Think a bunny bringing eggs in a basket is odd? Try Europe, where Easter traditions run the gamut from kids dressing up as witches to butter sculptures that ward off evil. Here, some other offbeat ways Europeans celebrate the holiday.
With Bells On
In France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, flying bells bring kids their chocolate eggs and sweet treats. In these countries, where religious tradition silences church bells between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, children are told that during that time, the bells fly to Rome and are blessed by the Pope himself. Post-blessing, they supposedly fly back, loaded with chocolate eggs, bells, and chickens, just in time to ring in Easter Mass.
Easter Monday in Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia is a wet affair. In Poland, boys drench girls with buckets and water guns. Poles claim girls who are soaked will marry within the year. In Hungary and Slovakia, the tradition calls for “sprinkling” buckets of cold water over women in traditional dress to keep their fertility and strength from withering away. In larger cities, the tradition has been reduced to a light spritzing with water, cologne, or perfume.
Escape from Witch Mountain
Across Sweden and parts of Finland, in the days leading up to Easter Sunday, locals light bonfires and set off fireworks. The Thursday or Saturday before Easter, kids beg for treats door to door, dressed up as witches in colorful rags and drawing freckles or smudging soot on their faces. Behind these Halloween-like traditions is the old idea that witches fly to a German mountain the Thursday before Easter to cavort and scheme with the Devil.
Lots of Butter
In Russia, Poland, and former Eastern Bloc countries like Ukraine and Slovenia, the dinner table for Easter Sunday is always decorated with a sculpture in the shape of a lamb . . . made of butter. Why? A lamb is supposed to be the one form the devil can’t take on, as it’s symbolic of Christ, the Lamb of God.
Has a Cult Following
The week leading up to Easter Sunday, Catholics in Spain and Portugal gather in the streets to carry saints and holy relics around town. In the southern Spanish communities of Seville and Malaga, hundreds of local associations called cofradías dress up in robes to heft around heavy (up to 5 metric ton) floats topped with scenes from the life of Christ to the dirge of horns and drums. In Braga, Portugal, you'll find Gregorian chants echoing down cobblestone streets crowded with candlelit altars.
An Egg Toss
In the Greek Orthodox Church, eggs are died bright blood red to emphasize Christ’s death and resurrection. Traditionally, eggs must be tinted red on the Thursday before Easter Sunday. Eggs dyed red on this day can last up to 40 days outside the fridge, or if a priest blesses them, up to a year. On Easter Sunday, Greeks play an egg-cracking game, called tsougrisma. The person whose egg doesn’t crack gets good luck for the following year.
A Different Kind of Tree Decorating
The Ostereierbaum, or Easter Egg Tree is a centuries old tradition in Germany and Austria. Locals hang colored eggs in bushes or on cut branches in their homes. In Bavaria and parts of Northern Germany, people also decorate local wells and fountains.
A Parade That Pops Off
In Florence, Easter Sunday brings the Scoppio del Carro, or explosion of the cart, a tradition dating back over 350 years. Oxen garlanded in flowers pull an elaborate 17th century wagon, 2-3 stories tall, through the city streets to the piazza in front of the Cathedral. Get there before 10 a.m. to secure a spot for the big event. A cart stuffed with fireworks sits at the ready in front of the cathedral until 11 a.m., when a dove-shaped rocket flies down a wire to collide with it in the square, setting off a dramatic firework display.