I have got an absolutely amazing Easter post for you!!! It is written by one of the CMD readers, Lenka, who grew up in a country so she experienced the REAL DEAL Czech Easter. Her story is very entertaining as well as educational – the perfect combination :0) Thank you so much, Lenka!
CZ: Mam pro vas naprosto uzasnou velikonocni povidku!! Napsala ji Lenka, verna cternarka CMD a opravdu moc se ji to povedlo. Lenka vyrostla na venkove, coz znamena, ze jejich Velikonoce nebyly ani o trosicku osizene. Nejen ze je jeji esej zabavna, ale hodne se toho take naucite. Tak mockrat dekujeme, Lenko!
Traditional Czech Easter – the way I remember
I have been living in the US for the last 12 years and I have learned to appreciate Easter here. However, now as I have children I miss our Easter more each year.
I grew up in a city in Northern Bohemia, but I think of myself as a country girl. We have spent every holiday, break and weekend with my grandparents in the country. So I have mixed memories of Easter. Easter was celebrated different in the country then in the city. For me, the Easter in the country was more sincere, more about the tradition, even if it got crazy. Our grandfather would gather young weeping willow branches in February or March each year to let them cure for weeks before he would weave it into pomlazka. Why use young branches? By whipping the girls on Easter day you would transfer the youth, the health and the flexibility from the young cured branches into the girls (of all ages of course ☺ ) We would later decorate the pomlazka with colorful ribbons of streamers.
Easter is celebrated all weekend but the primary celebration takes place on Monday. Yes, we get the Monday off. My family never went to church on Sunday. Some might have, but I do not recall one of my friends, relatives or friends of friends to ever talk about Easter as a religious holiday. Sunday was spent cleaning, cooking and coloring eggs. My grandma would bake bochanek and beranek. Those are two very traditional Easter sweet pastries. Bochanek is made from the same dough as vanocka at Christmas time. It is just shaped as a round loaf of bread with a cross on top. Beranek is made in a shape of, well what else then lamb. It is usually just a vanilla cake sugar powdered. But sometimes my mom would dip it in chocolate too.
When we were little there were two ways to color our eggs. 1. The traditional dyes – green, red, blue, yellow, orange, brown, and the occasional purple. 2. The onion peel dyes. We saved onion peels, which of course we grew ourselves, for weeks. In the beginning, we would just drop them into the hot water with peel and dye them. Later, as we grew older, we would wrap them in gauze, drop them in the dye and once you unwrapped them you had those cool lines and swirls from the gauze. But they were the prettiest when you actually arranged fresh herbs, grass or weeds under the gauze first. The possibilities are endless. The dye has to be very strong in order to dye the eggs dark enough (I have not been able to recreate this here, since you really need the most outer layer of the onion to get the right pigment. Oh well, I’ll keep trying) Then came the stickers. Do you remember the cute stickers that we added to our colored eggs? With little lambs, chicks, bunnies etc. My brother and I would fight over certain stickers. The last step was the pork fat or really in my house, the fat part of smoked meat and skin. Yummy. But it made the eggs shiny. I can actually smell the pork skin right now. ☺ As we grew older we perfected our egg coloring techniques and also added some new … My favorite? Kraslice, made with hot bee wax. This can be done on either hard boiled eggs, or if you have more experience, on blown out eggs. Those are very fragile since it is just the shell. How do you do this, you ask? Well, you take a needle, prick a hole at one end of the egg and then another one at the other end. Now the hole has to be large enough to get the egg yolk out but small enough not to destroy the look of the finished product. Easy right? Then you blow the entire egg out thru that little hole. Just take it this way, you screw up and break the shelve, you end up having more scrambled eggs for your breakfast. Now this was always a method that had to be supervised by adults. Not hard to understand when you use hot was. We put a piece of bee wax (from our own bee hives) into a little dish and placed it on hot stove. Yeah, it was a wood burning stove, what else ☺ and waited for it to melt. Meanwhile the egg had to be clean and oil/grease free or the wax would not stick. Once the wax melted, you used a little tool (a piece of wood with a nail or pin in it) and decorated the egg by dipping the pin into the hot wax and transferring it onto the white egg. After the wax dries, you dye the eggs and wipe of the wax. Of course when you are proficient enough, you can multilayer. Well, I never got that far. But I loved making mine all the same.
I loved to watch my grandfather create his masterpieces. His technique was one I could and will never master. He would take a hardboiled egg or blown eggshell that were dyed already, take his pocket knife and scratch off the dye and make the most beautiful designs. He made it look so easy. I loved watching him work. And just like with the less fancy eggs, you finished your masterpiece with the pork fat. There are many other techniques such as gluing string or straw onto the eggs, but my family never got that fancy. Now, Sunday was pretty much it – final cleaning, eggs, final decoration of pomlazka.
Monday is a holiday. You get to stay home from school, most people from work. Looking back at my childhood this was a happy time. We would all – girls and boys together, go out around the village koledovat. We took our little baskets and hand made and decorated pomlazkas and went out. We would visit one house followed by another. We would have to recite a little saying (Hody, hody, doprovody, dejte vejce malovany. Nedate-li malovany, dejte aspon bily, slepicka vam snese jiny) in order to get an egg. We would not stop till we visited every house in the village. At the end we had all kinds of colored eggs and the occasional chocolate egg or other sweet. Needless to say, that we were eating eggs for days. Now things changed when we got to our pre-teen and teenage age. No longer did we all walk around. Girls stayed home to get whipped by boys. This was still innocent enough. We got chased around the house, or the front porch and the boys walked away with more eggs in their baskets. Also the pomlazkas seemed to get bigger and fancier decorated as we grew older. I think this was also a very innocent way to flirt, without being embarrassed. Once I got into my later teenage years, I no longer stayed in the country but in the city. Easter in the city is very different. Or at least it was for me. Somehow, the groups got bigger and more violent, as we grew older. Of course the older guys no longer expected beautifully colored eggs. They wanted booze and the occasional money. Some quick snack between the shots. The whipping turned into beating and I always ended up with bruises. (Then again, I have sensitive skin and bruise easily. Still, those were really bad and stayed with me for weeks. Let’s just say I was glad I did not have to wear my bikini ☺ )
I am not sure where the water tradition came from. The boys are going around in the morning. By noon everybody is done (innocent little boys with their baskets full of eggs and treats, teenagers upset that all they got were eggs and older boys and men under the table somewhere). And that’s when the girls get to pay them back. If any of the boys are caught outside after 12 noon, the girls are allowed to spray them with water. Yes, most are nice and the boys get a squirt from a bottle or a cup; however, you find some girls/women that use a bucket or a hose. Well, I guess the guys should know better. What I am still puzzled about is why some guys would come to your house in the morning, search for you in many cases, whip you till your butt was sore and then nicely pick you up, throw you into a tub and shower you with freezing cold water. Guys, do you have any explanation for this? The only thing I can come up with is to help your raw buns cool down. I have learned to fill our tub with hot water. If I was getting wet, I was going to stay warm. Maybe it was just guys around me though.
I wish my children experienced Easter as I did when I was their age. Sad thing is that even if we lived in Czech, they would probably not be able to. Things have changed there too. So we will color our eggs on Saturday before Easter. We will place the little stickers I brought from Czech on them and then on Monday we will bring them to school to share. I will have to once again explain to new teachers why I am bringing eggs after Easter. I will be up late on Saturday, going around the neighborhood and hand stamping bunny footprints at every friend’s house and leave eggs. Jus as I have done for the past five years. I love hearing the children talk about being visited by the Easter bunny. They call each other to make sure the bunny did not forget anybody. I love watching my children’s faces light up when they run out to check in the morning. It is just like Christmas again.
But I sit back quietly after the day is over and re-play the memories of “my Easter” and try not to get too sad.