Easter in Slovakia: Easter eggs and buckets of cold water
It’s not Easter bunnies or chocolate eggs hiding in a bush. In Slovakia, Easter Monday used to be celebrated by guys chasing girls around with a whip (a switch) made from willow branches (korbáče) and pouring buckets of cold water on them. And as a sign of gratitude, girls rewarded the boys by giving them beautiful hand-decorated Easter eggs, chocolates, liquor, or even money. What an awesome traditions!
Ok, perhaps some girls will disagree with me. But this tradition of šibačky (switching) and polievačky (watering) is all in good sport. The point was not to cause harm, instead, this tradition kept the girls beautiful and “springy” (like the twigs) for the whole year. And of course, it gave the boys a chance to visit their favorite girls.
Images from the traditional way to celebrate Slovak easter. The first image comes from Slovakia.travel, the second image was submitted on Facebook.
Traditional Slovak Easter celebrations date to the pre-Christian pagan times, when people did not think of seasons changing as something happening automatically due to the Earth’s orbital motion. Instead, the seasons were directly linked to the spirits present in the environment all around them. Spring was the time when the good spirits started taking the lead from the evil that dominated through out the winter. And to aid in this transition, several rituals were undertaken to help the good defeat the evil. There was the drowning of Morena (potápanie Moreny) in which a wooden board decked in women’s clothes was sent floating down the river. This symbolized getting rid of bad things from the previous year. There was also the raising of the May pole (stavanie mája), which was a green budding branch, decorated with colorful ribbons and Easter eggs. This again symbolized the coming of Spring and was meant to surely put the Winter behind.
In fact, green budding twigs were believed to have magical powers, and that’s where the tradition of Easter whipping comes from. By getting switched by the spring branch, the girl would receive not only some of the strength from the guy, but also the health, liveliness, and fertility of the budding branch. It was believed that girls who got whipped would get younger, become prettier, and also more skilled in their daily doings. No wonder that it was a truly bad omen for some girl not to receive any switching! Of course, the guys were more interested in visiting the prettier of the bunch, and this is why some girls had to resort to bribing the guys by offering them presents: Easter eggs, home baked goods, bacon, and so on. Each guy also received a colorful ribbon from each girl to tie to the end of his korbáč (the decorated easter whip). At the end of the day, young boys and girls gathered for a party, and the boy with most ribbons became the king of the night.
The pouring of water had a similar rejuvenating meaning. The water washed away all the evils and diseases from the body. In some villages, guys would throw girls in a nearby creek. In most, cold water was pulled from the well and poured onto girls from buckets.
These days, the Easter Monday traditions are still widely followed but in a somewhat modernized manner. Many girls still wake up Easter Monday by having a bucket of water poured on them while still in bed. But the general polievačka now consists of merely a cup of water splashed in the girl’s face. And for good measures, the guy the sprays some perfume on the girl. And while in the past it was customary to only switch the younger generation, now the tradition has extended to the whole family.
But what about food? Easter Sunday was a day for bountifulness, and in many families, it was eggs and ham and that became a popular Easter Sunday dish. In my family, we celebrated Easter Sunday by a plate full of open face sandwiches and deviled eggs. Other families also prepared braided raisin bread vianočka), potato salad and baked ham. In the East, it was common to make something called hrudka, which is a “cheese” made of eggs, and also pasha bread. Young ram, baránok, was another symbol of spring. Those families that could not afford to have an actual lamb meat, prepared dishes in the shape of a young ram.
Regardless how you decide to celebrate it, happy Easter to you!
Good references on the traditions of switching
Easter Egg Decorating