Czech Customs and Habits During Easter Time

3 2004 Naši ve světě česky
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1. PALM (in Czech "Květná neděle") SUNDAY

The last fasting Sunday is called Palm Sunday. Sometimes, it is also called Lamb´s Sunday. This day commemorates the time when Christ rode though the carriage gate into Jerusalem. On that occasion, Christ was welcomed with palm brancehs being strewn before him. This Sunday before Easter is also called Passion Sunday or Second Sunday of the Passion.

The Czech tradition of observing Christ´s entrance to the city was waving willow branches which had been blessed at the Church. Based on the people´s supersition, pussy willows (there are several willows bearing velvetlike silvery catkins before the leaves) were plunged into holy water which endowed them with a protecting power against fire. In many instances, pussy willows were put into the farmers´ fields as protektion from moles. In other cases, pussy willows were placed into stables in order to protect the livestock from witches.


In the old Czech language, today´s Maundy (now in Czech called "Green") Thursday and Holy ("White") Saturday were called "Big" Thursday and "Big" Saturday, while Good ("Big") Friday, has maintained its meaning even now… Easter is in the first place a holiday of the first time of spring, when there is a full moon, marking also the days of solstice nad vernal equinox. These times were generally connected with the beginning of the basic agricultural actions, such as sowing, turning out the livestock to grazing areas, etc.

In the past, during the circumstances of those days, life was not simple. Every beginning was momenteous. As everybody knows, there had traditionally been applied and old saying, which said "whichever start you take, such will also be the end". Accordingly, it was only natural that long experience had taught them that at every beginning of any action, it was most important to take special care of everything to attain a successful progress and outcome. This procedure was practically applied in all their activities. They took this kind of attitude both at the birh of a child and his/her entrance into adulthood, as well as in case of a marriage or a death. But that course had also to be taken into account at the beginning of agricultural works, for which Easter time was just the right occasion. It was desirable to succeed in getting not only an exellent harvest, but also to maintain one´s good health in the course of the year.


"Maunde" comes from the ceremony of washing the feet of the poor, while "mandatum" means commendment of God. Hence, it is the "mandatum" which we use at the beginning of the prayer for washing the feet, commemorating Jesus´washing of the disciples´feet on this day before Easter.

Passion tide is the former name for the two-week period before Easter which lasts up to Resurrection Day. The holy mass translated into reality on this day represents the Last Supper, which was the las supper eaten by Jesus with his disciples before the Crucifixion, as is related in the New Testament.

Since Maundy Thursday until Holy Saturday, it has always been Czech youngsters custom to use various noisy rattles, clatters, etc. By ther racket they wanted to substitute the pealing of the vells, which in accordance with tze Czech tradition flew away to Rome. This habit was connected with the old faith that at that time, the souls of those departed were also returning in a form of the visits with all mourning family members of the deceased person.


This is the day when the religious ceremonial rite consisted of reading of the New Testament, hereafter followed by Passion (reflecting the suffering of Christ on the cross, or his sufferings between the night of the Last Supper and his death) in accordance with St. John´s script, and by interceding prayers for all maniknd. At the beginning of such a rite, the clergy fell prostrate in front of the altar on the floor. Thereafter, the cross was unveiled and venerated.

Good Friday has always stood for an omen of general cleansing of persons in a streaming water course. However, this had to take place prior to sun rise. In fact, it was believed that the early hours´fresh water chased away illnesses, particularly those of eye or skin infections, thus benefically enhancing a person´s beauty. Before daybreak, people not only washed themselves in the water course, but they also forced the livestock into the same water, because ccording to their superstition, such water was protecting them from witches. Housewives were obliged to thoroughly wash their animals as well as as their wooden vessels for the mixing of tough and/or butter. In so doing, they were afterwards blessed throughout the whole year by bread and milk. In such case, when somebody was ill, the water from the water course was carried over to them so that they would get well before long. Women painstakingly swept all the rooms of their houses. The brooms, applied for the sweeping, were hereafter dropped into the water course, so that all kinds of vermin would move out of their abodes.


On this day´s early evening, it was a habit to bless a so called "Judas´fire" at the church entrance. As a matter of fact, it was not a generally known fire. It´s name was also "wooden fire", because it was kindled by rubbing wood pieces together. Such a fire served subsequently to light up a white wax candle (in Czech called "paskal"), which in the liturgy represented Christ after his resurrection. Into this candle, five incense grains were stuck in token of Christ´s five wounds.

Thereafter, it was carried off blessing the Holy Water, the candle was dipped into the baptismal font, commemorating correspondingly Christ´s baptism in the river Jordan in the Near East. After that the holy mass was served, while at the same time, the church´s bells were pealing, and finally, one could hear the happy alleluia. At the sound of the pealing of bells, the housewives shook trees, saying "Dear tree, regenerate!"


(in Czech also called "Good´s Easter Treat")

This day represents the main holiday of the Easter tide. On this day, foods such as eggs, hot cross buns and stuffings were blessed in the church at the morning mass. Thereafter, such food was to be eaten symbolically prior to the noon dinner. These foods were even added to the animals´fodder, because based on the religious faith, in doing so, those who are the foods were expected to live longer. It was a current belief that whatever had been blessed on that day would never dwindle… Portions of such foodstuffs were carried away to the tombs of their departed relatives and friends. Children visited their godparents who gave them gifts of food or money. It was the custom for the children to bring them "pomlázka" which are weeping willow switches. The most important part of the Easter days have always been the red collored eggs (called in Czech "kraslice"). It was quite impossible to thing about Easter without them. The Czech word "kraslice" has its origin in Russian language, where "krasny" means "red", and has always meant any kind of colored eggs. It served as a symbol of Nature´s revival and its mighty power of breeding forces of a new life.


This day has always been connected with the notion of a switch ("pomlázka"). It was made of thin, flexible and newly grown twigs of weeping willow trees. These twigs were braided together in different numbers (mostly by 4 to 8 twigs). The thinner end was tied by multi-colored ribbons. The switches were used by youngsters for whipping girls. Whipping representing vividness and youthfulness. These characteristics were transmitted by whipping girls/women. After all, "pomlázka" meansl "pomladit", which means to become younger. As a reward for the whipping, girls gave the boys colored eggs.

Charles J. Opatrny

Vydavatelem Českého dialogu je Mezinárodní český klub

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