Czech Easter (Velikonoce)
In the years before 1989 when Czechoslovakia became a free country again, the meaning of Easter (Velikonoce - from Veliké noci or Great Nights) was limited to the welcoming of spring. The religious connotations of Easter were suppressed under the communist regime. Nowadays, people are again aware of the religious origin of Easter, but Easter has not become a serious religious holiday.
Easter in the Czech Republic is a fun time. Many traditions are still observed and practiced, especially in villages, and different regions may have their own traditions and customs. The annual Prague Easter markets are popular with both locals and visitors. The largest ones are those on the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square.
Many symbols of Easter are related to the spring and beginning of new life. In the Czech Republic, Easter symbols include:
Eggs and kraslice
The hand-painted or decorated egg (kraslice) is the most recognizable symbol of Czech Easter. Easter eggs are decorated by girls to be given to boys on Easter Monday. There are many techniques to decorate Easter eggs and they usually require a certain level of skill. Different materials can be used, such as bee's wax, straw (hay), watercolors, onion peels, picture stickers. There are no limitations in creating pretty, colorful eggs. A nationwide Easter egg contest is held in Prague and other Czech cities around Easter time.
Baby animals - lamb, bunny rabbit, chicken
One Easter tradition is to bake a lamb, but in the Czech Republic real lamb is usually replaced by one made from gingerbread.
Pussywillow and pomlázka
Young, live pussywillow twigs are thought to bring health and youth to anyone who is whipped with them. A pomlázka (from pomladit or "make younger") - a braided whip made from pussywillow twigs - has therefore been used for centuries by boys who go caroling on Easter Monday and symbolically whip girls on the legs. Boys used to make their own pomlázkas in the past (the more twigs, the more difficult it was to braid one), but this tradition and skill is long gone and pomlázkas can be bought in stores and on the streets. Some men don't even bother and use a single twig or even a wooden spoon!
Dousing a girl with water has a similar symbolic meaning as the pomlázka.
The color red
Red and other bright colors symbolize health, joy, happiness and new life that comes with the spring.
The Days Before Easter Sunday
Children finish school on Ugly Wednesday (Škaredá středa), which is a good idea because they need to spend some serious time on making Easter what it should be. In the evening of Green Thursday (Zelený čtvrtek), every boy in the village equips himself with a wooden rattle (řehtačka), which is specially made for the purpose, the boys form a group and walk through the village, rattling their rattles vigorously so the noise can be heard from afar. The meaning of the rattling is to chase away Judas. The same procedure repeats on Good Friday (Velký pátek) and then one more time on White Saturday (Bílá sobota) when the boys don't only walk through the village but stop at every house in the morning and rattle until they’re given money which they then split between themselves.
Easter Sunday (Neděle velikonoční) is a day of preparations for Easter Monday. Girls paint, color, and decorate eggs, if they haven’t done so before, and boys prepare their pomlázkas!
Easter Monday (Pondělí velikonoční) is a day off, the day of the pomlázka. The origin of the pomlázka tradition (pomlázka meaning both the whip and the tradition itself) dates back to pagan times. Its original purpose and symbolic meaning is to chase away illness and bad spirits and bring health and youth for the rest of the year to everyone who is whipped with the young pussywillow twigs. In the past, pomlázka was not only used by boys to whip girls, but also by the farmer's wife to whip the livestock, as well as everyone in the household, including men and children. Boys would whip girls lightly on the legs and possibly douse them with water, which had a similar symbolic meaning. An Easter carol, usually asking for an egg or two, would be recited by the boy while whipping. The girl would then reward the boy with a painted egg or candy and tie a ribbon around his pomlázka. As the boys progressed through the village, their bags filled up with eggs and their pomlázkas were adorned with more and more colorful ribbons.
This tradition is still largely upheld, especially in villages and small towns, although it may have lost its symbolism and romance and is now performed mainly for fun. Some boys and men seem to have forgotten that the whipping is supposed to be only symbolic and girls don't always like that. The reward has also changed - money and shots of plum brandy are often given instead of or in addition to painted eggs and candy. So by early afternoon, groups of happy men can be seen staggering along the roads... All that aside, Easter still remains one of the most joyful and fun holidays on the Czech calendar.
Happy Easter! - Veselé Velikonoce!