Easter in Europe – a guide to some of my favorite destinations!
In many European countries, Easter week is a fascinating time of year to experience centuries-old festivities and rituals – from religious processions to games and from baking traditional pastries and bread to painting eggs. Take a look at some of our favorite celebrations at Easter in Europe!
Orthodox Easter (which falls on May 1st in 2016) is one of the greatest celebrations of Christianity all over Greece and a unique opportunity to take in the spiritual atmosphere and participate in religious rituals, centuries-old traditions, and joyful festivities.
On the Thursday before Easter, a Holy Passion service is held in churches and preparations for the celebration of the Resurrection also start. Housewives traditionally bake the traditional Easter bred (tsoureki) and dye boiled eggs red, symbolizing the rebirth of life and nature.
On the next day – Good Friday, people decorate the Epitaph, as tradition requires that the Jesus’s Crown of Thorns be covered with flowers. Devout Christians fast on this day of bereavement.
On Easter Saturday, women cook maghiritsa – a traditional tripe and herbs soup. In the evening, people gather in church holding white candles. The Resurrection of Christ service starts at midnight sharp with drum beats and fireworks.
Public celebrations take place on Easter Sunday in many town and city squares throughout the country. Many Latvians start the morning with a trip to the local church for the Easter service.
Boiled and decorated eggs are used for games like egg fighting where everyone chooses an egg and competes by bashing its end against the opponent’s egg. The winner is the one whose egg remains intact after competing against everybody at the table.
If you are in Riga at this time of year, you can spend a day out at the Ethnographic Open-air Museum on the shore of Lake Jugla and see folklore performances, buy traditional handicrafts, and sample local food and drink.
Easter is a lovely time in Lithuania as it emphasizes family unity, religious practices, long-standing folk rituals, and the transition from winter to spring.
Celebrations begin on Palm Sunday with the start of Holly Week. “Palm Sunday” is of course a misnomer since palms do not grow in this climate. Instead, willow or spruce branches are collected and decorated with flowers and ribbons. After being blessed in church, they are brought home, dried, and tucked behind holy images or between the rafters of the home for protection.
Decorating Easter eggs is an ancient custom in Lithuania which can be traced back to as early as the 13th century. Traditionally, motifs reflect the lives of the people working the land and symbolize fertility, good luck, and blessings. Popular designs include stars, wheat, crosses, flowers, and birds. Colors also have a particular meaning – red symbolizes life, black – earth, blue – sky, green – spring and the awakening of nature, yellow – ripe grain.
According to tradition, on Holy Saturday, Polish children take some of the food that will be eaten for breakfast on Easter morning to church to be sprinkled with holy water. They bring small wicker baskets with bits of food, each with a particular meaning. Egg symbolizes life, meat – health and fertility, bread – wealth, horseradish – strength, salt repels evil, and cake symbolizes skill and perfection.
Easter Monday is also called Wet Monday in Poland. Guess why? On this day, boys pour or splash water over girls, an old tradition symbolizing purification from sickness and sin. Needles to say, drenching each other with water is Poland’s favorite Easter Monday sport.
An Easter Fair is traditionally held on Krakow’s Market Square where merchant’s stalls offer Easter-related products such as traditional attire, baskets, candles, hand-painted ceramics, jewelry, lace, and embroidery, oscypki (smoked cheese), and sweets. There are stands also offering traditional Polish dishes such as pierogi (dumplings) and hot mulled wine (Grzaniec Galicyjski).
Egg decorating is perhaps Romania’s most popular Easter custom. The eggs, according to tradition, are painted and decorated on the Thursday and Saturday of the Holy Week. They can have a single color, typically red, symbolizing the passion of Christ. Alternatively, local women and girls use elaborate techniques and colors to decorate eggs and these vary from region to region. Popular motifs include cross, sun, moon, plants, animals and decorative patterns.
When meeting friends and relatives on Easter (which follows the Orthodox Easter calendar and is on May 1st this year), people greet each other with “Christ has risen!” and the response “Indeed, He did!”.
Food is also an important part of Easter celebration. Traditional dishes are Pasca – a version of cheesecake, Cozonacul – a sweet bread in different shapes and sizes, lamb roast, and Drob – haggis made of minced lamb offal with fresh spices and eggs. Yum!!!