To most of us from an Anglophone background Easter consists of a glut of chocolate eggs, magic bunny rabbits, Easter egg hunts and reruns of “von Ryan’s Express” or “The Greatest Story Ever Told” featuring John Wayne’s epic performance as a Roman centurion muttering the immortal words, “Surely this man was the son of God” or for those more religiously inclined church services celebrating the death and resurrection of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ, followed by the aforementioned activities
However in the Czech Republic this is not how Easter is celebrated, granted that even in this most atheist of countries some people do celebrate Easter as a religious feast and attend mass at church but for the large majority, the pagan symbols and celebrations hold more sway much as they do in the UK.
So how do Czechs celebrate Easter? Well only until the last year or so Good Friday was a normal day however even that now it is a national holiday not much really happens until Easter Monday. On Easter Monday there is not a singular Czech tradition, it can vary from region to region, town to town or even from one village to the next. The basic format for eastern Bohemia, where I am lucky enough to call home is as follows. A few days before Easter Monday men get hold of bendy wood like pussy willow which they weave into canes called Pomlázka which for the curious look like the featured image at the top of this post. Then on Easter Monday itself they proceed to go house to house (koleda) whipping female members of each household on the backside while reciting a poem, usually like the one below or some version thereof, but some witty minds compose their own:
Hody hody doprovody
dejte vejce malovany
dejte aspon bily
však Vam slepička snese jiny
After this light-hearted beating the girls then give chocolates, sweets etc and decorated hard boiled eggs to the boys whereas the men receive a shot of something strong. also some women will tie a coloured ribbon to the end of your cane (surely there are a plethora of jokes or double entendre to be made here about men whipping women with their long canes and receiving eggs and ribbons in exchange but I will rise above them at least on this occasion). Now maybe this seems harmless enough and certainly from what I witnessed for the women it is indeed safe and no one goes too far to be honest it is more of a soft tap that wouldn’t even swot a fly. The real victims of this tradition are in fact the men. Crazy! I hear you say but hear me out for a sec.
These poor unfortunates must drink a shot of hard liquor in every house they visit so if they visit twenty houses that is at least twenty shots. Providing they survive this marathon session they then have to go to work the following day with the mother of all hangovers combined with severe constipation from the consumption of the twenty hard boiled eggs they also received at each stop. I can personally attest to the hardship endured to preserve this tradition as it took me almost two days to fully recover but I count myself lucky to have been invited to be part of such a spectacle especially since my group went the whole hog and donned traditional attire (more about this in another post) which sadly is all too rare in this region these days. So spare a thought for these brave chaps who yearly are forced to drink excessively and eat till bursting point all in the name of tradition. Long may it continue.