Blog Post

Traditions of Easter Monday

Many traditions have accompanied the celebration of Easter which lasts for fifty days (from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday) and is called the "great Sunday." Following are some of the ones I have found most interesting to discover. See what you think. Easter Laughter: This custom was common in central Europe during the Middle Ages but was gradually suppressed by the Church due to the violent attacks against it by the Reformers. On Easter Sunday afternoon, the people would gather back at the Church for  Vespers and Benediction. During the sermon that preceded this solemn service, the priest would entertain his congregation with funny stories, anecdotes, and poems from which he would extract a moral conclusion. The purpose of this event was to "reward" the parishioners with a fun activity after the penitential spirit of the Lenten season. Peals of laughter and frivolity could be heard in the many little towns and villages that dotted the landscape of central Europe -- a happy consequence of the reality that life overcame death through the passion and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This same custom may well have led to Laughing Monday, a tradition of practical joking that took place on Easter Monday which poked fun at the devil's defeat. He thought he won the battle when Jesus was crucified, but God had the last laugh -- Jesus arose from the dead! Emmaus Walk: Though the custom has waned, throughout the United States and Europe Easter Monday was considered a holiday -- a day of relaxation, rest, and special festivities. One particular custom was a long-held event in Europe. It was called the Emmaus Walk. Families and groups of friends and relatives would go on foot to nearby fields, forests, or mountains for an afternoon of fun and fellowship. Following a picnic lunch, they would spend the afternoon playing games, dancing, singing, and conversing. In Germany, the young children would play games specific to Easter and would also enjoy performing some of the ancient folk dances of their ancestors. Most of the time, these German events were celebrated in a field called Osteranger which means, "Easter field." In Poland, their outings on Easter Monday were large picnic celebrations that often included the whole town. They gathered in the "Emmaus" grove. In France and Canada, the Emmaus walk meant visiting grandparents on Easter Monday. For those of Norway, the days from Holy Thursday to Easter Tuesday were public holidays which included skiing and winter sports. There was even a special name for the deep tan acquired during this time -- Paskebrun (Easter tan). Fertility Rites: In Northern Europe the Monday and Tuesday following Easter were traditional days of "switching" and "drenching." On Monday the boys would practice the custom on the girls, and on Tuesdays the girls would practice it on the boys. These customs were based on pre-Christian fertility rites. The various countries have different names for this tradition the purpose of which is to wish good health and good harvest to family and friends. In Austria and southern Germany, the custom is called Gsundschlagen (stroke of health); in Poland, Dyngus (ransom); in Hungary it is called Loscolkodas (dousing); and the Czechs and Slovaks call it Pomlazka (willow switch). On Monday, the boys good-naturedly surprise and douse the girls by showering them with buckets or bottles of water, often reciting a little rhyme or singing a little ditty. Often they dress in funny costumes and go from farm to farm, performing songs, and splashing water on the host and family. For their efforts, the boys are awarded eggs, pastry, and sweets. Sometimes, the mischievous boys sprinkle their "victims" with water rather than douse them.  Today, the custom is largely experienced by people spraying perfume at each other with wishes of good health and happiness - a much more "civilized" but much less fun custom. For "switching," the boys would go in groups carrying pussy willow branches which have been decorated with flowers and ribbons. They visited the homes of young ladies, singing traditional songs and expressing summer wishes for good health and a good harvest. Upon arriving at the home, they would "switch" all of the females present in a gentle and fun-loving manner. Up through the 19th Century, a similar custom was practiced. It was called "heaving." On Easter Monday the men in the village would carry a chair aloft and go to each house. Amid much excitement, laughing and joking, the men would insist that any lady present would seat herself in the chair and be lifted up three times, demanding a kiss if the woman forfeited the opportunity. On Tuesday, the girls had their chance to return the "favor" to the men. Holy Souls: In Slavic countries, the Thursday following Easter was/is devoted to the "Easter memory" of departed loved ones. People would go to Mass which was offered for the deceased of the parish. The faithful often used flowers to decorate pictures of their departed loved ones both at home and at the cemetery. The day itself required respectful rest and quiet and even farmers would abandon their labors for the day. Do you know of any customs that are practiced by other groups during the Easter season? Have you and your family begun any of your own traditions? If so, feel free to comment.