Easter traditions around the world

Dear sister, dear brother, even if in your heart you have buried hope, do not give up:  God is greater.  Darkness and death do not have the last word.  Be strong, for with God nothing is lost! ~ Pope Francis

Do not abandon yourselves to despair.  We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song. ~ Pope John Paul II


Easter celebrates the resurrection of Christ from the dead symbolizing hope over despair, light over darkness, love over hate and triumph over tragedy.  This uniquely Christian festival is celebrated worldwide in distinctive ways.  Here are some Easter traditions from around the planet.

Italy.  While Christmas in Italy is primarily a family affair, Easter is more celebrated with friends over a meal which includes pane di pasqua or Italian Easter Bread.   This slightly sweet bread is made even more flavorful by adding flavors of citrus and anise.  It’s often braided with Easter eggs.  The baking and breaking of bread on Easter originates from the example of Jesus:  “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’” (Luke 22:19, New International Version)

Bermuda.  Among residents of Bermuda, Easter means flying colorful kites, as well as eating codfish cakes with English style hot cross buns.  These spectacular kites have long cloth tails and come in different colors of paper tissue, wood and string.  Some are huge, requiring several people to get it aloft.  Others are deliberately made to emit a humming or buzzing sound, with a hummer made from glued paper.  Kite flying is a symbol of freedom and the rising of hope.  Basil Hume noted:  “The great gift of Easter is hope—Christian hope which makes us have that confidence in God, in his ultimate triumph, and in his goodness and love, which nothing can shake.”

Ukraine.  Of course, Ukrainians are known world-wide for their colorful Easter eggs.  Called pysanky, the custom can be dated back to prehistoric Ukraine as archaeologists discovered ancient decorated ceramic eggs.  Though Ukrainians get the credit for coloring eggs at Easter, the custom is popular all over Eastern Europe including Poland, Czech, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Russia, Bulgaria, etc., where coloring Easter eggs is a highly developed folk art.  According to tradition, pysanky eggs help ward off evil from overtaking the world, another theme easily adapted to the Easter promise the good overcomes evil.  Jesus said:  “In this world, you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

France.  Every year, a crowd estimated at 10,000 persons gather in Bessieres, southern France for the Giant Omelette Festival.  More than 15,000 eggs that are cracked to make an omelette large enough to feed the entire town.  Spectators watch as 40 members of Giant Omelette Brotherhood of Bessieres pour gallons of egg yolk into a large pan in the main square of Bessieres before beating and stirring the mixture with extra long sticks.  The tradition began with Napoleon Bonaparte, who had asked for a giant omelette to feed his entire troop of men.  This use of eggs in France may be their way of representing Jesus’s emergence from the tomb and resurrection.  Rev. Phillips Brooks wrote:  “Let every man and woman count himself immortal.  Let him catch the revelation of Jesus in his resurrection.  Let him say not merely, ‘Christ is risen,” but, “I shall rise.’”

Norway.  On Easter weekend, Norwegians eat more than 20 million oranges.  It is thought that this unusual tradition of eating oranges during Easter began when merchant ships returned to Norway at Easter, bringing with them the year’s first harvest of oranges from southern Europe.  Oranges are an Easter reminder that days are getting longer, the sun is shining brighter, flowers will soon sprout and the new life of spring is emerging.  This reflects the teaching of Jesus who said:  “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” (John 11:25)

Guatemala.  In Antigua, Guatemala, the streets are covered with colorful carpets throughout Holy Week in preparation for a Good Friday procession.  The long carpets are made from flowers, colored sawdust, fruits, vegetables and sand.  These bright, ornate carpets depict flowers, birds, geometric shapes, religious symbols and any other designs which rise from the imagination of the artists.  Flower patterns include bird of paradise, roses, calla lilies, bougainvillea, hydrangea, heliconia, chrysanthemums, daisies, sunflowers and sea lavender, while vegetables and fruits used include pineapples, corn, mangoes, watermelons, papayas, cabbage, carrots, red bell peppers, potatoes, beans, oranges, broccoli, beets to green onions.  This Easter carpet festival is so popular that more than one million visitors arrive annually to see the display.  Because Easter is a symbol of rebirth, Guatemalans gladly produce evidence of new birth from their gardens.  Author S. D. Gordon said, “Easter spells out beauty, the rare beauty of new life.”

Africa.  With more than 350 million Christians spread all over African countries, Easter is widely and popularly celebrated.  One of the most inspiring traditions is that of gift giving to those who are in need.  Unlike Christmas, where there is exchange of gifts among family members and friends, gift giving at Easter in Africa is targeted toward the disadvantaged, especially women and children.  Widows, single mothers, school children from poor homes, people suffering with illness receive gifts from those who live in better conditions.  These gifts range from school books, soap, cloth, candles, chocolates, flowers, as well as practical items.  This gift giving reflects Mother Teresa’s wisdom:  “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

Though Easter customs vary from country to country, the theme common to all celebrations is that of hope—there is light for our darkness, strength for our weakness, comfort for our suffering.  This was something observed by writer Robert Flatt who said:  “The resurrection gives my life meaning and direction and the opportunity to start over no matter what my circumstances.”

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