Easter is one of my favorite holidays. It might be because Spring is absolutely beautiful. Maybe it’s because of family coming together. However, it’s most likely because I kick my sister’s ass every year during our annual egg hunt (seriously, it’s brutal-poor girl never wins).
But having studied abroad during Easter, I realized just how diverse and elaborate this global holiday can be around the world.
Some of these traditions are incredibly astounding, full of sacred traditions and faith as old as Easter itself. Others traditions come from strange stories that have been passed down for years, making Easter traditions much different than we might be used to! Check out these Easter traditions around the world and see just how different one holiday can be celebrated!
Did you know that witches travel through Sweden during Easter or “Påsk”? At least, that’s what legend says. Witches would fly from Germany to cavort with Satan so Swedes would light bonfires to keep them away. Young children, in accordance with this tradition, dress as witches and present drawings and paintings in hope of receiving candy in return. Think of it as a Springtime trick-or-treat, if you will! Families will also decorate an Easter tree with feathers, eggs and lots of color.
And similar to Easter baskets, Swedes gift their children giant, hollowed eggs filled with candy! During my time abroad, I was lucky enough to receive one of these beauties from one of my new, Swedish friends. It definitely felt like a piece of home.
The Holy Week or “Semana Santa” is the biggest religious celebration in Spain. In true Spanish fashion, that means there’s a lot of feasting and a lot of celebration. Typically, brotherhoods take part in the famous processions where they parade from their church to their city’s respective cathedral carrying a large cross, floats with depictions of Jesus and Mary and hundreds of people behind them. You can’t miss the purple capriotes, or tall conical hats with covered faces, and belted robes. The celebrations are beautiful, humbling and fun!
Sevilla hosts the largest celebrations in Spain where you will see spontaneous flamenco in the city streets as well as ornate costumes. You might find a chocolate egg here and there, but you’ll definitely want to get your hands on some traditional torrijas or pestiños.
One of the most awesome and interesting Easter celebrations is held in Israel where Christian pilgrims come from all over the world to celebrate. In Israel, there is no talk of easter eggs or celebratory feasts but of the sacred acts that the Christian pilgrims participate in during Holy Week.
It all starts on Palm Sunday when these pilgrims climb Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives to re-enact Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. On Good Friday, a procession of thousands walk along the Via Dolorosa and mark the Stations of the Cross. Finally on Saturday, Orthodox Christians celebrate the Ceremony of the Holy Fire, when thousands gather to await the lighting of the Patriarch’s candle from within the tomb. As everyone packs into tight crowds and the anticipation builds, the sight of the flame jumping from taper to taper held by the chanting faithful inside the darkened church is astounding!
Much like Spain, Russia finds Easter as the most important holiday of the year, including Christmas. Easter or “Paskha” not only symbolizes Jesus Christ but of hope, peace and happiness to the people of the Russian-Orthodox. In Russia, the holy week is the busiest as spring cleaning is done, Easter bread baking, followed by egg-painting on Holy “Clean” Thursday and fresh Easter cakes (Paskha) prepared on Saturday all while fasting until after Easter mass. Once the feasting begins, there is more food than you could imagine!
In Russia, Easter eggs are believed to possess magic powers like protecting crops against hail damage, keeping cattle healthy and warding off evil spirits. In fact, placing an Easter egg hidden in the foundation of a house would bring the owners happiness and prosperity! While red Easter eggs are traditional, porcelain, golden, silver, gemstone and fabergés eggs are very precious. And we thought we loved our Pinterest-y Easter eggs! According to an old Russian expression, “If the first egg you get on Easter is a truly gift given from the heart, it will never go bad.”
Similar to Israel and Russia, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter anywhere from a week to two weeks after the western Church due to the Eastern Orthodox calendar. Easter or “Fasika” follows eight weeks of fasting from meat and dairy. On Easter Eve, Ethiopian Christians participate in an hours-long church service that ends around 3 a.m. Ethiopians then kick off the festivities with traditional mead, or Tella and Tejafter, and celebrate the risen Christ with an elaborate feast.
In addition to the traditional mead, Difo Dabo is prepared by almost every Ethiopian home. This is a large and round homemade bread made of wheat flour, spices, oil, and salt or sugar. There is also the Ethiopian traditional coffee ceremony where coffee is roasted along with the burning of incense.