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EASTER IN SLOVAKIA

Updated: Apr 4

Dear friends of Global Slovakia,

We would like to take this opportunity and wish you a blessed Easter. We are stepping into the Paschal Triduum, the three core Holy Days of Easter – Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.

Let’s take a look at how it is celebrated in Slovakia.




Much like today, Holy Week was in the past dedicated to a whole lot of preparation, and not just the spiritual one. Cooking, baking, cleaning was on everyone’s to do list. However, in the olden days, the primary duty of every good Slovak Christian was to attend the local church where the Passion plays (pašie) were held. These consisted of readings from the Gospel, that recounted the story of Christ’s last days and which were either recited or sung by the collective.

On Maundy (Green) Thursday that we we celebrate today, all church bells in Slovakia were and are ‘tied’, i.e. they go silent and they remain that way until Holy Saturday. This is a period when Christ’s crucifixion and death are symbolically mourned.



After Green Thursday comes Good Friday, a truly soberly day of stillness and fasting. There once was a strict ban on doing any kind of household or field work on this day too. One was and still encouraged to focus within, and, indeed, to attend the Mass. It is a silent service that honors the pain of Jesus Christ and Mother Mary on the day that he was crucified.

 

Holy Saturday is also known as White Saturday (Biela sobota) in Slovakia. On this day, the people flock to churches to spend a moment of silence in the Holy Sepulcher. The figurative grave of Jesus Christ, laid out usually in one of the church side altars.

 

Church bells sound at their full might again at noon, announcing the impending resurrection of Jesus.

 

Holy mass, the only service of the day in towns and villages, started in the later afternoon when the sun was just about to set. The longest and richest service of the year was and is a celebration of hope, which is why nobody minds that it is so long. Easter vigil is an event that is filled with joy, songs and overall happiness, as the community comes together to celebrate the victory of life and love over death and darkness.

 

The mass consists of a procession headed by priests walking around the church. A holy fire is laid outside the temple and wherever possible, it is blessed with special Easter candles, seen as tokens of Jesus’ light.

 

Not so long ago, people gathered around these fires to burn old oil, this symbolized the ending of one cycle and the beginning of a new one. The service then continued, by the priests and following, entering the church with the burning candles in hand, symbolizing the burning of Christ’s eternal love for humanity. 




When the day broke on Easter Sunday, the greatest Christian holiday of the year began. Easter Sunday also falls on the first Sunday following the vernal equinox.

This is also the time when Eastern baskets flood into church walkways. Village and town ladies pack their beautifully decorated baskets with Easter goodies, sausages, aspics, cooked meat, ceremonial breads and rolls to take them to the local church to be blessed by the priest. The blessing is done so as to assure the family has enough to eat in the months to come. After all, spring is the season for sowing, so even after the arrival of Christianity the people who depended on agriculture for their livelihood, wanted to make sure that the seeds they were planting were blessed and protected in order to reap a bountiful harvest come autumn.

The day when Christ was risen was and is celebrated in big style in Slovakia, and not just in churches, but in families too.

The dining table is laid especially for the occasion before the homecooked feast is brought in and shared by the whole family. With lent over, the Easter meals are once again rich in meat and animal fats.

At the turn of the 20th century, lamb was the most common and preferred meat consumed on this feast day. Those who could not afford lamb, would usually be able to get their hands on goat or mutton. Because mutton has strong flavor and smell, women developed sophisticated strategies to make the meat more palatable.

After lunch, girls went to paint eggs and boys pondered their Easter whipping strategies.

The females lovingly decorated their eggs, often with romantic interests in mind, a painted egg was an opportunity to express their emotions and intentions.




Easter ended and still ends with Easter Monday, the most iconic and unique day of the Slovak holiday. This is the day when water dowsing and maiden whipping takes place. Boys and men visit the houses of the young women that they fancy, but also all women in their family, to bestow their Easter blessings – of whipping and dowsing. In rural Slovakia, it is still considered odd and a shame if a girl remains unvisited and unwhipped on this day.

However, it is important to note that these acts are not violent. Rather, they are enacted symbolically so as to grace the whipped and doused girls with beauty, health and fertility. Likewise, the ritual also has distinct sexual undertones and was seen as an act of open courtship in the Slovak countryside.

Today, this custom looks more or less the same across Slovakia. But there were regional differences in the past. For example, a whip was not used in central and eastern Slovakia, but only in the west. Where it would suffice to simply soak the girls in water, usually by dragging them to a nearby river or a spring.



 

In return, the ladies adorned the willow whips of the boys and men with colorful ribbons. The more ribbons one had, the more of a ‘man’ one was.

 

May you Easter be filled with love, gratitude and connection to the land of your ancestors.



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