Czech/Slovak Easter: run for your life! / Jsou tu zase Velikonoce - schovejte se zensky nez bude pozde! - CzechmatediaryCzech/Slovak Easter: run for your life! / Jsou tu zase Velikonoce - schovejte se zensky nez bude pozde! - Czechmatediary
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Czech/Slovak Easter: run for your life! / Jsou tu zase Velikonoce – schovejte se zensky nez bude pozde!

Here is my Easter story. What am I about to say here may be really interesting for those who didn’t grow up in Czech or Slovakia (and a “nice” reminder for those who did). The “My Czech Republic” website gives you the cheery and playful version of this tradition but my recollection is not so cheery. Of course, we do the fun stuff like coloring the eggs, baking cakes in a shape of a lamb and sing merry songs. However, as I mentioned in my other posts, Czechs really like their alcohol (they have been no.1 beer-drinking consumers for ages now) and if you mix that with Easter – or any other celebration – things can get pretty crazy.

I can speak with a dose of authority since I have experienced the “wonders” of Czech Easter many, many times. As I mentioned before, when I was a kid my family spent the weekends/holidays at our cottage, located in a little quaint village near Prague. And villages are the places where things get REALLY crazy when holidays – especially Easter – come around.

So what would a traditional Easter Sunday look like? In the morning the girls would be finishing up coloring their eggs and arranging snack on fancy plates, getting ready for the friendly (or maybe not-so-friendly) visitors. The guys would have a hearty breakfast, a shot of vodka instead of an orange juice and they would then go off into the woods to collect the pussy willow twigs and braid them into a whip. When no pussy willows were available they would just equip themselves with whatever was around: shovel? Gardening hoe? The Czech male imagination can run wild with just a minimum dose of vodka. Once armed, they have lunch – or they probably skip lunch – have a couple more vodka shots instead, grab their whips, sometimes even egg baskets, their booze and are off to find anything that had a female resemblance . They would usually start off at the neighbor’s house. If you were one of the first houses the mob visited, you were lucky: the guys are still kind of sober, kind of polite and kind of mellow. You let them into the living room – or better – just a hallway, give them some refreshments, offer them more vodka and let them “spank” you. If they still have their egg baskets, you would also stuff couple of eggs in them and if you are lucky they leave afterwards. True, traditionally, you also have a right to douse them with a pot of water as a playful response to their beating, but you really don’t want to prolong the whole situation, plus the floor would get all wet and you would spend the rest of the day cleaning it up…..

Now, what happens, when you are one of those last houses being visited? By that time the mob has thinned down to just the “fittest” in the group who still have the ability to walk and talk (or rather slur) some. They are not so polite and meek anymore; they are very loud, very energetic, bordering on aggressive. If you are smart, you just cut to the chase, let them beat you and offer them some more vodka. They will then either pass out on your sofa or – if you are lucky – they will leave to celebrate the end of Easter “festivities” in the local pub. Our cottage was one of the few “lucky” ones, located at the end of the village. That means that most of the time, my mom and I would just leave for a VERY long walk in the woods. Sometimes we would just close down the cottage – blinds and all – to pretend like no one was home. I don’t think I will ever forget the stressed out expression on my mom’s face when Easter Sunday came around. On that day she would wake me up with something like “Good morning, don’t forget, it’s Easter today, so pack your things – we are leaving in 20 minutes”.

I am just wondering: how did the traditional celebration of Easter change to “Hey, Jesus has risen, let’s beat the women!”??

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20 comments… add one
  • Say March 17, 2008, 7:57 pm

    My girl friend is all excited because she thinks a friend will let her get some willow branches for Easter :).

    My mom’s home town is just over the mountains in Poland and she told me about the day after easter being “Shmingus Dingus” – mutual water fights day. She never said anything about beating the girls with a whip so I suspect there is Czech blood in my family tree.

    I read that 10% of the people in the US enjoy spanking as a form of entertainment.

  • Tanja March 17, 2008, 10:25 pm

    Yeah, I am not sure if the Polish people have the same “women-beating” tradition but it would make sense that they would since Poland borders with the Czech Republic. Or maybe I just revealed the national secret?? Ups….

  • Vonya March 19, 2008, 3:35 am

    Boy, I would certainly be apprehensive of Easter every year, if I had that experience! That sounds like a fraternity party gone wrong! I do recall getting a spanking on my birthday…one for each year and one to ‘grow on’. (It wasn’t a spanking that hurt, and not one that I recall past like my 8th birthday, but still a very strange tradition.)Our Easter went something like this: I woke up at the crack of dawn on Easter morning to find an easter basket filled with chocolates and easter grass and marshmellow peeps and usually a coloring book of some sort, along with a huge chocolate bunny and a stuffed animal bunny. I had absolutely no clue what Easter actually represented–that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after dying on the cross on Good Friday. No clue that Jesus died for me, and in doing so, gave me the opportunity to have a personal relationship with Him, for eternity. No, I thought it was about copious amounts of candy. After the easter baskets were torn apart and all the contents consumed, my sister and I would put on our easter dresses and have a brunch with family in the afternoon. Anyhow, now that I’m married with three little children, I plan to give them the Easter basket with a little bit of chocolate, a coloring book and to tell them about Jesus and his sacrifice for all of us. I pray that they have the hope in the Lord that I did not have as a child. Perhaps they will be more at peace than I was as a girl!

  • Tanja March 21, 2008, 5:28 am

    I agree Vonya, the real spirit of Easter has somehow completely disappeared….what do Easter bunnies and colored eggs have to do with Jesus being crucified on the cross??

  • Say_Oy March 23, 2008, 12:30 pm

    So the Czech tradition of whipping girls with willow whips makes sense – a reminder of what Christ endured on his way to be crucified. And the men drink to celebrate that they managed to modify the holiday so the women get beaten. I like being a man. But where does getting doused with water come from?

  • Tanja March 23, 2008, 3:44 pm

    There is an idea! Now it all makes sense….
    One of my readers wrote sent me an article print-out explaining the “women-beating” tradition and here it goes (unfortunatelly it doesn’t add up with the above proposed “Jesus is the reason for the season” hypothesis):
    “Slapping Custom Background”
    [I]t’s not only Ashkenazic Jews [Jews from central and eastern Europe] who have/had the custom of slapping girls in the face at menarche. It’s an old Slavic custom, although in Slavic tradition it was the father and not the mother who did the slapping. I suspect the Ashkenazic custom derives from that, although among Jews it would have to be a woman doing the slapping because of the laws of niddah.

    My Slavic mother, who converted to Judaism, never slapped me, nor was she slapped by her father, but she was the one who originally told me about this custom. As it was explained to me, the purpose of the slapping (at least among Slavs) was to bring a rush of blood to the girl’s face and thus to keep her from bleeding excessively at the lower end of her torso. I’ve observed during extensive travels through Eastern Europe, mostly in small towns and rural areas, that there are a lot of Slavic folk customs are quite similar to those of Ashkenazic Jews, so this explanation makes at least as much sense as any other, if not more, considering that as far as I know there isn’t a belief about menstrual “uncleanliness” among Slavs (Christian or Pagan) which compares to that in traditional Jewish belief and practice.

    Having only recently read the article, by Caren Appel-Slingbaum, about the slapping of Jewish girls by their mothers upon menstruating for the first time, I would just like to add that this was done to me by my mother. My mother, who is of Polish origin, told me that she did this because she never wanted me to lose color in my face (ie. never be pale). Presumably, the slapping process retains a healthy color on our faces. My mother’s handprint on my face cheek disappeared rather quickly, and I am still always pale. Thank goodness for blush make-up. And so much for this tradition which I am happy to report ends with me as I will not do likewise to my daughter!

  • taylah August 25, 2008, 12:25 am

    Hi, I’m doing a school aignment on this ritual. Any more information on the subject would be much appreciated! My e-mail address is:

  • lenka March 6, 2009, 9:49 am

    Ok, so I am confused. What part of Czech are you from? We are from Nothern Bohemia and Central Bohemia with my grandparents. We always celebrated Easter on Monday. Sunday we died eggs, cooked, baked. But the boys went around on Monday morning and then Monday afternoon was the girls pay off. With the water and all. If you caught a guy out after 12 noon, he was doomed. Which for most parts you did not because as you said, they were all in the pub or unconscious somewhere after all the shots they have done that morning. My grandfather used to make our pomlazka weeks before Easter. As he said, they had to be cured to whip properly, which I guess would kind of defeat the whole purpose of being whipped. My understanding of this tradition was, that you get hit with the young branches and a youth, health and beauti will be transformed into all the girls and woman. Or was it just a way to make the weired tradition OK? I know my father would not let anybody in who was drunk past their good judgement or anybody who a year before gave us bruises. Which in my case was everybody, since I bruise very, very easilly. 🙂 When we were kids, it was a fun tradition. Kids running around with pomlazka a their easter egg baskets, singing songs and poems and getting eggs. Oh, how wonderful some of these eggs were. When we got older we learned all different techniques to make the best looking egg – I still like the fresh herbs or grass or any type of weed really and onion peel. I loved the bee wax (since we had bees it was fun knowing where the wax comes from) till I poured the hot wax over my knee and still have the scares. But the eggs are beautiful. I will definatelly teach my children about this tradition. Even with the easter getting out of control as we grew and times changed, looking back into our childhood I still remember the innocent and happy times of Easter in the country.

  • Tanja March 6, 2009, 10:47 am

    There are two parts that play role in this:
    1/ We would celebrate Easter at our cottage so most of the Prague people were leaving their “vacation homes” 🙂 on Sunday – that is why it was celebrated on Sunday
    2/ I have a very bad memory so I may have the times confused 🙁

    By the way, I am amazed what an expert you are on Ester!!!! That’s great!

  • Jana April 13, 2009, 6:59 pm

    I agree with Lanka. The girls were whipped to stay young. No Jesus involved! And yes, it was Monday since it was always three day weekend.
    I liked the tradition even though only my brother would whip me but only until I gave him some eggs I made the day before.

  • Tanja April 13, 2009, 10:43 pm

    You are lucky that you did not have the whole village chasing after you like in most cases…

  • Sher April 14, 2009, 10:15 am

    Hi Tanja,
    I sure enjoyed your posts about Easter!! In fact, I put a blurb on my blog about your blog if readers would like to read more about Czech Easter traditions!

    Have a great day!
    Sher :0)

  • Tanja April 14, 2009, 2:09 pm

    Hi Sher!

    Thank you! You to have a great day…

  • MariKa April 22, 2011, 5:22 am

    Pekna story!
    Ja vzdy dostala od spoluzaku. Oy! Nemela jsem se kam schovat, prisli dom s pomlaskama, dovolili si rodicum a kdyz nasi rekni mejte se tak shoup! V nasi tride bylo 20 kluku a 20 holek. To byl zadek! Ouch! A jeste my jim dame vajce???? :O!
    Ja si pamatuju na velikonoce kdyz jsme jeli na navstevu k tete do Madarska, a rikala jsem si – phew! no konecne me nikdo nezmlati a uziju si velikonoce v klidu. Yeah, right. Madari jsou jeste vice krahly nez Ceshi LOL Tam se leje na hlavu. Slusne se to dela s vonavkou, ale hodni lidi si z legrace i vyleje hrnicek vody. Byly jsme mokry jak hastrmani. Jidlo je bezva v obouch zemi, i kdyz dnes by tam asi nejedla vubec nic 😉

  • Jaroslav April 22, 2011, 7:21 am

    Tanjo, moje druzka si ted mysli ze cesky chlapy jsou nic jinyho nez banda opilcu co mlati zensky na velikonoce.Je mi moc lito ze Tvoje zkusenost s Velikonocemi je tak spatna,doufam ze si uzivas velikonocni pohody v Americe. Cokoladove vajicka a zajicci jeeeej………….
    Ja Ti jenom chci rict ze muj syn je 3 roky starej a ja urcite budu plest pomlazku tenhle rok a budu ho ucit nasi krasnou tradici. Upecu mu mazanec Na ktery vyriznu kriz a vysvetlim mu proc tam je,upecu mu velikonocniho beranka, obarvime vajicka ve slupkach od cibule……atd….
    Vesele Velikonoce. Jaroslav

    P.S. Dekuji Lenko, po precteni Tveho prispevku si moje druzka nemysli!!!! ze Cesi jsou banda opilcu……….

  • Tanja April 22, 2011, 9:12 am

    To se omlouvam Jardo, ale bohuzel jsou to me zkusenosti 🙁
    Jsem rada, ze v jinych ceskych domacnostech to bylo uplne jinak!

  • kpainter April 26, 2011, 12:35 am

    I have just come across this blog and I am glad to see that the original text has been corrected by several people, visiting girls happens on Monday, and here in Moravia we don’t drink vodka, but (normally) homemade Slivovice. Most of the things have been covered; the “stick” woven from Willow has many names, but in my village it’s called a žila. Each region has variations of the tradition which is very strong in Moravia. There are many explanations for the custom, and probably all of them have a grain of truth stretching back years. One is simply that the Willow is the first to start growing in the spring so it is strong, the strength of the man coupled with the willow is passed to the woman to make her strong (for having babies), another is „to beat out the winter dust“, as I said the list is almost endless. Girls in Slovakia have a harder time as they may be dragged from their beds and drenched in buckets of water. Whatever the politically correct people in the west think, Isn’t it good to keep an acient tradition alive rather than wasting $$$$$ on chocolate eggs bought on a credit card that have absolutely no symbolic connection with Easter at all, and only contribute to the manufacturers profit?

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