The human race is rich in traditions steeped in wonder, folly, and, oftentimes, the outright bizarre. Steeped in one’s own traditions, the oddities of a cultural celebration pass by with little notice of just how downright strange many common practices would appear to an outsider. Luckily, wanderlust has exposed countless travelers to the oddities of festivities in other countries, and Easter pastimes are no exception to the bucket of weirdness that is humanity.
A Pomlázka almost sounds like a savory baked good, but it’s not. No, a Pomlázka is a cluster of braided willow branches decorated with ribbons used to whip women for luck and fertility. The tradition of Pomlázka started in Eastern Europe dating back to paganism. It’s still popular in the Czech republic and Slovakia, as well as in Hungary under a different name (korbács). The word Pomlázka means “rejuvenator,” bearing the implication that the whipping is intended to make women younger and prettier. The practice is meant to be light and playful.
Nothing says divine rebirth quite like crime drama, or at least that seems to be the sentiment in Norway. For nearly a century, Norwegian families have gathered around the den on Easter to read and watch stories of deceit, betrayal, and brutal murder. The phenomenon dates back to 1923 when the publisher Glydendal launched the book “Bergen Train Looted in the Night.” The front-page newspaper ads were widely publicized and vaguely fictitious, which is to say that many Norwegians didn’t realize that the article was about a novel, rather thinking it was an actual high-profile crime. The book sold like wildfire and sparked a lasting Norwegian Easter tradition.
The rising of the Messiah commemorates a moment of solemn rejoice for many of the faithful, but some of Christ’s followers tend to get hung up on the whole crucifixion thing. A number of Orthodox and Catholic communities around the world mark the occasion of Easter with The Burning of Judas, in which an effigy of Judas Iscariot is hung, flogged and burned. Though perhaps understandable that many would bear lasting resentment for the betrayal and murder of the son of god, the practice was outlawed in England during the 20th century. However, the Burning of Judas still occurs in Greece, Mexico, Brazil, and Spain.
Perhaps eggs present a straightforward symbol of birth and rejuvenation, or maybe that’s another Easter mystery for the ages. Nonetheless, eggs play a major role in the Easter traditions of Bessières in Southern France. Every year, the village locals gather to make Omelette Pascale, a massive Easter omelette. In 2017, the omelette was made with 15,000 eggs. The story goes that Napolean was staying with his men nearby when he indulged on a local omelette. He loved it so much that he instructed the villagers to construct a massive replica to feed all of his men, and so was born a tradition.
The Easter Bunny
While we gawk at the oddities of foreign cultures, it’s sometimes worth taking a step back to evaluate our own collective eccentricities – such as the apparent nonchalance of celebrating the rebirth of Christ with a rabbit that hides eggs. To be clear, there is no mention of a hare or bunny in biblical scripture that could be construed as the origin of the Easter bunny, and the actual birth of the tradition is somewhat shrouded in mystery. However, the most plausible explanation only makes things weirder.
Sources investigating the origin of the Easter bunny point toward German immigrant communities in the 1700s that brought tales from their homeland to the American Easter tradition. One of these stories tells of “Osterhase,” an egg-laying hare that would leave its colorful gifts in delicate nests crafted by children. So, the Easter Bunny actually lays the Easter eggs.