Easter is either a time of reflection for those in the Christian faith or an excuse for many to get chocolate-wasted. As South Africans, we also look forward to the long weekend that often sees an invasion of GP number plates in the country’s coastal towns. No matter the tradition, Easter is the big sigh of relief in the first quarter of the year that we all need. While celebrations may vary among families in South Africa, here is how some nations observing the holiday in colourful, epic and sometimes head-scratchingly weird ways:
Like many other countries in Europe, Easter is recognised as the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and it also coincides with the coming of spring. In Germany, trees are decorated with embellished easter eggs called Ostereierbaum or Easter Egg Trees. It’s also a custom in Austria, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, Moravia and the Czech Republic.
On Good Friday, the shores and skies of Horseshoe Bay Beach are filled with kaleidoscopic colours because of the Bermuda Kite Festival. It is said that the kites are a celebration of the ascent of Christ. Bermudians also dig into fish cakes when it’s Easter.
In Verges, locals observe Easter by having Holy Festival Week or Semana Santa. The culmination of this is Maundy Thursday which commemorates the Last Supper. This festival is called the ‘Dance of Death’ or Dansa de la Mort where people dressed in luminescent skeleton costumes perform dances carrying clocks, scythes and ashes. There is also a procession by hooded penitents and ‘Jesus’ and ‘Mary’ through the town of Verges.
4. Chios (Greek Islands)
Chios is the fifth largest island in Greece and in the village of Vrontados, Easter is marked with an explosive rivalry between its two churches, Agios Markos (Saint Mark) and Panagia Erethiani (Virgin Mary Erethiani Church). The event is called Rouketopolemos and is an all-out rocket war that starts the night before Easter.
During this time, congregants attend mass and it is for this reason that windows and doors are boarded up or covered in mesh. The rockets are a DIY project for participants and the point is to see how many hits the rockets have made or to see which church bell is impacted first. Up to 60 000 rockets fill the sky.
Locals aren’t sure how the tradition originated but it is said to come from the island’s occupation by the Ottomans who got rid of cannons in the nineteenth century; as a result, the locals of that time relied on firing rockets. It could also be an ode to the nineteenth-century sailors of Chios who fought against piracy. It attracts a lot of tourists and is a big revenue generator. This celebratio can get quite intense as there has also been a lot of resistance against the rocket wars.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrates Easter or Fasika one or two weeks after churches in the West and it is considered to be more important than Christmas. After a 56-day fast that includes following a predominantly vegan diet (no meat or dairy products), families dress in white and gather for a gastronomical affair where they enjoy doro wot (spicy chicken stew), Injera (flat-bread) and honey wine.
In Florence, they have Scoppio del Carro or ‘Explosion of the Cart’ where a cart filled with fireworks and pyrotechnics is lit on Easter Sunday. The cart or waggon is pulled through the city square by oxen followed by a concert of drummers and people dressed in historical costumes. When the cart arrives at the cathedral, the Archbishop lights a dove-shaped rocket called the ‘Colombina’ which symbolises the Holy Spirit. The rocket then flies down a wire to the outside of the church and impacts the waggon, resulting in a spectacular firework display.
7. New York, USA
On Easter Sunday, New York City partakes in a tradition that has been around since the late 1800s. The Easter Parade began with the decoration of sanctuaries in churches with Easter flowers. The flower decorations became more flamboyant and stylish over time and by the late nineteenth century, people wore fashionable clothing and paraded down the streets to see the flowers in church. Today, eye-catching Easter bonnets are worn by people of all ages in a procession from 49th to 57th street on Fifth Avenue, Manhattan. The best place to watch is from St Patrick’s Cathedral.