter Sunday there is a competition where people fight with their eggs. They knock their eggs against each other’s until there is only one remaining uncracked egg. The prize? Good luck for the whole next year.
Argentina: Easter empanadas
Argentina has many of the same traditions as European countries, but during periods of fasting over Easter, Argentinians eat less meat than usual. Instead, plenty of traditional fish dishes like ’empanadas de vigilia’ (tuna-filled pastries) are eaten.
During the week of Easter there are parades in Argentina, especially ones in which crosses are carried, representing Jesus carrying a cross on the way to Golgotha.