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How is Easter celebrated around the world? 8 surprising traditions from Spain, France, Germany and more

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 18/04/2019 Tom Herbert
Getty © Getty Getty

If you hadn't have guessed from the mountains of chocolate eggs littering the supermarket, Easter is very nearly upon us.

That's right, the Easter weekend is now just a few days away, giving you just the right amount of time to stock up on chocolate.

While most of the UK tend to celebrate the four-day weekend with egg hunts and stacks of sweet treats, other countries have embraced their own Easter rituals.

Here, we take a look at some Easter traditions around the globe and the history behind them.

1. Easter in Spain

a group of people standing in front of a large crowd of people: Semana Santa is marked by huge parades in Spain (EPA) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Semana Santa is marked by huge parades in Spain (EPA)

Known in Spain as Semana Santa, or Holy Week, Easter is observed for an entire seven days on the Iberian peninsula.

Celebrations begin during the last week of Lent, and it is marked by huge and elaborate religious processions in nearly every single town and village across the country.

People parade through the streets in costumes or in hooded robes, carrying intricate religious floats depicting difference scenes from the bible, while often accompanied by live music. Some of the most well known take place in Zamora, Valladolid, Seville and Granada.

Treats such as torrija (similar to French toast), pestiños and cakes are all popular around this time as well.

2. Easter in France

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: The town of Bessieres in France celebrates Easter with a huge omelette (EPA) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited The town of Bessieres in France celebrates Easter with a huge omelette (EPA)

Much like in Spain, many of France's Easter customs stem from Catholic tradition and as such the holiday is usually a more religious affair than the UK's.

One such tradition dictates that church bells stop ringing around Easter as a mark of respect for Jesus' death, and to explain their silence children are told the bells have flown to Rome to be blessed by the Pope.

On the morning of Easter Sunday - Jesus' resurrection - the bells then fly back to France loaded with sweet treats which they drop into gardens for the children. Once they are back in their steeples they then start ringing joyfully again.

So in France it is the "cloches volantes" or "cloches de Pâques", and not the Easter bunny, which brings the Easter eggs. Once the bells have begun to rung, the Easter egg hunt - or "chasse aux oeufs" - begins. Traditional food revolves around lamb, cheese, potatoes and chocolate. In the town of Bessières thousands of people gather on the Monday morning to make a giant omelette, usually consisting of 15,000 eggs and 40 cooks.

3. Easter in Germany

An oak wheel stuffed with straw is set on fire and rolled down a hill to celebrate the Easter Wheel (Osterraeder) tradition in Luedge, Germany (EPA) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited An oak wheel stuffed with straw is set on fire and rolled down a hill to celebrate the Easter Wheel (Osterraeder) tradition in Luedge, Germany (EPA)

Good Friday and Easter Monday are both public holidays in Germany, and they celebrate by lighting bonfires around sunset on Holy Saturday.

Some places have turned the "osterfeuer" (Easter bonfire) into mini festivals with stands selling sausages, wine and funfair rides while other communities stuff huge bales of straw into a wooden wheel, set it on fire and roll it down a hill (known as the Osterrad).

Other traditions include decorating an "Easter tree" with hand painted eggs, known as the Ostereierbaum. Usually, families hang the ornaments from a small household tree, however you can hang them from bigger foliage in your garden.

It is also traditional in Germany to eat something green on Maundy Thursday, which is called Gründonnerstag - or "green Thursday". Spiced, sweet bread, enriched with eggs and dairy and dotted with almonds, candied peel raisins are also popular during Easter for breakfast and afternoon tea.

4. Easter in Italy

a building with smoke coming out of it: The Scoppio del Carro takes place on Easter Sunday, in which a cart full of fireworks in exploded by a dove-shaped rocket (EPA) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited The Scoppio del Carro takes place on Easter Sunday, in which a cart full of fireworks in exploded by a dove-shaped rocket (EPA)

Unsurprisingly the Pope leads the Easter celebrations in Italy, holding a huge mass on Good Friday at St. Peter's Basilica where the Via Crucis, or Station of the Cross, is celebrated. During the mass, a huge crucifix made out of burning torches is raised in the night sky.

In Florence, Easter Sunday is marked by the Scoppio del Carro, a centuries-old custom in which a huge and elaborately designed antique wagon full of fireworks is set alight by a dove-shaped rocket after being hauled into a small square by oxen and hundreds of people in 15th century dress.

Elsewhere in Italy over the course of the three days, religious processions are held in which people dress in ancient costumes and parade artefacts, statues and olive branches through main squares.

One of the most popular foods on the peninsula during this period is the Colomba di Pasqua, a traditional cake which is similar to a panettone.

5. Easter in Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia

a group of people walking on a sidewalk: Women are doused in water as a part of a centuries-old Easter tradition in Hungary (EPA) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Women are doused in water as a part of a centuries-old Easter tradition in Hungary (EPA)

Across central and Eastern Europe an ancient tradition exists which sees people try to drench each other with water buckets of water, usually men soaking the women, on Easter Monday.

Known as Smigus-dyngus (Wet Monday) in Poland, Watering Monday in Ukraine, Watering in the Czech Republic and Slovakia and Sprinkling in Hungary, the ritual is supposedly based around womens' fertility, with the water having a cleansing effect in an effort to make them healthy for the upcoming spring.

In Hungary participants will often dress up in folk costumes and the men will douse the women with buckets of water or perfume. In Poland, traditionally the women get soaked but today it has become more of a country-wide water fight. After the soaking, usually the women then provide the men with food and alcohol. Another Easter tradition exists these countries in which men whip women with a special handmade whip made from willow and decorated with ribbons. Not intended to be painful, it supposedly helps women keep their youth, health and fertility throughout the year.

6. Easter in Finland and Sweden

a little girl posing for a picture: Little children dressed up as Easter witches in Finland and Sweden (Shutterstock) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Little children dressed up as Easter witches in Finland and Sweden (Shutterstock)

In a centuries-old folk ritual that looks remarkably similar to Halloween, children in both Finland and Sweden dress up as Easter witches (påskkärring) and go door-to-door in their neighbourhoods in the hope of receiving chocolate.

The youngsters wear decorated headscarves, paint their faces and carry bunches of decorated willow twigs, paintings and drawings which they exchange for sweet treats.

7. Easter in The Philippines

Devout Catholics in the Philippines will volunteer to be "crucified" on Good Friday to reenact Jesus' suffering, in a particularly gruesome practice that has been condemned by the church.

Thousands watch the reenactment, known as the San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites, in the province of Pampanga, in which believers are nailed to crosses to atone for their sins or pray for others.

Penitents volunteer to have nails measuring two inches long hammered into their palms and feet by people dressed as Roman centurions and nailed to a cross. They are only taken down from the cross once they feel atoned of their sins.

The practice, which is believed to date to the 1950s, also sees other penitents flagellate themselves using bamboo sticks tied to a rope.

8. Easter in Bermuda

As you'd expect from a tropical island, Easter is much more relaxed and a whole lot warmer than it is for us in Europe. Fittingly then, Bermudians of all ages like to celebrate Good Friday on the beach, where they fly both special homemade and store-bought kites.

The kites supposedly represent Christ's resurrection, and come in all manner of shapes, colours and sizes. Some are so big they require several people to get it airborne. Along with kite-flying, Bermudian also enjoy eating fish cakes and hot cross buns at this time of year.

Gallery: Traditional Easter foods eaten around the world (Microsoft GES)


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