Easter in Europe and beyond

By

For many, this time of year will be spent in eager anticipation of a long weekend with family, copious amounts of chocolate and hopefully some spring sunshine. But what will people in Europe and further afield be doing to celebrate Easter?

Though it is a Christian celebration, many British Easter traditions actually predate the religion – in Pagan times, eggs were a symbol of fertility and rebirth, so chicken and duck eggs were hard-boiled and decorated to commemorate this. The term Easter itself actually derives from the Old English Eostre, the name of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn and spring. This theme of rebirth is clearly mirrored in the religious meaning behind the celebration – that is to say, the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.

In England, children are brought eggs, sweets and sometimes toys by the Easter Bunny. In France, however, it is Les clôches volantes (the flying bells) who do so. The legend evolved which attributed this to the bells growing wings and flying to Rome to be blessed by the Pope, returning on Easter day with chocolate and gifts. Due to the solemnity of the time surrounding Jesus’s death, no church bells ring from Holy Thursday.

Due to the solemnity of the time surrounding Jesus’s death, no church bells ring from Holy Thursday.

Another French tradition reportedly began when Napoleon stopped in a small town in for an omelette. He apparently enjoyed it so much that the following day, he ordered the townspeople to gather and make another large enough to feed his whole army. Many towns in France still do so to this day, the largest of which is in Bessières. 15,000 fresh eggs and 40 cooks are required to make their omelette géante.

In neighbouring Spain, tradition is a lot more religiously inclined. Catholic processions take place throughout the week leading up to Easter, which is known as Semana Santa. As well as floats and statues, people in different costumes are also featured: religious brotherhoods dressed in silk with pointed hoods covering their heads and faces, and mourners in lacy veils, carrying candles. On Easter Sunday, godchildren are presented with a cake known as a ‘Mona de Pascua’, which is a sweet bread ring decorated with candied fruit and sugar. Torrijas are another Easter speciality: slices of bread soaked in milk, sugar and egg, which are then fried (find a recipe here).

On Easter Sunday, godchildren are presented with a cake known as a ‘Mona de Pascua’, which is a sweet bread ring decorated with candied fruit and sugar.

Clearly, Easter is of great importance in Vatican City and Rome. Good Friday sees the Via Crucis at the Colosseum, where a huge cross with burning torches lights the sky whilst its stations are described in different languages. Mass is celebrated on Holy Saturday, with thousands then congregating in St Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday for the Pope’s blessing, Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world). In Florence, a 350-year-old tradition called Scoppio del Carro sees a centuries-old cart loaded with fireworks and pulled in front of the main cathedral, where it is set alight during Easter mass. Symbolically, this is meant to ensure a good harvest.

In Florence, a 350-year-old tradition called Scoppio del Carro sees a centuries old cart loaded with fireworks and pulled in front of the main cathedral, where it is set alight during Easter mass.

Further afield, tradition is livelier still. In Brazil, the start of Lent is celebrated by Mardi Gras, one of the world’s most famous carnivals. Large-scale celebrations also take place on Easter Day. In Mexico, however, the day is devoted to going to mass and celebrating quietly with family.

However you choose to spend your Easter (if you celebrate it at all), may it be full of joy – and chocolate, of course!

Photograph by momentcaptured1 via Flickr and Creative Commons

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.