As holy week approaches, we typically tend to stock our cupboards with old culinary favourites such as hot-cross buns and chocolate eggs in time to break the fast of forty days and nights. As the end of lent approaches, we’re going on a journey around the world to discover how Easter customs are celebrated in different countries.
Easter customs in Spain
For the capital of Andalusia, Holy Week or Semana Santa marks not only the end of lent but also the beginning of spring and Seville certainly pulls out all the stops when it comes to Easter celebrations. The streets are filled with citizens, music and energy as parades of marching bands and floats bearing statues illustrating the Easter narrative make their way through the city. In its wake follows a procession of cloaked nazarenos or penitentes, white-cloaked figures complete with habits and long roman candles.
Some 200KM southeast in Malaga, the happenings are no less spectacular. If you don’t hear the celebrations first, you will certainly smell them as the air is filled with musky incense. Should you see the streets lined with white petals, don’t be fooled. It is not confetti you see lining the way, but rather the the orange trees in blossom marking the advent of the good weather.
Easter customs in Italy
The Vatican & Rome
Although the smallest country in the world, the capital of the catholic world spares no effort for Holy Week. Settimana Santa begins in St. Peter’s square where the pope himself addresses the world with a special mass. On Good Friday, another papal mass is followed in the evening by Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross), a reenactment of each aspect of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, each of the which is accompanied by a series of prayers and rituals and is seen as a particularly important homage paid to Jesus Christ for his sacrifice. In 2000, a bronze cross was even erected in the colosseum in Rome as part of the Stations of the Cross. The Vatican and the city of Rome lights up as these rituals are performed in the flickering light of the flaming torches and roman candles of attendees.
Further south in Italy’s more Mediterranean region of Sicily, you will witness evermore curious parades and celebrations. South of the region’s capital Palermo, in the hills of Prizzi, locals don zinc masks and red robes in efforts to embody evil incarnate as part of a tradition known as the Abballu de daivuli. On Easter Sunday, the fiendish entities may chase you around so as to capture your soul and you are only redeemed when the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ make their arrival and the angels carry away the red devils. If you are looking for an alternative narrative to see enacted, head westward. There you will find Trapani and one of the most theatrical Easter festivities: the ministri. Locals bear life-sized wooden sculptures on their backs from early afternoon and do not tire until late into the night.
Easter customs in Greece
Put on your apron and… dye some chicken eggs red. Yes, you heard me right. Easter traditions in Greece are peculiar to say the least. The egg shape plays an important role in the Easter narrative and the colour red symbolises both the blood spilt during Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and victory. It is for this reason that in celebration of Easter, Greeks crack red eggs over dinner in a symbolic gesture to the Resurrection.
Easter customs elsewhere in the world
Elsewhere in Europe, large bonfires may often take place on Easter Sunday. A symbolic gesture of light chasing away the winter and darkness, they also provide ample opportunity to roast some marshmallows! For a not-so-pleasant Easter experience, head to the Philippines, where naked Filipino penitents self-flagellate with blades and bamboo sticks as a form of worship and religious penance during the week preceding Easter. It gets worse in Indonesia, where young men pride themselves in playing the role of Jesus Christ and are tied to and hung from the cross to represent the ultimate sacrifice of the son of God. In Bermuda, Easter is a more culinary affair, between bouts of kite-flying, locals eat hot-cross buns and fishcakes made with cod, a tradition that dates back to a British Army official having difficulty explaining the locals the Ascension of Christ and so made a wooden cross. Resembling the frame of a kite, in true Bermuda tradition, colourful tissue paper was added along with some string and a sweet, if not slightly bizarre, custom was born.