Czech & Slovak Easter traditions
By Emma Palova
The Czech and Slovak Easter traditions are deeply embedded in the villages of Moravia and Slovakia, and they are not as prevalent in the big cities such as Prague or Bratislava.
Most families color eggs in dyes or onion skins for the deep brown color and polish the eggs with butter and set them on the Easter table to reward the revelers, along with a bottle of plum brandy, desserts, lamb pound cake, and open-faced sandwiches.
Easter egg artists make “kraslice,” which are decorated empty eggshells after the yolks and whites have been blown out. These pieces of delicate art painted on a fragile shell are the mainstay of Easter sold at markets and gift shops, along with hand-embroidered tablecloths and ceramics.
The prevailing tradition remains the mysterious “whipping” of the women of the household on Easter Monday known as “schmigrust.” Men and boys traditionally braid their own whips from willow branches in all sizes. These whips are called “pomlazka” or “karabac” and they can be up to two meters long braided from 24 willow rods. Some use large special wooden spoons with ribbons or branches of juniper.
“Schmigrust is my favorite part of Easter,” said Ludek Pala, a Moravian native of Stipa, now a resident of Lowell, who still practices the tradition in the USA.
The revelers get up at the crack of dawn and head out into the streets in groups of all ages. Depending on the region they also carry wooden carved noisemakers carved by local wood artists.
When the door opens, the women and girls get a gentle whipping to drive away evil spirits, according to old legends. Originating in ancient pagan fertility rites, the practice is supposed to guarantee beauty and good health for women in the coming year.
They cite the following Easter chant:
Hody, hody, doprovody, dejte vejce malovany, nedateli malovany, dejte aspon bily, slepicka vam snese jiny.
Loosely translated as: Give me a colored egg, if you don’t give me a colored one, give me at least a white one, and your hen will lay another.
The plum brandy aka slivovice reward
The plum brandy is made in the stills in Moravia and across the country. People usually bring in their own plum or pear ferment that is distilled.
We decided to bring this tradition to the USA where we live permanently. The fruit is locally sourced from Paulson’s, Hills Brothers, and Mason peaches and apples, with no additives the brandy reflects an age-old tradition of craft stilling started by our forefathers.
Moravian Sons Distillery
In return for the whipping, the revelers get a ribbon tied to the whip, a colored egg, a shot of plum brandy and they help themselves to open-faced sandwiches and desserts, such as festive kolache and lamb pound cake.
“By noon you’re tired,” said Pala.
In some regions, if the group arrives after 12 p.m., they get doused with water. However, in Slovakia, the Easter custom is to douse the women and girls with water or perfume in the morning.
According to a 2019 survey, 60% of Czech households follow the tradition of spanking (or watering) someone on Easter Monday.
In the past, young boys would chase young girls in the village streets with the whips, and vintage illustrations by Josef Lada of people in traditional folk costumes show girls running or hiding as if playing tag.
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