Tradition and faith around the world. Easter customs

Processions on horseback, the famous Easter eggs in various areas of central and northern Europe or traditional meals and gifts are some of the customs that, in various parts of the world, are lived with the arrival of Easter. 

P. Aguilera, M. Meilutyte, J.M. García Pelegrín, A. Bernar, A. y B. Borovský-April 10, 2023-Reading time: 7 minutes

Procession of the Quasimodos. ©Pablo Aguilera

"If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith also is vain." St. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, cries out in his first letter to the Christians of Corinth. The centrality of Christ's resurrection is manifested not only in a special way in the liturgy of the Church, but also in a multitude of customs and traditions that, despite the advance of secularization, continue to be fully valid in the social and cultural life of cities and communities throughout the world. Examples such as Germany, Chile and Sweden bear witness to this. 

Chile: Quasimodo Festival

-Pablo Aguilera

The Council of Trent in the sixteenth century established the precept of receiving communion at least once a year. According to this rule, which also extended to America, it became common for priests to bring communion to the sick who could not attend church at Easter time.

During the dawn of the Republic of Chile (first half of the 19th century) there are records of the celebration of the feast of Quasimodo. This word comes from the Latin phrase "Quasi modo géniti infantes".which means: "like newborn children". This phrase is the first one in the text with which the Mass of the Sunday following Easter Sunday is introduced. 

The priest and his retinue needed protection during their journey through the lonely rural roads, where some bandit could wait to rob them. The community then acquired the tradition of accompanying the Blessed Sacrament carried by the priest, which also fulfilled the mission of remembering the Resurrection of Christ.

The second Sunday of Easter is a great day for the "huaso" -that is the name given to the Chilean farmer- in the central valley of Chile. It is a celebration eagerly awaited by the different associations of quasi-modists -more than 150 in the country-, since it is the moment to demonstrate with grandeur their faith in the Eucharist. Months in advance, the harnesses are reviewed, the decoration that will adorn the horse or the bicycle is designed; garlands and signs are prepared to announce the arrival of Christ the King. 

It is also called "run to Christ", The huasos run on their horses, accompanying the carriage where the priest carries the Blessed Sacrament, so that the sick and elderly who cannot leave their homes can receive communion and fulfill the Paschal precept. As a sign of respect, the huasos replace their hats with mantillas tied to their heads and esclavinas over their shoulders. Nationally, approximately 100 thousand people participate in the festival.

Lithuania: Decoration of Easter Eggs 

-Marija Meilutyte

The custom of decorating eggs is deeply rooted in Lithuania, as in other surrounding nations: Poland, Ukraine or Belarus. In Lithuania, the custom of painting Easter eggs is mentioned for the first time in the 16th century in one of the hymns of Martynas Mažvydas (Lithuanian writer, author of the first book in Lithuanian language), but it is possible that the tradition is much older.

Depending on the decoration methods, there are several ways to decorate these Easter eggs.

The eggs can be simply dyed; they can be simply dyed, leaving a monocolored egg, or flowers or leaves can be placed before dyeing, fixing them with a rolled nylon stocking, leaving the shapes and color of the leaves and flowers stamped on the egg. 

Eggs decorated with wax; with a pin fixed on a stick or a pencil the eggs are decorated with wax and then dipped in the dye. To get the motifs in different colors, this process is repeated several times by dyeing from a lighter to a darker color.

Eggs decorated by scraping; the eggs are dyed in a single color, and with a needle or knife small openwork motifs similar to Lithuanian folk motifs on furniture, fabrics, jewelry and pottery are scraped out.

Until the 20th century, only vegetable dyes were used (onion peel, birch leaves, hay, oak or alder bark), which dyed the eggs in brownish, greenish and yellowish tones. Later, artificial dyes were introduced, giving rise to bright colors - red, green, blue, black, brown - and higher contrast. 

Many families decorate their Easter eggs and bring them to church to be blessed in a basket with other foods. The blessing of the eggs is usually done during the Easter Vigil or at the Easter Mass, although many churches also offer times only for the blessing of the food during Holy Saturday. 

Eggs decorate the Easter table and are eaten starting on Easter Sunday. Depending on the number of eggs that have been decorated, families can spend several days eating boiled eggs. It is also very common to give them away or exchange them with family or friends. 

Germany: Equestrian procession in Upper Lusatia 

-José Gª Pelegrín

In Saxony there is probably the most colorful Easter custom in Germany: the Easter parade. It is a tradition from Oberlausitz (Upper Lusatia), the region stretching east of Dresden to the Polish border, and has been celebrated for centuries - as elsewhere in Bavaria - in Catholic villages; here, traditionally linked to the Sorbian culture. The Sorbs are a West Slavic-speaking minority - with similarities to Polish, Czech and Slovak - and currently number about 80,000 inhabitants. 

On Easter Sunday, the Catholic men of a parish, dressed in frock coat and top hat, go to the neighboring village on the backs of festively decorated horses to announce the good news of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Clergymen carrying banners and a crucifix or a small statue also take part, occupying the first positions together with the standard bearers. Before leaving the village, the riders make three laps around the church and are blessed by the priest. It is customary for the parish visited to return the visit. 

According to tradition, each procession - which can consist of up to 450 riders and horses - cannot cross paths with the other. In addition, the itineraries of the processions are deliberately planned so that the message can be proclaimed in as many places as possible. They sing liturgical songs invoking blessing for the land. Easter riders are welcomed in every family. They are entertained with homemade cakes and schnapps, while participants throw candy to the children.

The oldest equestrian procession, which took place between Hoyerswerda and Wittichenau, is documented from the end of the 15th century. In 1541, the procession was moved from Wittichenau to Ralbitz, as the Protestant Reformation had been introduced in Hoyerswerda.

Along with this tradition, some other customs are also part of the Sorbian Easter, such as the "egg tossing". in Protschenberg, near the town of Bautzen. Traditionally, wealthy citizens of the upper town of Bautzen would roll eggs, oranges, cakes and other goodies down a steep hillside to be picked up by poor families living in shacks at the foot of the hillside. This custom was banned during the German Democratic Republic (1949-1990). 

In Berthelsdorf there has been a tradition for more than 130 years of a parade of musicians on Easter Sunday evening, who march around playing chorales and Easter folk songs. Another tradition is the "Easter water".At dawn on Easter Sunday, the girls go to a spring to draw Easter water. According to tradition, the water confers beauty and drives away diseases, but only if the girls do not say a word on the way there and back.

Sweden: the light of the bonfires

-Andrés Bernar

Sweden, despite being one of the most secularized countries in the West, cannot forget its Christian roots, which are manifested in a special way in many popular traditions, especially those related to the strong liturgical seasons: Christmas and Easter.

After the long winter months of darkness, Easter coincides with a significant change in the duration of daylight. Similarly, the light of the paschal candle entering the church in total darkness is a reminder that the risen Christ is the light of the world. Also outside the churches, in some regions of the country, bonfires are lit on Easter night, a way of remembering that the light of Christ reaches everywhere.

Easter branches (Påskris) are branches, usually of birch, which are decorated with colored feathers and dipped in water. During the weeks of Easter time they blossom, signifying the life that comes from the resurrection. 

Easter eggsEggs: these are chicken eggs decorated with different motifs in cheerful colors. They remind us that during Lent eggs were not taken in the past and therefore, now at Easter it is a reason for celebration and feast. The egg is a symbol of life and the breaking of the shell reminds us of Jesus coming out of the tomb sealed with the stone.

Easter candies and gummies. In Sweden, it is traditional for children to buy jelly beans and other sweets only on Saturdays. At Easter, it is customary to give large cardboard or plastic eggs decorated with Easter motifs and filled with jelly beans. In addition to this, Easter Monday is a public holiday in this country, a good way to remember how Christianity left its mark on Swedish culture and social life.

Slovakia. at Mass and at the Table

-Andrej Matis and Braño Borovský

The Rite of the Resurrection of the Lord is a rite specific only to Slovakia and some neighboring nations that takes place at the end of the Easter Vigil liturgy. It is a rite originating from early Church Slavonic, associated with the diocese of Esztergom.

The Rite begins with the initial Invocation: The priest with the monstrance approaches the altar, raises the monstrance and intones: "I am risen!" and then three times, in an increasingly louder voice incoa: "Peace to you, it is I, alleluia!". The faithful respond: "Fear not, alleluia!". This song of joy is followed by a solemn procession, led by the Eucharist in monstrance and the statue of the Risen Christ. 

The procession, in which the faithful participate, usually goes around the church, while the priest with the monstrance imparts the blessing to the four cardinal points. Although the liturgy of that day is usually the longest of the year, nevertheless, the beauty and joy of these moments is palpable and the people participate in it with great joy.Once around the church, the priest returns the monstrance to the altar and confers the final Eucharistic Blessing.

The Easter joy is also noticeable on the family table where smoked ham, Russian salad, special cheeses, eggs, etc. are found. In addition, the Good Friday fast here is not only abstinence from meat, but also from cheese and eggs. 

The food is blessed with a special blessing that is usually given before the Easter Vigil. In many towns and cities, the faithful bring the dishes already prepared to the church and the priest or deacon blesses them before the beginning of the Mass. 

Another popular Slovak Easter custom is the Šibacka. On the first days of Easter, young boys take a fresh willow wand and tap young girls, in their "marriageable" time, with it. The prizes for "šibacka" used to be only the classic eggs, called "pisanky" or "kraslice", which were decorated. They were also given a piece of cake or something to drink. This is a Christianized tradition of a pagan fertility rite. With its Christianization it recalls the holy women when, after seeing the empty tomb, they set out to announce the Risen One and the Roman soldiers and some Jews beat them but they went ahead with their message of hope. In this way, the pagan custom became a catechesis, although perhaps not in a totally reliable way. 

The authorP. Aguilera, M. Meilutyte, J.M. García Pelegrín, A. Bernar, A. y B. Borovský

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