Easter, like Christmas, is a global celebration with many countries having their own unique traditions surrounding the event. If you’re a South African living abroad in one of these countries – you might be surprised to discover that Easter is not all about chocolate bunnies.
In order to protect its unique biodiversity, Australia is a determinedly ‘rabbit-free’ zone. In 1991, they launched a campaign to replace the Easter bunny with the Easter bilby – a rabbit-eared bandicoot. Today companies make chocolate bilbies for Easter – and the proceeds are used to benefit these endangered species. There is also the famous Sydney Royal Easter Show where farming communities get together to showcase their crops and livestock – the two week show also includes the Sydney Royal Rodeo.
On Easter Sunday, Italian residents in Florence celebrate a 350-year-old tradition called scoppio del carro, which means “explosion of the cart”. A centuries-old cart loaded with fireworks is drawn through the streets by people dressed in 15th century costumes and placed in front of the Duomo where crowds of people arrive to watch the display – which is meant to symbolise peace and a good harvest for the year ahead.
In Poland a blessing basket is created filled with sausages, coloured eggs, bread and other important food and it is taken to the church for the priest to bless. Lent is not considered over until the basket is blessed. On the day after Easter, young boys and girls try to get each other wet with buckets of water and water pistols. Legend has it that girls who get soaked will marry within the year.
In Finland, children dress up as witches with made-up faces, wooden brooms and scarves around their heads and go begging for chocolate eggs in the streets. In Western Finland, bonfires are lit on Easter Sunday to ward of the witches who fly around on their brooms between Friday and Easter Sunday.
In Spain the town of Verges commemorates Holy Thursday with the Dansa de la Mort (Death Dance). On this night a procession is held with all participants dressed up like skeletons. In the municipality of Almaden de la Plata, straw effigies of famous people are placed around the city and then torn up and thrown into the air.
England comes alive over Easter with the sounds of clapping sticks and the bells of the Morris Dancers. Morris dancing is a type of folk dance dating back to the Middle Ages where men dress up with bells around their ankles and wave ribbons while dancing through the streets. They perform intricate dances with wooden staffs and their dancing is said to drive the spirits of winter away.
In Greece, on the morning of Holy Saturday, a traditional pot throwing ceremony takes place on the island of Corfu. People throw pots, pans and other earthenware containers out their windows onto the streets below. The aim of this is welcome spring by throwing out old items and encouraging the good growth of crops, which will be gathered in new pots.
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