Hopping across borders and egg-citing traditions: Exploring Easter’s worldwide wonders

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How did you spend your Easter break this year? While the quietude of Durham’s streets hints that many of us ventured home to spend time with family and friends, there were some who hopped on a plane, immersing themselves in the diverse cultural celebrations of Easter abroad. Inspired by friends who experienced unique Easter customs and traditions overseas, I embark on an exploration of how this significant Christian holiday is observed globally.

As Western societies grow more secular and consumer-driven, Easter’s traditional religious significance comes into question. In British and American contexts, this shift prompts a reevaluation: Is capitalism overshadowing Easter’s spiritual roots? In contrast, many European nations steadfastly maintain their deep-rooted rituals and customs, preserving the historical and spiritual essence of the season.

Many European nations steadfastly maintain their deep-rooted rituals and customs

Our first destination is France. Here, the quaint Easter egg hunts in the manicured gardens of Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte contrasts the culinary spectacle of a fifteen-thousand-egg omelette in Bessières on Easter Monday. France, known for its deeply rooted Catholic traditions, offers a solemn backdrop, more pronounced than in the UK. The French term for Easter, “Pâques,” stems from the Latin “Pascua,” meaning food. A standout tradition involves silencing church bells as a mark of respect for Jesus’ death. French lore tells children that the bells fly to Rome for the Pope’s blessing and return on Easter Sunday laden with sweets and gifts. This enchanting tale replaces the Easter bunny with “Les cloches volantes,” or “the flying bells.” When the bells return, children then embark on treasure hunts for Easter treats, marking the start of feasting and celebrations.

Hot-Cross(ing) the border into Spain, you can expect to be warmly embraced by a remarkable cultural mosaic with Semana Santa, (Holy Week), at its vibrant core. This sacred period, rich in solemnity, tradition, and togetherness, offers a deeply profound experience. Throughout the week, Spaniards reflect on Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, with each locale presenting its own unique Easter narrative, showcasing diversity and devotion. In Sevilla, the quiet Madrugá contrasts sharply with Hellín’s dynamic tamborrada drums, which infuse the streets with life. Evenings feature tranquil candlelit vigils, while days dazzle with traditional costumes, from the pointed hoods of nazarenos to the mantillas worn as symbols of mourning and respect. Processions, enriched with live music and local participation, snake through the cities, anchored by enigmatic nazarenos brotherhood. Their anonymous, yet profound, presence highlights the depth of tradition in Semana Santa, drawing both locals and travellers into a complex, captivating celebration of faith and culture.

This sacred period, rich in solemnity, tradition, and togetherness, offers a deeply profound experience

In Italy, Easter is known as “Pasqua.” Known for its rich cultural heritage and religious significance, venturing into Italy during “Pasqua” offers a dive into a realm where ancient customs and deep-rooted cultural significance illuminate the Easter celebration. In the heart of this tradition-rich country, the Pope leads awe-inspiring ceremonies, with St. Peter’s Basilica’s Easter Mass and Florence’s “Scoppio del Carro”—a spectacular fireworks display from a centuries-old cart in Piazza del Duomo—standing out as highlights. These events encapsulate themes of peace, prosperity, and communal joy throughout the country. After local processions and reenactments of religious events, the Italians turn to what they are best known for- food. Whilst not dissimilar to British traditions of spring lamb and chocolate eggs, the addition of their symbolic Colomba Pasquale (a dove shaped Easter cake symbolising peace), enriches their religious experience, blending taste with tradition in a uniquely Italian Easter celebration. To finish off the long weekend, many spend Lunedi dell’angelo (Angel Monday) taking part in celebrations such as picnics, parades, concerts and even a cheese rolling contest (Ruzzolone).

Exploring the vibrant tapestry of Easter traditions has unveiled a fascinating array of cultural practices. Beyond the three cultures I’ve detailed, Easter resonates worldwide in unexpectedly delightful ways. In Eastern Europe, places like Poland, Ukraine, and Hungary celebrate with a blend of sacred and jubilant folk customs. People don traditional attire, engage in unique rituals such as dousing women with water or perfume to promote health in spring, and wield handmade willow whips symbolising youth, health, and fertility for the upcoming year. Meanwhile, in the northern landscapes of Finland and Sweden, Easter takes a turn reminiscent of Halloween. Setting aside the familiar Easter bunny, children in these countries dress as witches and roam their neighbourhoods, exchanging artful creations for chocolates and sweets.

While I could continue this virtual expedition, covering all the Easter adventures globally would be impossible. I conclude with a personal favourite from Australia: To aid endangered species like the Bilby, Australian confectioners produce chocolate treats in its likeness, supporting wildlife conservation with each bite.

Images: James Dunford and Isaac Crawford

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