Kristyna Chynavova is a law student at Charles University in Prague currently finishing her Master’s degree focusing on International Humanitarian Law. Kristyna is a researcher and program coordinator in Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. She also participates in international conferences focusing mostly on nuclear weapons and climate change. She used to be a K-pop performer and winner of 2nd place at K-pop World Festival 2014. – Ed
As a Slavic country, the Czech Republic is deeply rooted in Christian tradition and therefore Easter is a very important holiday. Even though the religious practice has been significantly fading, the fun part of Easter celebrations is still very much alive in our culture.
For practising Catholics the whole Easter time starts 40 days before the actual holiday. On “Ash Wednesday”, a priest marks our foreheads with an ash cross as a reminder of all our sins. Since that moment, we are to fast and prepare our souls for Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
Before the festivities begin, a lot has to be done, cooked, baked and cleaned. On Easter Sunday families gather and celebrate with endless courses of good food. Every family has altered this tradition to its liking. In mine, we start with chicken broth, closely followed by chicken and stuffing with nettle (it is not a stuffed chicken but chicken legs baked on top of the dough-like stuffing) and of course potatoes. As for dessert, there are two options but since they are too yummy to choose just one, most families bake both. The first kind called an Easter cake is a sweet loaf of milky bread full of nuts and raisins. The second one is an Easter lamb, another cake in a shape of a sheep, usually covered in chocolate and decorated with a ribbon around its neck.
However, on Sunday afternoon everything gets messy. It is time for women to decorate eggs for the next day, which is the most exciting of them all! Even though nowadays there is quite a variety of techniques, in my home we keep the original and, I dare say, also the most difficult one. Using a needle or a pin dipped in melted wax, the girl draws tiny lines on the egg shell until she creates all kinds of flowers and other patterns. Decorating just one egg can take up to an hour of work. The work is tiring but very satisfying and calming. As it is an activity dedicated only to women, we have an amazing opportunity to talk and talk and talk without any male intervention.
The next morning, many truly absurd things start happening at once and there is an absolute chaos in the house. At first, little children are set free to search everywhere at home or in the garden for a present hidden carefully by an Easter bunny. It usually contains lots of sweets or other small presents. Then (and sometimes at unreasonably early hours!) young men and sometimes their fathers come to visit women of the house. They bring a special instrument called “pomlázka”. It is made of flexible spring branches, freshly cut of a willow, braided together and tied. The men then chase girls in order to whoop their butts using these tools. According to an ancient saying, it is supposed to help them stay young and pretty.
Once this mission has been completed, the lady then presents the man with an egg and ties a ribbon around his “pomlázka”. And in accordance with our Slavic nature, her father also offers the visitors drinks that only a true Slav can successfully swallow without his throat burning until the next year. However, when any man comes after noon, he will not receive any gifts. Such a latecomer will only be splashed with a bucket of cold water.
Even though these customs may sound silly and perhaps even sexist when perceived through the modern perspective, they are very fun and socially refreshing. Also, I believe that historically they represented a great opportunity for youth to meet their potential love interests. The idea of young girls gossiping about all the boys they had met that day and the boys coming home with a basket full of eggs and chocolates thinking about the most beautiful one girl in the village makes me smile every time.