Carnival, dinners, and whipping: Easter traditions from all over the world in Aalborg

by Vera Dvorakova

As you might be able to tell from the copious amounts of chocolate eggs and bunnies in the stores, Easter is right around the corner.

While lots of people in Aalborg are looking forward to their Påskefrokost (Easter lunch) and chocolate egg treasure hunts there are also plenty of internationals who think back to the traditions from their home countries.

Three of them, Klára, Katya and Crystal, shared their experiences with us.

Cold water, whips, and ribbons in Slovakia

Easter in Slovakia is, in theory, similar to Denmark.

A Christian country, Slovak Easter starts with a 40-day fast leading up to Easter Monday, as well as church visits throughout the holidays.

For Klára Lofajová, a 20-year-old student at UCN from Orava, what happens on Easter Monday is the most interesting part.

“I usually wake up to the sound of our doorbell ringing,” Klára says.

It’s her male friends, classmates, and family members who visit their house for ‘oblievačka’. They fill buckets with cold water and then splash it at the women of the house, together with some perfume for good measure.

The men usually bring a ‘korbáč’, a kind of a whip made out of willow branches that they then use to whip the women, while saying traditional poems. Klára mentions that, according to tradition, it will keep the women “healthy and lucky the whole year.”

“People usually put on folklore clothes and very often they play various musical instruments,” she says. After the whipping, the women tie a ribbon around the whip and the men get some food, alcohol or decorated eggs.

But Klára also notes that the traditions are slightly different for each region and villages or smaller towns tend to celebrate more traditionally than bigger cities.

Klára Lofajová

Passover as an opportunity to do good

This year, the Christian Holy Week overlaps with the Passover or Pesach – a major Jewish holiday.

A precursor to Easter, this holiday celebrates the Jewish Exodus from Egypt led by Moses.

“The reason why it’s usually around the same time as Easter is [because] Easter came later. [Jesus and his disciples] were having a Passover dinner before Jesus was [crucified],” says Katya Borissova, a 26-year-old born in Russia and raised in Israel.

On the first night of Passover, it is time for Seder – a festive dinner which shares the story of the Jewish enslavement with new generations.

“The whole family and the friends they invited over sit and they sing […] songs,” says Katya. The songs tell the story of the enslavement in Egypt. “The focus of the holidays has usually been […] to pass down stories.”

In the middle of the dinner table, there is a plate with six types of food, all somehow connected to the time in Egypt, such as “bitter herbs that represent the bitterness of slavery,” says Katya.

As a kid, Katya enjoyed an activity where the afikomen – a piece of unleavened bread called matzah – is hidden somewhere in the house and the children have to find it to get a small prize.

For her, the holiday is an opportunity for the family to get together and have a big dinner.

When she got older, Passover became more about volunteering work for her.

“I remember doing mini-Seders celebrations in a retirement home. […] Most of them were veterans and Holocaust survivors. A lot of [the residents] didn’t have a family so it was important to come and spend time with them,” she explains.

Katya Borissova and her husband.

Carnival and boredom in Panama

Panama, a country with a diverse mix of people, also has a diverse mix of Easter traditions.

The holiday actually starts already in February with a carnival with processions of people who drink and party in the streets while they are being sprayed with water from huge hosepipes.

As Crystal Martinez, a 25-year-old UCN student from Panama notes, this part is the remnant of the pagan celebrations from the times before colonialism.

But, as a mostly Catholic country, Panamanian Easter is a Christian holiday. It includes a 40-day fast when people shouldn’t eat meat – many of them choose either seafood, or, because seafood is expensive, any kind of non-red meat.

The core of the holiday, however, are Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the Holy Week.

Fridays, according to Crystal, are calm:

“During that time, you shouldn’t drink, you shouldn’t listen to music […] sometimes it goes to the extent to not even watching TV because anything that would give you pleasure that day is not okay.”

People can even get a fine if they listen to loud music and your neighbours call the police on you.

“Jesus was on trial during that time, so why are you having fun? You’re not allowed to have fun,” jokes Crystal.

On this day, processions of people also go through towns, carrying items representing patrons of their church, such as a cross or statues of Virgin Mary and Jesus.

“We do that in silence, because it has to be out of respect,” explains Crystal.

Saturday and Sunday are then more festive, all the rules are gone, and people are ready to return to their regular habits.

Crystal Martinez

Adapting your holidays

What all three women have in common is that, after moving to Aalborg, they had to adapt the way they celebrate in Aalborg, which can be tough.

Klára is planning to pay her family a visit over the holidays, Katya might prefer a dinner with her husband instead of volunteering this year and Crystal want to eat some seafood once in a while.

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