Easter traditionally heralds the start of spring, or at least the yearning for spring. After this long cold winter, an early Easter is probably quite welcome for many. Read on to learn a bit about the history and traditions of Easter in the Czech Republic, as well as for some events happening during the season.
The Easter holiday is full of fun traditions in the Czech Republic. Under Communism, Easter as a religious holiday was discouraged, so it was more of a welcome to spring time. One of the most interesting, and perhaps controversial, traditions is the story of the pomlázka. This is a stick made from willow branches and often decorated with strips of colored paper or ribbons. You´ve probably noticed them around town already. The pomlázka is thought to be a tool for youth, beauty, health and/or fertility – depending on your source. It was originally a pagan ritual used to chase away illness and bad spirits and bring health and youth to whoever was whipped, including barnyard animals.
The custom is for woman and girls to spend Easter Sunday decorating eggs and making sweets. The men and boys spend the day constructing their pomlázkas. Come Easter Monday (a public holiday here, April 5 this year) the males run around town whipping the girls and reciting a “charming” poem. The fair ladies, having been duly beaten, thank the men with gifts of colored eggs, sweets, and if they are older, shots of slivovice. You don´t see this happening too often in Prague – so no whipping worries wandering around town Easter Monday. Most of these customs are practiced in smaller towns and villages.
If you´d like to truly join in the fun, here´s the Easter whipping poem:
Hody hody doprovody
dejte vejce malovany
dejte aspon bily
však Vam slepička snese jiny
Loosely translated (although the first line is really old Czech that´s hard to translate) it goes something like this:
“Give me a colored egg, if you won´t give me a colored egg, give me a white one and get your hen to lay another.”
Decorating Easter eggs, or kraslice, is another tradition – though not practiced as artistically as in the past. You will find many beautifully decorated eggs all over the city. Often these are hand painted, using such materials as beeswax, straw, watercolors or onion peels. From now until April 11, Easter markets (velikonoční trhy) will be set up at Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square and smaller venues around town, like near Anděl. On Old Town Square you can enjoy the huge decorated birch tree, and there will be children´s workshops happening as well. These are a good place to pick up Easter eggs, pomlázkas as well as some traditional Easter foods.
As with all holidays, the meal is often the most important part. Those not fond of the Christmas carp custom, may prefer an Easter lamb dinner. A roast lamb is often accompanied by a stuffing with nettles and parsley. Also popular are lamb shaped cakes, usually covered in a chocolate icing. I´ve already seen these available to purchase in Billa, so don´t stress about how to bake a cake in the shape of a lamb. Mazanec is a lemon-flavored cake with almonds and raisins. A cross is usually cut into the dough before being baked.
If you´d prefer to taste someone else´s Easter cooking there are some restaurants around town offering special brunches or dinners. At the Brasserie Praha inside the Prague Marriott (www.marriotthotels.com) you can enjoy an Easter Sunday brunch with the flavor of spring on Sunday, April 4 from 12-3pm. A price of 895 CZK includes typical brunch offerings plus roast saddle of spring lamb with a nettle stuffing, roasted quail with spring herbs and new potatoes and sage stuffed veal breast. Zlata Praha (www.zlatapraharestaurant.cz) on the top of the Intercontinental Hotel will have a special Easter brunch on April 4, while the Aria Hotel´s Coda Restaurant (www.codarestaurant.cz) will offer brunch on Monday, April 5. All Easter weekend, (April 3-5) Coda will have a special Easter dinner menu including dried lamb ham, braised pork shank and rhubarb sorbet for dessert. Cost is 1250 CZK without wine; 1750 CZK with it.
Both the restaurants at the Hilton hotels (www.hilton.com) will be offering Easter brunches on April 4. At the CzecHouse in the Hilton Prague (www.hiltonprague.cz), for 990 CZK you can enjoy a buffet filled with goodies like lamb and oysters, plus live jazz and a chocolate Easter gift. Brunch is from 11am-3pm. At the Hilton Prague Old Town (www.hiltonpragueoldtown.com), Zinc will host their brunch from 12:30pm-3pm. Here you can sample roast, lamb, ham, plus salads and starters; price is also 990 CZK. They have a great kid´s corner here every Sunday, and for Easter they´ll be doing special egg decoration, plus an Easter egg hunt. (Side note: I´ve had brunch here, and it´s really nice – super service!) The Mandarin Oriental has a variety of Easter events planned; including an Easter Afternoon Tea from April 1- 5, from 2pm-5pm as well as Easter lunch in Essensia on April 4, beginning at noon. Special Czech Easter eggs, hand painted by South Bohemian artists will be on sale in the hotel´s lobby.
For a melodious celebration, check out the Easter Music Festival (www.fok.cz.) A series of concerts featuring compositions ranging from Dvorak to jazz will take place March 30-April 14 at the Church of St. Simon and Jude and the Municipal House. An Easter concert featuring works by Antonio Vivaldi will take place on April 2 at the Estates Theatre (www.narodni-divadlo.cz).
For less cultural amusements, head over to Výstaviště, the exhibition grounds in Prague 7. From now until April 18 the usual attractions get punched up a notch for the annual St. Matthew´s Fair, or Matějská pouť (www.matejskapout.cz, Czech only). The fair has its roots in a religious pilgrimage and dates back to the mid-1500s. Throwing off the religious ties; fun stuff has been happening at Výstaviště since the 1960s. Nowadays pilgrims are drawn to the amusement park rides and other adrenaline lures.
No fooling, April 1 marks the start of tourist season. That means all the castles and chateaux that have lain cold and dormant since the fall will throw open their doors to guests. If you´d like to combine an out of town visit with an Easter fair; visit Znojmo (www.znojmocity.cz) from March 29-April 4 for their Easter market of artisans, culture and attractions or Český Krumlov (www.ckrumlov.info), April 1-5. In addition to the Easter market, there will also be passion plays held in the monastery´s gardens. For a history of spring; head to the central Bohemian town of Přerov nad Labem. Their open air museum will be holding an exhibition “Spring in the village” from now until May 10 (www.polabskemuzeum.cz).