Easter traditions from around the world
In America, Easter means church services, Easter egg hunts and baskets full of candy. Here’s how other countries celebrate the holiday.
In France, children don’t get treats from the Easter bunny. They get them from the Easter Bells. According to Catholic teaching, no church bells can ring between Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil, on account of the solemnity of the days around Jesus’ death. Eventually, a legend evolved that said the church bells weren’t rung because they grew wings and flew to Rome to be blessed by the Pope. Then, they returned Easter day with chocolate and presents for local kids.
In India though, Christians only make up 2.5 percent of India’s population, but they still have elaborate Easter festivities, especially in the northeastern states. The western India state Goa celebrates with carnivals, complete with street plays, songs and dances. People exchange chocolates, flowers and colorful lanterns as gifts.
In Italy on Pasqua (“Easter” in Italian), residents of Florence celebrate a 350-year-old tradition called scoppio del carro, which means “explosion of the cart.” A centuries-old cart is loaded with fireworks and pulled in front of the Duomo, where spectators watch the pyrotechnics go off. It’s meant to be a sign of peace and a good year ahead. South of Florence is the town Panicale, where the big celebration happens the day after Easter (called Pasquetta, or little Easter). Locals gather for the annual Ruzzolone, a competition that involves rolling huge wheels of Ruzzola cheese around the perimeter of the village.
In Poland, the day before Easter, families prepare a “blessing basket.” It’s filled with colored eggs, sausages, bread, and other important food and taken to church to be blessed. In Polish culture, Lent isn’t over until a priest blesses this basket. Like their Italian neighbors, the Polish save their most notable tradition for the day after Easter: Smigus Dyngus. Young boys try to get girls (and each other) wet with water guns, buckets of water and any other means they can think of. Legend has it that girls who get soaked will marry within the year.
In Australia, some kids are visited by the Easter Bunny, but rabbits are considered pests because they destroy the land. So some associate Easter with a different animal. In 1991, the Anti-Rabbit Research Foundation started a campaign to replace the Easter Bunny with the Easter Bilby. Bilbies have big, soft ears like rabbits and long noses like mice, and they’re endangered, another reason for publicity around the campaign. There’s also the Sydney Royal Easter Show, the largest annual event in the country. Farming communities showcase their crops and livestock, and urban dwellers get to experience a slice of rural life. The two-week show (always spanning over Easter weekend) also includes rides and the Sydney Royal Rodeo.
In Latin America, many Latin American countries, Brazil and certain regions of Spain participate in The Burning of Judas. Residents make an effigy (or multiple effigies) of Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, and burn it in a central location. Sometimes, people make the effigy explode with fireworks.
In Spain, the town of Verges commemorates Holy Thursday with the Dansa de la Mort (Death Dance). During this night procession, participants dress up like skeletons and reenact scenes from the Passion. The last skeletons in the parade carry a box of ashes with them. On the other side of the country, residents of Almaden de la Plata have a custom of placing straw effigies of famous people around the city (similar to The Burning of Judas), then tearing them up and throwing the pieces in the air.
In the U.K., many communities in England have Easter performances of Morris dancing, a traditional type of folk dance dating back to the Middle Ages. Men dress up, wearing hats and bells around their ankles, and wave ribbons while dancing through the streets. It’s believed that the dances drive the spirits of winter away and bring good luck. Another famous Easter tradition (recognized around the world) is egg jarping. Two players smash hard-boiled eggs together, and whoever has the egg that’s still intact is the winner. The World Jarping Championships are held each Easter in Durham, England.
In Greece, the island of Corfu gets pretty messy on the morning of Holy Saturday. Residents take part in the annual “Pot Throwing,” and it’s exactly what it sounds like. They throw pots, pans, and other earthenware out of windows. Since the tradition marks the beginning of spring, it’s supposed to symbolize the new crops that will be gathered in new pots.
In Germany, similar to the history and culture surrounding Easter in the UK, the Germans also refer to the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring (Eostre) in their naming of the festival – referred to as Ostern in German. The Anglo Saxon custom of boiling and painting eggs, the symbols of new life, most likely originated in Germany. Many years before the Easter Bunny arrived on the shores of Britain, the Germans have told tales of the festive rabbit to their children. The first mention of the bunny in German writings was in the 16th century.
Germans also enjoy a very long Easter weekend: Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays in Germany during which shops, banks, and offices are closed.
During this period, they take the time to greet each other with Frohe Ostern (‘Happy Easter’) and eat the traditional dish of fish on Karfreitag (‘Good Friday’), because a fish is the traditional symbol of Christianity. On Ostersonntag (‘Easter Sunday’), the highlight of the weekend, parents hide baskets filled with colored, hard-boiled eggs, chocolate bunnies, sweets, and toys for their children.
In Mexico, nearly 90% of Mexicans practice Catholicism which means that nearly 100 million Christians have a reason to believe that the Semana Santa, the Holy Week leading up to Easter, is the most important holiday in the church calendar. Passionate celebrations can be found all through the country, with different areas celebrating in different ways. On Domingo de Ramos (‘Palm Sunday’), the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem is commemorated.
Many processions reenacting Jesus’ great entry are conducted and woven palms are sold outside churches. On Viernes Santo (‘Good Friday’), the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is recalled. Like in other countries, processions take place – the largest one in Iztapalapa, south of Mexico City, where over one million people gather every year for the Via Crucis. The Holy Saturday, Sabado de Gloria, is a very special festive occasion. The construction of paper or cardboard figures, sometimes attached to firecrackers, get presented in a parade and burnt afterwards. Domingo de Pascua (‘Easter Sunday’) is differently celebrated than in European countries: Children do not get Easter Bunnies or chocolate eggs. This day is entirely dedicated to go to the Easter Mass and celebrate quietly with your family.
The White House Easter Egg Roll is a timeless White House tradition, dating back to 1878 during the Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes. The President and First Lady are honored to continue the traditions of the past, while weaving new traditions into the fabric of our nation’s history.