Around the world, Easter isn’t just about family traditions, but a community traditions as well. Where I live, we have community organized activities like Easter Egg hunts. In some parts of the world, children may go visiting their neighbors seeking candy and other treats.
Both Finland and Sweden celebrate Easter with children dressing up as witches and asking for treats.
In Sweden, the witches are called påskkäring, or Easter Witch. These young witches dress in old clothing, long skirts, hats or colorful scarves, and paint their cheeks red. They go door to door, like children do on Halloween in the United States, and exchange paintings or drawings for candy.
According to Swedish Easter traditions, witches fly to meet with the devil at Blåkullaon on Maundy Thursday, the night of the Last Supper and the betrayal of Jesus. The Swedes would ward the returning witches off with bonfires. Today, in addition to the children dressing as witches, Easter is celebrated with bonfires and fireworks to ward off the returning witches.
The Finnish Easter witch tradition is similar to the Swede. Like the Swedes, their children dress up as witches, painting their faces and wearing scarves on their heads as they go begging for chocolate and other treats. Unlike the Swedes, though, they carry bunches of willow branches decorated with feathers. At each house, they recite a rhyme and exchange a twig for candy.
The witches recite a traditional rhyme at the door: Virvon, varvon, tuoreeks terveeks, tulevaks vuodeks; vitsa sulle, palkka mulle! (In translation: I wave a twig for a fresh and healthy year ahead; a twig for you, a treat for me!)– Wandering Witches Welcome Finish Easter (2019)
The Finish practice is a blend of the Swedish tradition and a Russian Orthodox ritual. In the Russian ritual, birth twigs were used to represent the palms used on Palm Sunday. Because of this, the children dress up as witches on Easter Sunday in western Finland, but on Palm Sunday elsewhere. As in Sweden, bonfires are also lit in Finland to ward off the witches.
In Eastern Europe, men and boys douse women and girls with water on Easter Monday.
In Hungary, this Easter Tradition is called “sprinkling.” Both men and women dress in traditional clothing on Easter Monday. The men try to sprinkle the ladies with water, perfume, or cologne in exchange for a kiss. This tradition comes from a folk belief that water had cleaning and healing powers as well as improved fertility.
In Poland, they call this Easter Monday tradition Śmigus-dyngus. Here, boys try to douse other people of either gender with water, using buckets and squirt guns. They trace this tradition back to 966 C.E. when the Polish Prince Mieszko was baptized on Easter Monday. In Poland, according to folklore, girls who are soaked will marry in the following year. As a result, the Polish people sometimes call Easter Monday Mokry Poniedzialek, or wet Monday. I bet!
In the Czech Republic, this Easter tradition is called pomlázka, or whip.
In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, not only are women soaked on Easter Monday, but they may also be (lightly!) hit with braided willow whips. The boys make the whips from thin willow branches and decorate them with ribbons. According to an old legend, because the willow blooms before anything else in the spring, the whips pass on that health and fertility to the women. It was thought it would also help keep the women young, strong, and beautiful.
The earliest mention of this particular tradition dates back to the 14th Century. Christianity wasn’t widespread in the region at that time, so it likely is Pagan in origin. Historically, the whips were handmade, but today they are usually purchased at the Easter market. Today, it is mostly practiced in a purely symbolic form among close family and friends. In rural areas, however, boys will go door to door ringing doorbells, and if a woman answers, douse her with water and/or hit her with the whip. In exchange, the women give them colored hard boiled eggs or chocolates.
There are so many fun Easter Traditions around the world!
The Easter witch tradition sounds adorable, and I imagine it is lovely to receive the drawings and paintings from your neighborhood children. I hope it is warmer in Eastern Europe for Easter than it is here, however. Getting doused with water sounds like a cold tradition! But if the weather is warm, squirt gun battles in the backyard could be a fun way to burn off some excess energy from Easter candy. Especially if after everyone changed into warm, dry clothes, we gathered around a fire in the yard. I think I will pass on willow whips, however!
Whatever your Easter Traditions are, we at The Researcher’s Gateway wish you all a Happy Easter!