Every family around the world that celebrates Easter has their own traditions. Easter was a big deal in my family growing up. When I was young, we would get all dressed up in special outfits, and go downstairs to see what the Easter Bunny left in our Easter Baskets before going to church. As we got older, it was less likely for us to get new outfits specially for Easter, but we always dressed up. Both of my parents sang in the church choir, as did I when I was old enough. Perhaps because of this, music has always played a major role in my own spirituality, and the music sung on Easter Sunday is particularly joyous.
After the Easter service, we would drive up to my grandparents house for Sunday dinner. Easter dinner was a huge thing in my family. My grandmother always served ham as well as pickled beets and eggs. The eggs are pickled with the beets turning them a gorgeous deep purplish red. Galen’s traditions were very similar with a southern spin. You never knew who else might be joining them for dinner. Many of her father’s graduate students or fellow professors would join them for the Easter meal. She also would hunt eggs every Easter afternoon with her parents and sometimes the kids down the road.
Easter traditions vary a lot, not just from family to family but from country to country. Here are some of my favorite traditions I have found.
One of my personal favorite traditions is the reading of mysteries in Norway.
This tradition, called Paaskekrimmen or Easter Thrillers, began as a publicity stunt in 1923. The Norwegian publisher Gyldendal advertised a crime novel by Nordahl Grieg and Nils Lie in the newspaper. The ad was so believable that people didn’t realize that it was fiction. The book was a huge success.
The book features a pair of young students who went to a cabin to go skiing during Easter. Norway already had a tradition of going to a mountain cabin over Easter to ski. This association helped cement the tradition of reading crime stories over Easter. I don’t have a cabin in the mountains, but I do have many books; I think I may go find a mystery to read this weekend!
In Florence, Italians celebrate Easter in a different but also thrilling manner: with fireworks.
They have with what they call Scoppio del Carro, or explosion of the cart. Every Easter, men in Italian Renaissance clothing lead the Easter parade with drums, trumpets, and flags. They throw the flags in traditional routines. Following them come the sacred white oxen, decorated with garlands, pulling a special 30 foot tall cart. Religious celebrants follow the cart in their full dress regalia.
When the the cart stops in front of the 600 year old Cathedral Duomo on the Plaza del Duomo, they go instead to celebrate Easter. During the service, the Bishop of Florence uses flints from Jerusalem to light a rocket in the shape of a dove that travels down a wire to the cart outside and ignites the fireworks there. These fireworks are meant to bring a good harvest, good business, and a stable civil life to the region. Farmers and others come from outside the city to celebrate and hope for the promise of a good harvest.
This amazing Easter tradition is 500 years old. According to the Florencians, a member of the Pazzi family breached the walls of Jerusalem during the first Crusade. He was the first to claim the city for Christianity. As a reward for his bravery, he was awarded three flints from Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher. These flints are used now in Florence to light the holy fire used to ignite the dove on Easter morning.
The Greeks also celebrate Easter with fireworks.
Two rival churches on the island of Chios launch fireworks aimed at the other church’s bell towers. The two Orthodox churches sit on opposite sides of the valley. The goal of this festival, called Rouketopolemos, is to hit the opponent church’s bell. The whole town works in secret for the year leading up to Easter to make more than 100,000 homemade rockets. They even burn wood to make their own charcoal and mix it with sulfur and potassium nitrate to make the gunpowder to fuel them.
At dusk, they start setting off the rockets, and the barrage continues non stop except for a cease fire at 11:30 pm, to allow worshipers to go to their church for mass, and again at midnight to let them go home. Theoretically, the side who successfully made the most hits on the other side’s church bell wins. It is impossible however to keep track of the hits, however. So they agree to call it a tie and to fight a rematch the next year, and thus keep the tradition going.
This Easter tradition is said to date back to the time Turkey occupied Greece (1460-1821 C.E.). The Turks did not let the Orthodox Greeks celebrate Easter, so the two churches on Chios devised a plan that allowed them to celebrate Easter anyway. They staged a faux war using cannons and fireworks, which kept the Turks away.
The Germans, in addition to giving us the Easter rabbit, also have a tradition called Osterbrunnen, or Easter Fountain.
This practice began about 100 years ago as a way for the Germans to honor both Easter and access to water. As the tradition grew and spread to neighboring towns, they competed to see who could create the best decorated fountains. By 1980, over 200 towns have joined the competition, including the Bavarian-influenced town of Frankenmuth, Michigan, USA.
There are so many fun ways to celebrate Easter, that tomorrow we’re going to blog about even more!
I particularly like the idea of celebrating with a bonfire with friends and family, and some quality time reading a good mystery. Galen liked the mystery book so much, she went right out and bought a new book to read this weekend. (I think she did that while coding this blog, in fact.) This weekend she is also going to enjoy watching her son and niece hunt eggs left for them by the Easter Bunny.
What is your favorite way to celebrate Easter?
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