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The Unique celebrations of Easter in Europe to see in 2022

by Roberto
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Europe covers a region of 51 countries, but the cultural differences within are many time that. They can even be clearly seen in something such as Easter. One would indeed assume that a religious holiday would follow the same guidelines across the continent. Though Easter is one of the biggest holidays on the annual calendar, it has morphed with time from its pagan beginnings.

Christians and Orthodox both celebrate Easter, albeit at different times. The biggest differences are the practices between countries and indeed even within them. Many of these stem from folk practices rather than religious ones, that have been moulded to match the holiday. Therefore we now have a range of unique celebrations of Easter in Europe. It’s a cultural treasure just waiting to be explored, and thankfully has been by some of the best bloggers around. This is their experiences of the different Easter celebrations in Europe.

The Origins of Easter in Europe through to the Modern Day

Easter firstly found its origins in the celebrations of Eostre. This was a celebration around the time of the spring equinox dedicated to the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring and Fertility of the same name. Ancient stories of Eostre commonly link her with eggs, a symbol of fertility and new life, and hares. Perhaps because of the spring in their step. However the latter may have been changed over the centuries by folk people. This fact has been lost to time and history though.

The earliest known celebration of Easter by Christians came in the 2nd century. However it took many more full moons before the current means of deciding when Easter should fall came into being. This was agreed upon in the 8th century, when they finally settled on the first full moon after the spring equinox. This corresponds with the month of Nisan in the Hebrew Calendar.

The Eastern Orthodox Church has a different means of calculating Easter as they used the Julian Calendar rather than the Gregorian one. It usually means that Orthodox Easter can fall up to a month after the Christian one. While efforts have been made to fix Easter on a specific date, no agreement has been reached. Easter can fall anytime between March and May, depending on religion and the calendar.

With such indecision over the centuries as to when Easter should fall, is it little wonder that how Easter is celebrated from country to country, and even village to village. While most involve religious elements, many also blend folk traditions into it. In doing so they create their own unique celebration of Easter. Many of the celebrations begin on Palm Sunday and continue all through holy week.

The Unique Traditions of Easter in Europe

While commercial Easter has become all about Easter Bunnies, Chocolate Eggs, and Egg Hunts, it’s the unique Easter in Europe traditions that I’ve asked bloggers to introduce you to

Easter in Europe really does vary drastically country by country. The tradition of the Easter Bunny started in Germany, and it brings the eggs. In France its “les cloches de Pâques”, aka the Easter bells. These fly away to Rome in Italy and return on Easter Sunday with the eggs. Naturally Rome itself is the Catholic epicenter of Easter. St Peters Basilica hosts a huge Easter mass.

Though its Enna the island of Sicily, and its parade of 2000 friars dressed in white cloaks that wins the unique award. Its smaller European destinations such as this that possess the most original ceremonies. Read on and hopefully we can motivate you on where to spend your Easter holiday in 2022.

Easter in Ireland

Despite being perceived as a traditional country, Ireland has been on a fast track to modernity over the last century. With that much of its old culture has been lost. The only Easter tradition to survive to this day in some form is the “cludog”. This is how egg hunts were known back then. Though the tradition then was to roast them and after the hunt place the shells around the bottom of a Mulberry Bush.

Gone are some of the older traditions such as watching the sun dance (getting up to see the sunrise); the cake dance (a dance around a cake of course); and the bonfires that once marked each big event in the Irish calendar.

Whipping the herring out of Town

However the tradition that’s really unique and sorely missed is “whipping the herring out of town”. This is a throwback to the time when Ireland was devoutly Catholic. Eating meat or animal products was forbidden for the 40 days of Lent. Before you assume the Irish were the first vegans, they substituted with fish, with herring the cheapest and most common.

Butchers suffered immensely during this time. Therefore when Easter Sunday came around, a herring was mounted on a stick and paraded through the town while been whipped. It was then given a mock funeral in a river. The herring was then replaced on the stick with a quarter of lamb. This was decorated in ribbons, as the butchers celebrated a return to business.

Sadly you can only see a painting by Nathaniel Grogan of the ceremony now, at the Crawford Gallery in Cork. It’s time butchers resurrected the tradition.

whipping the herring out of town- Photo from Crawford Gallery

The Sprinkling in Holloko in Hungary

By John from CarpeDiemEire.

Holloko is a as small village in Northern Hungary that keeps alive the old traditions of the country. In doing so it is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and has become one of the biggest travel destinations in Hungary outside of Budapest. This applies in particular during Easter, when the village hosts a huge festival.

Most come to see the particular tradition known as the sprinkling. This was once popular in Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, but as the countries left behind their village way of life, the tradition was left too. Not so in Holloko and many parts of Hungary. Sprinkling for those that are unfamiliar is a folk belief, that by throwing a bucket of water over a young girl (usually of marrying age) she will then be fertile and not wilt.

While it looks and sounds somewhat barbaric it isn’t, and nowadays is predominantly done for fun or spectacle. While in villages the bucket has been replaced by perfume that gets splashed on the head (in exchange for palinka or decorated eggs), Holloko still goes all the way.

Its the real highlight of a full weekend of festivities that make spending Easter in Holloko in Hungary a great idea. Besides this there is a full program of events with Easter markets, food stalls, live music and entertainment.

Easter in europe- The Sprinkling in Holloko Hungary
The Sprinkling- A unique part of Easter celebrations in Europe

Semana Santa in Andalusia Spain

Contributed by Faith of XYUandBEYOND.

Semana Santa (Easter) is celebrated throughout Spain and you can be assured that every single region will have a parade and special events.

In Andalucía Semana Santa begins on the Sunday before Easter. La Madruga as it is known as was started in the 16th century. It allowed people to participate in the Passion of the Christ.

Brotherhoods known as Cofradias are responsible for carrying the massive floats known as tronos. The tronos are floats with one figure such as Christ or Mary. There are also pasos floats with more than one figure that depict events such as the Last Supper. 

The men carrying the tronos or pasos will often wear blindfolds signifying they are making a sacrifice to ask for favours from God for their family or friends, never for themselves. 

The floats are followed by capirotes who are penitents related to the Cofradia they follow. A capirote is a tall conical hat that is believed to bring the wearer closer to god. 

The parades are always accompanied by brass bands and music which is an important part of the celebrations. During the parade a saeta will be performed. The Saeta is an ancient traditional Spanish religious song and it is performed from a balcony overlooking the parade route.  

The parades will wind their way throughout the villages from one of its churches to a central Cathedral and all along the route you will find onlookers and celebrants. It is a joyous celebration that you can’t miss if you plan on being in Spain throughout Easter.

Semana Santa- Easter in Europe
semana santa

Franconian Easter Fountains of Germany

By Corinne Vail at Reflections Enroute.

Every year, a small region of Bavaria called Franconia decorates their fountains in the centre of town with Easter eggs and pine boughs. Many are decorated in the shape of a crown. The eggs are decorated by the townspeople, often at the elementary school. Everyone gets involved, and it’s a great road trip to plot a route through the towns and see which fountain you like the best.

The fountains are decorated about two weeks before Easter, and stay up for another week afterwards so there’s plenty of time to go. Some of the towns that have annually decorate their fountains are: Heiligenstadt, Birkenreuth, Zapfendorf, and Weiden in der Oberpfalz, but there really are many to choose from. My advice is to take your time. Visit the towns and see all their decorations and fountains, then stop for a great seasonal lunch of trout or lamb.
Franconia is in central Germany, easily accessible by train.

However, to get out into the villages, it will be necessary to rent a car. I suggest taking a flight or train to Nuremberg, renting a car there and making a circuitous route. You’ll love it.

Franconian Fountains- Easter in Europe

Pomlazka in the Czech Republic

By Joanna from The World In My Pocket.

In the Czech Republic, Easter is celebrated more as a welcoming of spring rather than a religious holiday. The celebrations begin with the opening of the Easter Markets in Prague and continue well after Easter day.

One of the unique Czech traditions celebrated at Easter is the Pomlázka, an old pagan custom. On Easter Monday, boys go from house to house with the Pomlázka. This is made out of braided willow branches decorated with ribbons. They ask for the girls to come out and they gently whip their legs with it, whilst singing a tune asking for painted eggs. This is actually a ritual of fertility dating back from the 13th century done so that the women don’t “dry out” during the rest of the year. In return, the girls give the boys a painted egg and tie another ribbon to their Pomlázka. 

Whilst outside of the Czech Republic the Pomlázka might sound like an odd tradition, in the country it is accepted pretty much everywhere. If a woman doesn’t want to be whipped on Easter Monday, she simply doesn’t open the door. However, many do, especially if they are looking forward to having a baby in the following year.

Czech Republic- Easter in Europe
Easter Celebrations in Europe

Butarice in Slovenia

By Helene from Wandering Helene

Easter traditions in Slovenia are plentiful and begin in February for Shrovetide, but after Ash Wednesday things quiet down until a week before Easter.

A tradition found throughout Slovenia, and some other parts of Central Europe is the cvetnonedeljske butare (Palm Sunday bundles). These are “bouquets” of foraged sticks, vines, flowers, greenery, and other bits found in the forest. Across the country, there are variations in the style and name. 

In Ljubljana, where there is not as much forest, they developed their own style. The Ljubljana butara or butarica is made with brightly painted spruce wood shavings. Just before Easter, the central market has stands selling these colorful bundles with fresh flowers and greens poking out the top. 

In some parts of the country, the butara uses specific plants to bless livestock, represent symbols in Christianity, or include fruit. The largest one ever made was 304 meters and took 130 men to carry it to the church for its blessing. After a blessing, parts of the butara can be fed to the animals, burned, or placed between the rafters of the home for protection.

The days before Easter is when some people dye eggs. Painted eggs, called pirhi, are an art form with stunning intricate regional motifs passed down through the family. These eggs are placed in a basket along with ham and potica to be blessed at the local church the Saturday before Easter.

If you visit Slovenia for Easter there are butara workshops hosted across the country. There you can learn how to make the traditional bundle for your own. 

Butarice in Slovenia

Easter in Athens in Greece

By Chrysoula from Athens and Beyond

Easter in Greece is the largest religious festival in the Orthodox calendar. The week leading up to Easter (holy week) is very special. Most Greeks are preparing themselves spiritually for the festival. On Good Friday (Megali Paraskevi), housewives spend the morning in their local church decorating the purple draped Epitafios (tabernacle with the icon of Christ’s entombment) with beautiful white flowers. They have usually completed their work by lunchtime, so it is well worth popping into a few churches to admire their work.

Early the same evening, the women return to the church to sing the Heritismi (anthem to Our Lady). At about 9.00 p.m. the Epitafios is carried through the streets of the neighborhood in a procession led by the priest chanting prayers and 12 Bible readings.  His parishioners walk slowly behind him, carrying lit candles.

If you are staying in Athens, a lovely church to visit to see the decorated Epitafios is Agia Ekaterina (St Catherine) in Plaka. It was built in the 11th century in a cruciform shape with a central dome. Plaka has many bars and restaurants, so a stroll later in the evening will give you the opportunity to see the candlelit procession.    

Athens- Easter in Europe

The Procession of the Holy Blood in Bruges

By Darlene from Thirsty Journeys

The Procession of the Holy Blood is held every year in Bruges, Belgium on Ascension Day. This is the Thursday that falls 40 days after Easter. This procession celebrates a holy relic said to contain a piece of the blood-stained cloth Joseph of Arimathea used to wipe the face of Jesus Christ after his death. The cloth was preserved and brought to Bruges during the Second Crusade in the 12th Century. It’s believed by some that on Ascension Day, the dried blood becomes liquid again.

Over 3000 participants march in the procession annually. This includes local politicians, clergy, and members of the Brotherhood of the Holy Blood, who look after the holy relic. The parade, divided into four segments, first relays Bible stories from the Old and New Testaments. Following this the history of the relic arriving in Bruges, and the final religious component, which includes the Brotherhood of the Holy Blood displaying the holy relic itself. The parade includes floats, costumed actors, musicians, a menagerie of animals (including camels!) and even jugglers dressed in Medieval garb.

The procession begins after morning Mass (around 2:30pm) and starts at the Dijver Canal at 8000 Brugge. It is free to attend, but you need to purchase a ticket if you want to sit in the stands or on a bench along the route. Click here https://www.bloedprocessiebrugge.be/en/ for more information on the procession, route and how to buy tickets for a seat.

Procession of the Holy Blood Bruges
Bruges is a year round destination, from Easter parades to Christmas Markets

Throwing Clay Pots from Windows is Corfu

By Nina from Lemons and Luggage

One of the most unique Easter traditions in Europe takes place on the Greek island of Corfu. Located in the Ionian Sea, you can reach the island from Athens by plane.

Corfu is known for its many marching bands, and these play an important role during Easter. In the afternoon of Good Friday, the center of the capital Corfu is filled with them playing mourning songs while various churches perform their Easter processions.

One final procession takes place on Saturday after which people celebrate the so-called first resurrection. This fascinating aspect of Easter in Corfu takes place at 11 am. People throw clay pots filled with water from windows and balconies before marching bands play celebratory music. Thousands of people watch this ritual and take pieces of the pots home for good luck.

There are several theories as to the origins of this ritual. According to one the Ancient Greeks threw out their old clay pots and replaced them with new ones to mark the arrival of spring. Another theory states that the Venetians who ruled the island for several centuries used to throw out old objects to start the new year with new ones. The locals then moved the ritual to Orthodox Easter and used clay pots.

At midnight the big Easter ceremony takes place with thousands of candles being lit as well as fireworks. Finally, people in Corfu like the rest of Greece have enormous barbecues but don’t worry, there are places to eat vegan in Corfu as well.


Holy Saturday in Crete

By Roxanne from Faraway Worlds

Easter in Crete is one of the most important holidays of the year. While the largest of the Greek islands is only a short flight from Athens, Crete’s has its own distinctive Easter traditions. Greece celebrates Orthodox Easter, which is based on the Julian calendar.

This typically falls a couple of weeks later than is celebrated in Catholic or Protestant churches. One of the highlights of Easter in Crete falls on Holy Saturday. Typically, a late mass is held, which finishes just before midnight and is extremely well attended. Just before the end of mass, the Holy Candle is lit and everyone lights their sacred candles from the holy flame. At the end of mass, fireworks start and a bonfire is lit, where an effigy of Judas is burnt outside the church.

After mass, people hurry home with their candles and mark their doors with a black cross from the ash. This is supposed to bring luck for the coming year. The 40-day fast ends at midnight, so many families break their fast at home, otherwise, many tavernas are open after the midnight service with food and live music. Easter in Greece is a lively affair, and people eat until late into the night.

Crete- Easter in Europe

Egg Rolling in Northern Ireland

By Allan from It’s Sometimes Sunny in Bangor  

Egg rolling is a traditional Easter game played annually where hard boiled eggs are decorated with dyes and paints before rolling them down a hill. There are different versions of this game played in different countries but most will follow a similar set of rules within the United Kingdom.

Locally for myself in Northern Ireland, we would always prepare the eggs the day before Easter by boiling them first with onion skins to dye the outer shell. The dye was never overly necessary however as the hard boiled eggs were then painted and decorated. This was using watercolor or acrylic paints mostly, but not specifically, with Easter themes. The paint is then left to dry overnight, then, on Easter Day, local parents would bundle their kids in the car and head off to a place called Scrabo Tower.

This is a location around a 15-minute drive from Belfast City Centre, for the annual Easter egg roll. At the top of the hill the eggs are then rolled down the slope, and the contestant whose egg rolls farthest, without breaking or getting lost, is the winner. Unfortunately it is a dying tradition but more official events have kept traditions alive in other parts of the U.K. 

Scarbo Tower Northern Ireland

Cross Prosessions on Hvar in Croatia

By Gabrijela from Under Flowery Sky

Island Hvar is one of the most beautiful islands in Croatia. It is located 2 hours by ferry from Split or 1 hour by katamaran. Split is easily reachable from Zagreb which usually takes around 5 hours by bus.

This whole night event is an ancient tradition dating 500 years back. Every Holy Thursday at 10 pm, six local churches simultaneously start walking through the villages of Vrbanj, Vrboska, Jelsa, Pitve, Vrisnik and Svirče to come back to the starting point. During 8 hours, participants pass more than 25 km. One person acts as guide carrying the cross all the way, a person who was chosen 20 years prior. This procession is part of UNESCO’s cultural heritage.

Picturesque towns of island Hvar include: Hvar which is an administrative centre; Starigrad- one of the oldest towns in Europe where the beautiful palace of the local poet Petar Hektorović is located; Vrboska which is also called Little Venice, and Jelsa- known for its laid back atmosphere.

Starigrad in Hvar

Easter celebrations in Europe

The celebrations of Easter in Europe that are seen around the continent are diverse enough to ensure that in fact nearly all are worth seeing on their own merits. Even within countries such as Greece, the mainland and islands celebrate vastly different. It’s a great opportunity to experience some of the unique cultural differences that still exit between the nations on the block. Easter is usually an ideal time to start your travelling year also, as Spring is in full swing in Europe. Which of these Easter celebrations in Europe would you book first?

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Easter Celebrations in Europe
Easter Celebrations in Europe
Easter Celebrations in Europe
Easter Celebrations in Europe

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