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Traditions maintained, questioned and imported

I remember that when I was a child, Easter was never as important to me as Christmas. Because for Christmas you get presents and it snows, and it’s all fancy, right? But Easter too is a festive season for us, and back in the Czech Republic, where I come from, we have many – both Christian and folk – traditions.

This year’s Easter will be different as for the very first time in my life, I won’t be going back to Prague to spend it with my family but will be in London with my partner. We got back to London only a few weeks ago after being nearly a year in Prague because of the pandemic. So, going back for Easter would be too difficult.

On Ugly Saturday (we have our own names for Easter days which I decided to use throughout my text), when I was a child, we would always go to Kutna Hora, a small town near Prague where my great uncle lives. This would be my family’s tradition, practised since the 70’s when my mum was born. And it actually still happens (when there’s no pandemic) – even though my siblings and I grew up, my little cousins still go to Kutna Hora because every year, the travelling amusement park would come to that town just for that one Easter weekend. Many people from Prague would go there, just as the locals, and everyone from the close villages, everybody dressed in their best clothes. This fantastic mixture of people would blend in this colourful event, full of cotton candy, loud music, and cheaply looking but actually-not-so-cheap fun— all surrounded by the gothic architecture of this UNESCO-protected town. We would first have lunch at my great uncle’s place and then go to the park. In my atheist country of origin, the traditions do not tie that much with religion – after all, the biggest roller-coaster would always be in front of a majestic church built in 14th century. However, these events always offer us another occasion to be together and eat (food plays a crucial part in all our celebrations). After the pandemic situation in the Czech Republic started to be unbearable after Christmas, someone said that the Czech people will rather risk infecting and killing their loved ones than not seeing their family. Which is, unfortunately, true. We (they?) might not be that friendly at first, but love to get together.

Spending Easter in London will be different. I won’t be eating the little sweet pies called Jidášky (‘Judases’) my mum always makes on Ugly Wednesday. I won’t be drinking a green beer with my dad and brother on Green Thursday (that is how we refer to Maundy Thursday). I won’t be painting Easter eggs with my sister on Good Friday. I won’t be going to the countryside to get drunk and bake a huge chicken filled with herb and nettle stuffing with my friends on White Saturday. I won’t be eating beránek, a sweet pie in the shape of a little lamb on Easter Sunday. And most importantly, I won’t celebrate Easter Monday with my family. The traditions of Easter Monday in the Czech Republic are very peculiar and come from pagan times. Basically, if you’re a man, you should pick willow osiers and weave so-called ‘pomlázka’ from these (it is basically a thin plait). On Easter Monday morning, you should go around your village or town, stop by at every house, say an Easter carol and – that’s when it all starts to be slightly questionable – gently whip each girl and woman with pomlázka. If you do that, it means that the girl will stay young and healthy. As a reward for that, she should give you a ribbon which you can tie to your pomlázka, a painted egg, and nowadays, also a shot of alcoholic beverage, if you’re old enough. Whereas in the villages these traditions are still being performed, in bigger cities this doesn’t happen at all, or it does happen only between families and friends, very symbolically – no strangers would knock on your doors anymore.

Every time I told someone in the UK about this tradition, their reaction was the same – surprise, laugh and outrage (in various order). I don’t blame them. The question of whether certain traditions should be abandoned or challenged with our contemporary beliefs arises. I believe they should. However, I’m convinced that if that happens and we, as an individual or as a family, decide to discard a certain tradition for whatever reason, a new one should be introduced. It is not that easy to set up a new habit or custom, but it can be done – my Google search assured me that I will get used to any new routine in three weeks. So why not try it with a tradition when an old one becomes outdated! That is what I actually did – instead of Kutna Hora, I usually go to the countryside and eat chicken.

I trust that these regular events are valuable, and the older I’m getting, the more I appreciate a certain rhythm of the year. Especially now, in these timeless times, in a country where seasons do not change in the way I was always used to, and where you can wear the same coat almost throughout the whole year. It is essential for me to have moments when I know what to do. On this day, I should paint some eggs. Even though the mood is artificially made, it does work. It’s tricky with Easter as it doesn’t happen on the same date every year. Without seeing Cadbury’s Easter Eggs in Tesco, I wouldn’t remember that it’s going to be Easter soon. At the same time, I can’t imagine not celebrating it, at least a little bit. However, whereas I look forward to painting eggs and baking a chicken while speaking with friends over Skype, I’m happy not to carry on with some of the traditions and, at least here in London, forget about pomlázka. But I’m sure I’ll miss it, no matter what I think about it from my “feminist, intellectual” perspective. It reminds me of home and my childhood.

Here you can read more about our Czech traditions:

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