Every year, both Christian and secular communities around the globe celebrate Easter with their own colourful array of local customs. From Spain to Indonesia, people have developed their own rituals in commemoration of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. This guide explores some of the most distinctive and vibrant celebrations across the continents.
After the spiritual contemplation of Lent, Poles observe the end of the fasting period with a ritual known as Święconka, or food blessing. On Saturday, decorative baskets brimming with eggs, ham, horseradish, and bread are taken to church to be blessed. These baskets of symbolic fare remain untouched until the morning, when a white tablecloth is draped over the table in preparation for a feast. For Polish children, frivolities begin on Easter Monday, or Śmigus-Dyngus, when boys and girls douse each other in water. The celebration is thought to have its roots in pre-Christian rituals such as the pagan watering of the Corn Mother, which was meant to stimulate the growth of crops during the March equinox.
Each year at Easter, a tiny village near Mexico City attracts a swathe of visitors from around the world, who come to view an elaborate passion play based on a biblical theme. The tradition of holding an Easter play began in Iztapalapa in 1833, when villagers who had survived a fierce cholera epidemic staged a performance to show their gratitude to God. This celebration of life has grown in both stature and opulence over the past 180 years, and now around one million visitors embark on an annual pilgrimage to see it.
Norwegians often celebrate Easter with a sojourn in the mountains or coast, from Holy Thursday to Easter Monday. During this time, book publishers release a consortium of crime thrillers known as Påskekrim, or Easter crime, to meet consumer appetites for fresh reading material. This literary trend is not purely based on the population’s leisure habits, however; folklore professors have suggested that the violent nature of Christ’s death may be connected to the Norwegian taste for crime novels at this time of year.
On Holy Thursday, residents of the Spanish town of Verges dress up for the dansa de la mort, or dance of death. The midnight performance reenacts scenes from the Passion of Christ, with a fearsome procession of skeletons carrying boxes of ashes. Huge Friday processions occur elsewhere in the country. In Valladolid, Christian brotherhoods adorned in robes ride horse-back through the streets, reciting proclamations, while in Seville, floats bearing biblical statues depict Easter scenes to crowds of spectators.
Thousands of pilgrims from surrounding islands come to Flores during the Easter season for a solemn Good Friday ceremony, centred around two historic statues representing the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. On Maundy Thursday, candles are planted along the procession route and the statues are bathed and dressed in mourning clothes. Finally, on Friday, the statues of Jesus and Mary are carried along a seven-kilometre trail setting off from Tuan Ma and Tuan Ana – the chapel of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
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