• Institute for a Greater Europe

The Institute Presents: Traditions of Easter 2021

For many in primarily catholic Christian countries, this is the second Easter that has been faced under this pandemic. Nevertheless, this is another year to be able to spend time with your family, eat chocolate (if that's what you do) and celebrate in all the unique and wonderful ways you can! In this article, much like our other Institue Presents series, we're going to have a look at some of the traditions that our members at the Institute will be celebrating this Easter Sunday and Monday!


Thanks to all those who helped contribute this year! We've doubled up the amount since last year and look forward to doing the same the year after!

France – Philippe Lefevre

Germany – Stephan Raab

Hungary – Marcell Ottó Ormándy

Italy – Adrian Waters

Luxembourg – Jules Bertemes

Portugal (Lapas) – Inês Raquel

Spain – Pablo Garfias

United Kingdom – Evie Knapman

France – Philippe Lefevre

Pâques, as Easter is known in France, is quite important celebration, deriving like other traditions from passover. Unlike many countries, you won’t find many chocolate bunnies (although they’re certainly there!) but more bells! In France, since Church bells don’t run from Friday to Sunday, we use chocolate bells to celebrate in sweety goodness. The flying bells are probably the most unique part of it, and came about as Church bells in France “fly” to Rome to see the Pope and return home on Sunday! Must cost a lot of air miles for that.

Also, like other places, there’s a good amount of hunting for chocolate eggs as in most countries, so you won’t feel too isolated! Alongside this, pastry chefs also get a good task, making Elephant Ears! Crunch cinnamon palmiers that are cooked much like a croissant. Of course the ceremony on Sunday is always a holy day but following that like most countries is a traditional family meal. Lamp is the main meat here and the vegetables often consist of classic spring vegetables and white beans!

Easter Monday is usually accompanied by omlette and pastries, with the French Town of Bessieres celebrating by cooking an omelette for 15’000 people! This dates back to a tradition where Napoleon the first asked for an omelette for all his troops stationed there. It takes over 40 cooks to cook the whole thing!

Germany – Stephan Raab

In Germany, we celebrate Easter as a festival celebrating the return of life. The German word Ostern, derives from the old Germanic goddess Ostara, announcing the arrival of spring. Already in those old times, people were celebrating the end of a dark and hard period of winter and cheering the beginning of a bright season of spring, when life returns back to nature.

Ostern in Germany is a period of fun, which also becomes obvious in church services. Even the priest starts to tell jokes during the Osternacht, the night before Easter. Besides that, people in Southern Germany decorate their fountains with bright colours and painted eggs. All this relates to the significance of water as a symbol for life returning back, and Jesus' defeat over death.

Besides that, during those days, family comes together, for having an extended Easter brunch. Traditionally, as mentioned in a famous novel “Faust” by Goethe, people have a long walk enjoying the sun and light warming the minds of people. As of course, maybe there might be the one or the other Easter egg to be found, while searching around, watching the bunny doing its work.

Hungary – Marcell Ottó Ormándy

Hungarian culture is ingrained with our thousand year relationship with the Catholic Church. Easter traditions — originating from pagan, Jewish, and Christian traditions — are widely held by Hungarians throughout the Nagyhét (Holy Week, lit. “Big Week”) and Húsvét (Easter, lit. “to pick up meat”). The Holy Week is combined with various spring cleaning activities

Nagyhét is the last week of the 40-day Lent period that many Hungarians still observe. On virágvasárnap (Palm Sunday, lit. Flower Sunday) people carry blessed branches of pussy willows with themselves for protection against curses, for preventing illnesses, and for fending off lightning strikes.

On nagycsütörtök (Maundy Thursday) church bells are “travelling to Rome”, which means churches don’t sound them (except for noon for historic reasons in Hungary). Sometimes called “green Thursday” because people usually ate soups and porridge made out of nettles, spinach, sorrel, or other green vegetables.

Nagypéntek (Good Friday) is one of the three holy days that are still broadly celebrated by non-churchgoers too, next to Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. This day calls upon people to hold a stricter Lent, processions, passio-plays, mass without consecration, and ritualistic cleansing in the morning.

Nagyszombat (Holy Saturday) is a quiet day of mourning, as opposed to Good Friday people should keep quiet and refrain from lengthy talks and celebrations. Housework should be avoided, only whitewashing and blazing is allowed. On this day people restarted using fires — which have not been lit since Maundy Thursday — by taking a piece of sacred embers from mass. People also took holy water from the churches to water their fields. From pagan traditions some placed a red-painted egg in their morning bath.

Easter Sunday is the first day when people eat meat, especially cooked/boiled ham, together with boiled eggs and kalács. People had previously brought these foods to mass to have them blessed. This day was dedicated to “searching Jesus” (Jézuskeresés) in the outskirts of villages and towns (határjárás).

The image that pops into Hungarians’ minds when thinking about Easter is Easter Monday. On this day men bundle together and set out to visit their families and friends to “sprinkle” women. “Sprinkling the womenfolk” is a long-time tradition of Hungarians where the men recite “sprinkling” poems, sprinkle water or patchouli on the women, while the women give them painted eggs (and often pálinka) in return. In some regions, men “birch” the women. These rituals are supposed to make the womenfolk more fertile. This holiday is also often celebrated by non-Christians, and has become a rather national holiday.

The traditions do not end with Easter Monday. The Octave of Easter (fehérhét, lit White Week) is also a widely known and observed Christian period in Hungary. This ends with the Second Sunday of Easter (fehérvasárnap), and has another whole set of traditions combining several pagan, Jewish, and Christian beliefs.

Italy – Adrian Waters

For the majority of Italians Easter celebrations start on Good Friday, but in Sicily and in Sardinia the week before Easter Sunday (known as Holy Week) is particularly important because of their historic links with Spain. In Sardinia, for instance, there is a custom known as Sa Chida Santa which is borrowed from Catalan traditions and involves different rituals and processions for each day of the week. The Pope marks the Thursday of the Holy Week (the night of the Last Supper) by washing the feet of others just like Jesus did with his disciples. In recent years Pope Francis has washed the feet of prison inmates, young offenders, refugees and former mafiosi. Unlike other countries, Good Friday is not a public holiday in Italy as it’s a day of mourning to mark Jesus’s death. For this reason, parishes do not have masses, but celebrate the Via Crucis (the Latin term for Way of Grief) or hold a solemn liturgy. In Rome, the pope will say a mass on Friday afternoon before leading the Via Crucis procession from the Colosseum to the Palatine Hill, accompanied by a huge cross covered in burning torches. Elsewhere in the country, the Via Crucis is celebrated on Friday and Saturday with processions and parades. The participants wear costumes, carry torches, crosses or statues of saints or flagellate themselves as penance. In some towns, the locals act out important events from the Easter story, including the trial and death of Jesus.

As in many countries, Italians consume chocolate eggs during the Easter festivities, which often come with a gift inside that is meant for children. They also enjoy eating the Colomba, a traditional Easter cake often made with candied peel and almonds in the shape of a dove from which it derives its name. On Easter Sunday Italians gather with their parents and relatives to eat lamb together and on Easter Monday they usually spend time with friends having a barbecue.

Luxembourg – Jules Bertemes

Many western countries are on the verge of abandoning old traditions, especially when connected closely to catholic beliefs. However, in a country with a long-lasting history linked to the catholic church, the Easter holiday still remains as one of those times in the year, where families gather and nurture the spirit of unity and thankfulness.

While the number of church goers continues its downward path, numerous families still actively look forward to the Saturday night church service, lasting until midnight, praying to the lights of candles, looking for the blessing from God.

The part of the celebrations, most kids look forward to however, is the Easter Egg hunt. With an adventurous spirit, the youngest amongst the family seek to find the treasures, consisting mostly of colourfully painted eggs, hidden by their parents.

Luxembourg has one very specific Easter tradition, dating back to the 19th century. On Easter Monday, many Luxembourgish people gather in the capital or alternatively in a small village in the West of the country. The so-called “’Eimaischen” festivities are destined for craftsmen from across the country to gather and the main point of interest consists of small cuckoo-shaped figurines. The tradition originated from Christian tales and is linked to the apostles of Jesus Christ.

Portugal (Lapas) – Inês Raquel

With a predominantly Catholic population — above 80% — and despite its small size, Portugal has plenty of Easter traditions within its different regions. Although the religious base is the same, variety appears in different rituals and cuisines, and therefore it would be impossible, if not unfair, to tell about the Portuguese Eastern in a general manner. For this reason, I shall try to briefly explain how Easter is celebrated in my home village, Lapas - a small community in the district of Santarém, within the region of Ribatejo, in the center of the country.

The preparations for Easter in Lapas start on the day after the Portuguese Carnival, traditionally called “Entrudo”, known as Ashes’ Wednesday. That day is followed by seven weeks of Lent, until Palm Sunday (“Domingo de Ramos”, in Portuguese), which celebrates the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem. On that day, people will gather small branches of olive trees and rosemary, and later these last will be blessed with holy water by the local priest at the entrance of the church. After this day, the Holy Week (“Semana Santa”) officially starts.

On Thursday, there is the Ceremony of Washing Feet, where the priest will wash the feet of twelve believers that attend that ceremony, representing Jesus washing away the sins of his twelve apostles in the same way, as a reminder of his humility towards humanity and his servitude to God.

On Friday, in the early morning, several locals gather and drive until the nearby hills to collect wild rosemary. Once the trucks are full, this fragrant and spiky plant is spread around the narrow roads of the village. Then, other villagers, mostly women, will decorate fourteen key-points of the area with flowers, crucifixes, and small statues representing Jesus and Holy Mary, becoming small “shrines” that represent the fourteen stations of the Way of the Cross (“Via Sacra”). At night, all the lights are turned off, being the only illumination provided by candles and, more traditionally, small oil lamps burning within snail shells. Soon, a big procession takes place, guided by the local priest and followed by the population and its local musicians, praying and singing anthems altogether. This procession is locally called Procession of the Dead Lord (literally translated from “Procissão do Senhor Morto”).

On Saturday, a day before Easter, a mass takes place during the night, being called the Hallelujah Mass, or simply the Mass of Candles, where only the candles’ flames illuminate the building. Once it is over, the population gathers outside the church to Burn Judah (“Queima do Judas”), the traitor apostle, represented by a scarecrow made of wood and hay.

Finally, we reach Easter Sunday, when the priest, traditionally, is supposed to go to every house to give his blessings and, in a symbolic exchange, be given some money. Then, the families shall feast in lamb, turkey, rooster soup - whose meat will be also used in “arroz de cabidela”, an Easter dish in which rice and the rooster’s meat are cooked in the bird’s blood with some spices - and, as desert, have almond cakes, almonds covered in sugar and chocolate, sweet rice (or milk rice) and other local fluffy cakes.

Some of these traditions are more alive than others, yet their existence not only brings the local community together, but also keeps alive the unique rituals our ancestors took part in decades, if not centuries, ago.

Spain – Pablo Garfias

Easter in Spain is complicated. There are as many different traditions and customs as there are provinces, but for the sake of brevity I will be speaking of two: the most notorious of all Easter celebrations in Spain - the processions in the southern city of Sevilla, and the one I experienced in my childhood in Barcelona, that of the ‘mona’.