Easter Customs and Traditions in our Twin Towns
The Easter break in our twin towns is celebrated over a 4 day week-end, as it is here. This year, they are mostly unable to celebrate with the events that would normally happen, as public life is still largely locked down. However, our friends have been keeping in touch and sending us information about their national and local traditions. Here’s a little more about some of their traditions and their Easter story.
Gubbio – Buona Pasqua!
As a traditionally Catholic nation, Italy follows the tradition of Lent, or in Italian – Quaresima. In many regions, Italians cut ‘Old Ladies’ in half by way of a tradition! Exactly half way through the 40 days of Lent they “Segar la Vecchia” , “cut in half the Old Lady”. A cake, made in the shape of an old woman to represent the Quaresima, is cut through the middle. The tradition has pagan origins, and to ‘cut the old’ means to knock down the oak (in the past), or to interrupt the aging process of nature. In the Christian tradition it represents the attainment of half of the lenten penitential path to Easter, with its associated sacrifices (giving up meat, chocolate, alcohol etc).
Gubbio, and the whole region of Umbria, is rich in ancient religious traditions linked to Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, intertwined with habits celebrating spring and the rebirth of nature.
Holy Week starts on Palm Sunday, and in Italian churches, twigs of olive-tree are blessed and the faithful take one home at the end of the Mass.
The rite of the Washing of Feet is also part of the Catholic tradition and is celebrated in many churches on Holy Thursday. In Gubbio there is an event in the evening, called “Sepolcri’. In some churches of the town the altars are decorated with pots containing germinated wheat, a symbol of rebirth of nature.
The wheat seeds are kept in a dark place to germinate, representing the passage from darkness to light, from death to life. People normally go on a tour, including at least 7 of the town’s churches.
The highlight of the Holy Week celebrations in Gubbio is the Good Friday Procession or the Procession of the Dead Christ, dating back to the Middle Ages. The procession goes through the main streets of the town and big bonfires are lit in various places along the route. The light of the torches carried by the people in the procession, the noise of the “Battistrangole” (ancient instruments), the chants, the medieval streets of Gubbio all lit with torch-lights for the occasion: all these elements create a strongly evocative, moving atmosphere, which captures believers and non-believers alike. The procession has also become an important tourist attraction, but, like last year, has had to be cancelled in 2021 because of the pandemic.
On Easter Saturday afternoon, the food that is to be on the table at Easter breakfast is brought to the church to be blessed: salami, sweet & savoury cake with cheese, wine, bread, salt and eggs.
That night at 10 o-clock a special Mass called the “Easter Wake” is celebrated in the Cathedral. The ceremony, with readings, chants, sermon, and prayers goes on until midnight, with the announcement of the Resurrection by the toll of the Cathedral bells.
On Easter morning, a typical Easter breakfast would be eggs, bread, wine, salt and salty ‘crescia’. The photo shows the table set ready in Matilde’s house.
Wertheim – Frohe Ostern!
In Wertheim on Palm Sunday (Palmsonntag) branches are fastened to a wooden pole and decorated according to local traditions. The finished palm trees are usually carried in processions (especially in Catholic areas) to commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. In more recent years, this has often been a simplified ceremony held immediately in front of church doors.
Although there are no Wertheim-specific Easter traditions, they join in with the festivities and customs taking place throughout Germany over the Easter period. One such ancient tradition, typical of the Franconia region, is the decorating of fountains or wells. This has been taken up by Wertheim in recent years.
There are food-related traditions for Holy Week which are still observed by some people. On Maundy Thursday, a tyical meal would be spinach with a fried egg on top and Bratkartoffeln (fried potatoes), and on Good Friday – which is often spent with the family – it is customary to serve fish for the mid-day meal. Many people also attend church on this day.
Easter markets are often held on Easter Saturday, these are similar to Christmas Markets, where hand crafted ornaments and fun decorations are sold. In some regions Saturday is also the day for Easter Bonfires. Easter fire is a symbol of light in the darkness and the change from winter to spring they would normally become an occasion for a festival with food and drink.
In the Ecumenical church centre in Wertheim, Easter Night Singing takes place from Saturday night to Sunday. During this midnight Church Service the Easter candle is lit.
Easter Sunday sees children searching for decorated Easter eggs (hard boiled or chocolate ones), Easter bunnies or small presents in green paper nests, or papier maché eggs hidden in the garden or the home. Many families serve a lamb roast that day. The Easter Bunny actually originates from a German tradition. Trees and bushes are often decorated with nicely painted coloured eggs or ornaments tied on with ribbons.
In some families, a little contest called ‘titschen’ takes place at the Easter breakfast table. The tops of 2 hardboiled eggs are knocked together, and the one whose egg doesn’t break is the winner – and gets the opponent’s egg. A special Easter cake is also served, called “Der Hefezopf” . It is a yeast-based dough folded into the shape of a plait. It often comes plain and is just eaten with butter and jam – but it can also be filled with almonds.
Easter Monday in Germany is when people go for a walk, have a picnic and enjoy nature. Some communities arrange Easter egg-and-spoon races for children.
Salon de Provence – Joyeuses Pâques!
In Salon, as in the rest of France, tradition has it that church bells ring every day of the year to invite the faithful to attend Mass. But from Thursday to Saturday in Holy Week, the bells fall silent, as a sign of mourning. Children are told that the bells have gone to Rome to be blessed by the Pope. On Easter Sunday, at the end of Easter Mass, they start to ring again. This tells the children that the bells have flown back to the churches, dropping chocolate eggs into gardens, fields and parks as they fly over. So it is the bells that bring chocolates to children in France! People exchange chocolate Easter eggs, often ornately decorated with coloured icing. There are egg huts for the children, and these include chocolate chickens, bunnies and fish as well as the traditional eggs.
Of course, there are food-related Easter traditions all over France! In Provence a special kind of dessert called ‘oreillettes’ are often served. It’s a type of flat sweet pastry, a bit like a waffle. People also enjoy cream desserts of different flavours – caramel vanilla, coffee, chocolate – as well as sweet omelettes. In nearby Marseille, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the creation of soft meringue in a cognac-flavoured custard known as ‘île flottante’ (literally ‘floating island’) was a popular Easter dessert. Some pastry cooks still bake special cakes in the shape of nests.
On Easter Sunday a typical Provençal meal would start with an aperitif with appetisers including, amongst other things, anchovies and tapenade on small pieces of toast rubbed with garlic, black and green olives, small stuffed peppers, and peppers roasted in olive oil and garlic. This would be followed by a leg or shoulder of lamb with provençal herbs, served with hash browns and spring vegetables: beans with fresh spring onions, garden peas and carrots, mangetout, provençal tomatoes, braised fennel, etc. An endive salad with garlic rubbed croutons would often accompany this. For dessert there would be îles flottantes, sweet omelettes etc. The important thing is that egg is one of the main ingredients. The meal would be accompanied by French wines – Côtes du Rhône, Côtes de Provence, Bandol, Cassis and so on. In the afternoon, after coffee and homemade liqueurs, oreillettes or similar sweet fried dough-based morsels are served.
On Easter Monday families often go on a country picnic to celebrate the Spring weather.
Szentendre – Kellemes Húsvéti Ünnepeket!
In Szentendre Easter is seen as a time to welcome in the spring and celebrates the renewal of fertility.
Skanzen, Hungary’s National Living Museum, situated just one kilometre from Szentendre, holds a big celebration of Hungarian traditions over the Easter Weekend.
One of these is the Easter Monday tradition of ‘Sprinkling’ This is more common in the smaller traditional villages and National Dress is often worn. The men chase the women and throw buckets of water over them! Nowadays it is more likely the men will get some perfume and rub it in the women’s hair. This traditional meaning of sprinkling women is to let them bloom all year long!
An Easter tree is often displayed in people’s homes. The tree will be decorated with Easter eggs and biscuits and there is usually a basket of chocolate eggs for guests. Easter egg hunts are held on either the Sunday or Monday for the children.
Easter Sunday is the day for the main family meal and this is traditionally made up of smoked ham, ‘coloured’ boiled eggs and horseradish. Originally the ham used to be home-cured and smoked. Sometimes lamb is the chosen meat, and a special sweetbread plait is also served.
Easter Monday is a day for family and friends to visit and exchange chocolate eggs. The main meal is a selection of traditionally cured meats and salads. Here’s a fine picture of a cooked meats market stall.
Another important element of the feast is the Palinka, a traditional fruit brandy most frequently made from plums, apricots, apples, pears, and cherries. Cheers, everybody!