Easter is more important in some countries than in others. About one per cent of Japanese celebrate Easter, while almost 100 per cent of Greeks do. Naturally, many countries have developed unique Easter traditions and superstitions.
In both Finland and Sweden, there’s an ancient belief in “The Easter Witch” — a malicious hag who rides a broomstick and focuses on doing wicked deeds.
These days, Easter Witches drape themselves in scarves, carry copper coffee pots and are accompanied by black cats. They go door-to-door collecting candy in exchange for decorated pussy willows.
No bells ring from Maundy Thursday* until Easter morning in The Netherlands and Belgium. Children are told the bells have flown to Rome and will return Easter morning with coloured eggs and chocolate bunnies.
The Germans, who gave us the Christmas tree, also have Easter trees. These are outdoor trees with decorated eggs hung from their branches.
On Easter Sunday, the skies over Bermuda fill with kites, hand-made during the last days of Lent. They fly only at Easter when they symbolize Christ’s ascent into heaven.
Rabbits are hated in Australia. Not indigenous to that continent, 24 of them were released there in 1859. They rapidly multiplied and spread, causing horrendous destruction to huge areas of vegetation. Many native plants and such marsupials as the lesser bilby became extinct. Only about 600 great bilbies, now an endangered species, remain. And all because their habitat was completely destroyed by rabbits.
Naturally, Australians don’t honour the Easter Bunny. Down Under, the Easter Bilby brings goodies to children. Chocolate bilbies are found wherever candy is sold, but you’ll look in vain for a chocolate rabbit.
The bilby, native to Australia, is a small, shy, burrowing marsupial with big, hairless ears.
All Northern European countries observe the custom of Holy Saturday bonfires, and all Slavic countries make and share beautiful eggs at Easter. This custom’s origin is unclear, but their reason to be is related to the fact that in times past eggs were forbidden food during Lent.
In Ireland, Good Friday is spring cleaning day. As well, eggs laid that day are set aside to be eaten Easter morning. Irish butchers conduct mock funerals for dead herrings, the symbols of Lenten abstinence. Some people actually whip or beat the herring, probably because by Lent’s end everyone is tired of eating fish.
Perhaps the most extraordinary of all Easter observations is the crucifixion re-enactment that takes place in The Philippines on Good Friday.
Every Good Friday, some 16 or so men are actually nailed to crosses where they remain for several hours. Although this ritual has been called, “Folk Catholicism,” it is discouraged by the Church. As well, it’s far from an ancient tradition being only about 60 years old.
The Church’s denunciation has had absolutely no effect on this practice, and now, unfortunately, it has become a tourist attraction. Crucifixion tours are readily available.
Easter is upon us. Whatever tradition you follow, do stop to consider why it is a holiday weekend.
*Maundy Thursday, also called “Holy Thursday,” is the day before Good Friday. This 1640 Middle English word refers to distribution of food (a meal) thus reminding us of the Last Supper. It originates in the Latin, mandatum (commandment; mandate).
• A child born Good Friday and baptized Easter Sunday will have the gift of healing.
• A boy born Good Friday will become a priest.
• Those who die on Good Friday go directly to heaven.
• If you cut your hair on Good Friday you’ll never have head-aches.
• A dream about Easter eggs means a happy event will occur soon.
• Crops will flourish for as far as an Easter bonfire can be seen.
• An effigy of Judas burned in an Easter bonfire will keep away evil spirits, especially trolls.
• Whoever bakes bread on Good Friday will be blessed.
• A cat roasted over an Easter fire will drive away evil spirits.
• Bread baked Good Friday will never go mouldy.
• Eggs laid Good Friday will cure whooping cough.
• It’s bad luck to cut your fingernails on Easter Sunday.
• It’s bad luck to change a bed on Good Friday.
• If you accidentally break a dish on Good Friday, every shard will pierce the heart of Judas.
• Dogs fed meat or bones from the Easter Feast will go mad.