Willow rods, rattles other strange traditions mark the ‘great night’ of Velikonoce
For many women in the Czech Republic, the Easter season, known as Velikonoce, is not their favorite time. Easter Monday is the national holiday, and traditionally it is a time when women get whipped with a braided rod of willow called a pomlázka. The name comes from pomladit, meaning “to make younger” and how it got tied up with Easter isn’t very clear.
Traditionally, boys in villages go around from door to door on Easter Monday to slap women, even strangers, on the legs, thighs or buttocks with the whip. The victim is supposed to give the boy an egg or some chocolate. For older boys alcohol in the form of slivovice, or plum brandy, is sometimes the reward. In some areas, each victim ties a ribbon on the whip, sort of like notches on a gun barrel.
The women who are hit are supposed to get a year of health, fertility and beauty. Some older women can tell you that when they were younger they did get a substantial whipping at the hands of neighborhood boys, but now it has become much more symbolic in the places where it is practiced, and is seldom seen at all in cities. Most whips these days wind up being decorations and not put into action, as even symbolic violence against women is starting to seem unacceptable. Still, even the sight of an Easter whip makes some women cringe due to negative memories.
In some areas, whipping isn’t widespread but instead women are doused with water in another fertility-related ritual.
The art of braiding is no longer widespread, but people can buy a readymade willow whip on the street from a vendor along with the other traditional Easter items: a rattle and colored eggs.
The rattle, usually a wooden device with a handle and a rotating part, is used to chase away evil spirits. Use of the rattle starts on Green Thursday, or Zelený čtvrtek, and extends to Good Friday, or Velký pátek. Some say the idea is that the noise will scare away Judas, the apostle that Christians believe betrayed Jesus Christ.
The rattling extends into White Saturday, or Bílá sobota, when the those with the rattles, primarily boys, are finally offered money to make them stop.
Easter eggs are the most recognizable Czech tradition, with elaborately decorated examples being sold in Czech cities Prague and Brno by artists from Moravia and Slovakia, and even as far away as Ukraine. In Czech homes, decorating the eggs has traditionally been left for girls, as boys have been busy making whips and playing with rattles. Most domestic eggs are less elaborate than the ones sold on the street. Magic makers and even stickers are often used.
While chocolate Easter bunnies are becoming widespread, a more traditional treat is a chocolate- or sugar-covered cake in the shape of a lamb. Real lamb was also a traditional holiday meal, but such meat was in short supply in the communist era. The tradition of a big Easter meal comparable to the one for Christmas is not that widespread as most Czechs count themselves and non-religious and don’t go to that much trouble over the holiday.
You can also find one more thing in the Czech Republic that most countries only have on March 17, and that is green beer for Green Thursday. But is Easter, a movable feast, falls far from St Patrick’s Day, you may want to check how fresh it is.