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EASTER AROUND THE WORLD

While many countries have similar traditions to us, there are many unique customs associated with particular countries and cultures. Here are just a few of them:

NORWAY

In Norway, the holiday begins on Maundy Thursday. People often go up to the mountains and the snow, commemorating the ‘fool’ who left the safety of his tribe and followed the retreating ice (at the end of the last Ice Age) and discovered Norway. This time of the year marks the end of the long dark winter, and people like to clean and decorate their homes in the colours of summer.

When they are tired from skiing, people like to come home to a good Easter crime session (Påskekrim) - they like to read a murder mystery novel or watch a detective mini-series on television. Homes are sometimes decorated with birch branches decorated with coloured feathers.

Easter treats: Fastelavnsbolle are traditional sweet buns eaten on Shrove Tuesday. Easter Sunday breakfast is a great celebration; people enjoy cured meats and especially eggs – boiled, scrambled, fried, and even fish eggs! The boiled eggs are often dyed or painted before eating. Oranges are popular at Easter*, as they are a symbol of the long and sunny days ahead after the darkness of winter, and orange cake is a traditional treat.

*Norway – a country with just 5 million people - consumes over 20 million oranges in just a couple of days!

SWEDEN

In Sweden, there are superstitions attached to Easter: people thought that witches were especially active and their black magic particularly powerful at this time. On Maundy Thursday, they were thought to fly off on their broomsticks to consort with the devil at Blåkulla (the blue mountain) returning the following Saturday. In olden times people protected themselves by painting a cross on their doors and hiding their brooms so the witches could not fly on them. These days, children dress up as hags in discarded clothes, headscarves, and with painted red cheeks.  They visit their neighbours, leaving a small decorated card, hoping for a coin or sweet in return.

Like other countries in Scandinavia, homes are often decorated with birch branches decorated with coloured feathers. It is not the Easter bunny that brings children chocolate eggs, but the Easter hare.

Easter treats: eggs are a popular Easter food, often eaten hard-boiled on the evening before Easter Sunday. Pickled herrings and Jansson’s Temptation (potatoes, onions and anchovies or pickled sprats baked in cream) are traditional dishes.

THE CZECH REPUBLIC

In the Cech Republic, boys get out their whips – but just for fun! On Easter Monday, it is an old custom for the boys to chase the girls with braided whips, which is said to bring them health and beauty. In exchange, the girls give the boys brightly painted eggs. Easter Monday is ‘open house’ when anyone can drop in. It is traditional to serve guests a small glass of plum brandy.

The first signs of Velikonoce (Easter) are the markets that open up all over the city. The stalls sell traditional hand decorated Easter eggs, and gingerbreads baked in the shape of lambs, eggs and even chicks. A special food eaten at Easter is Mazanec, a sweet, yeasted bread made with rum soaked raisins and topped with almonds.

FRANCE

In France, Shrove Tuesday is referred to as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. Church bells normally ring joyfully during the year, but they all stop ringing on Maundy Thursday, and are silent for a few days while people remember the death of Jesus. Children are told that the bells have gone to Rome to see the Pope.

On Easter Sunday morning, the bells ring out, telling people that Jesus is alive again. When people hear the bells, they kiss and hug one another. Many children wake to find eggs in their rooms, or they look at the nests they have placed in their gardens and find them filled with eggs. They are told the bells have brought them back from Rome.

In the village of Haux in southwestern France, they make a giant omelette on Easter Monday: last year 5012 eggs were used! The omelette is cooked in a 12-foot frying pan. Anyone who happens to be around - and lots of people come to watch this annual custom - gets to share the lunchtime feast.

POLAND

In Poland, Easter is an important occasion, and preparations are as elaborate as Christmas. People celebrate Easter with a Blessing Basket. On Easter Saturday, baskets of Easter food are taken to church to be blessed. The baskets contain traditional Easter foods: brightly coloured hard-boiled eggs; sausages – a wish for enough food for the year; bread and salt, for good health and a prosperous life; cheese, marzipan, and babka, a ring cake containing many eggs. Another traditional dish, often used as a centrepiece for the Easter table, is a woolly lamb carved out of butter, the Baranek Wielkanochy.

Lent was kept very strictly in Poland; people could not eat any meat, milk, cheese or sugar. Herrings were often a main source of protein, but by Easter, people were so tired of them, they celebrated the funeral of the herring on Good Friday to mark the end of Lent. The offending fish (or their bones) were hung in trees or buried outside the village.

Pisanki are Easter eggs, handcrafted in traditional designs that recall pagan symbols of fertility and spring.

Easter Monday is a family holiday in Poland and is called Smigus Dyngus or Wet Monday, after the practice of men and boys pouring water on women and girls. It is said that girls who get caught and soaked with water will marry within the year. However in recent years, the girls have been allowed to get their own back on Tuesday and soak the boys!

GREECE

In Greece, Easter is the most important religious holiday of the Greek Orthodox calendar, with traditions for each day of Holy Week:

On Holy Monday, people to go church and kiss the icon of Jesus.

On Holy Tuesday, women bake Easter biscuits, koulouraki, for Saturday.

On Holy Wednesday, there is a church service in which worshippers are blessed with oil. All household chores must be finished today.

On Maundy Thursday, women dye eggs red to symbolise the blood of Christ, and bake Easter bread – tsoureki.

Good Friday is the most sacred day of the week and a day of mourning. The church bells ring the death knell all morning. Girls decorate the Epitafio – the funeral bier and a service is held for Jesus’ funeral. Today is a day of rest for women and men are forbidden to play cards. At dusk the Epitafio is paraded through the village or town streets with the people quietly walking behind.

On Easter Saturday, there is a service in the morning, and the church is filled with flowers. Men prepare lambs for Easter Sunday and the women bake kalitsounia, cheese pies. In Crete children make an effigy of Judas to burn on bonfires at the midnight celebration. In Corfu, people throw pots out of their windows, smashing them on the street below to exorcise death and evil spirits.

The Anastasi, the Resurrection, takes place at midnight. Everyone attends church for the special service and the lighting of the Holy Flame. The Priest passes the Holy Flame throughout the congregation and all light a candle with cries of ‘Christos Anesti’ (Christ is risen). Fireworks are let off in celebration. People take their lit candles home and make the sign of a cross with the black from the candle flame in the doorway of their homes before entering, and then eat meat soup with the red eggs and cheese pies.

On Easter Sunday families and friends meet up for the roasting of lamb outside on a big spit and a big celebration party with food, wine, music and dancing all day long.

AUSTRALIA

In Australia, Easter is celebrated in much the same way as in the UK, but with one big difference: whereas it occurs in spring in the Northern Hemisphere (and often incorporates spring rituals) Easter occurs in autumn in countries like Australia in the Southern Hemisphere.

In Sydney, there is an agricultural show known as "the Royal Easter Show", which has displays of the countries best produce, farm animals, parades, rides, fireworks, food, sideshows and fun.

Rather than the bunny, the Australians prefer the Bilby as the symbol for Easter as it is native to Australia, and because rabbits are considered a pest, causing damage to the environment. Children enjoy their chocolate and in the process, are helping to protect the endangered bilby, as many manufacturers donate a proportion of their profits to bilby conservation charities.

CANADA

In Canada, the people of Quebec City hold a carnival known as the Winter Carnival with a big parade and special sporting events such as skating, skiing, and tobogganing.

While eggs are forbidden during Lent in Quebec, after fasting they are enjoyed in maple syrup. Vegreville in Alberta is home to the world’s largest pysanka, an elaborately decorated egg created in 1975 to mark the town’s Ukranian heritage. The eggs weighs 2.5 tonnes and is a popular tourist attraction.

BRAZIL

In Brazil, the world's most famous carnivals, in Rio de Janeiro, is held before Lent. Carnival means ‘goodbye to meat’. Some groups of people spend all year preparing for the carnival. They make costumes, practise music and dances for the parades. Other people make floats for the parade. It is a time for dancing, eating and drinking before the fasting of Lent.

Holy Week in Brazil begins with the blessing of the palm branches, which are woven in intricate patterns representing crosses, banners, letters, and other related objects. Streets are decorated with coloured patterns drawn on the road surface over which a procession walks, carrying statues of Mary and the body of Christ. Special candy called pacoca, is made from peanuts and sugar, and given to visitors.

On Easter Saturday, Carnival makes a brief reappearance with a Hangover Ball to celebrate the hanging of Judas.

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