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Confusion reigns on the Easter parade

By Frances Burscough

Published 26/03/2016

Frances Burscough
Frances Burscough

If you happen to be walking through Avenham Park in Preston, Lancashire, on Monday March 28, you run a strong risk of being hit on the head by a low-flying hard-boiled egg.

Preston is my home town and one of it’s strange regional quirks is that everyone — and I mean everyone — congregates in this specific park on Easter Monday in order to roll their Easter eggs down the meadow there.

Now, in “my day” it was a genteel and well-behaved crowd, mainly families with little kids carrying baskets filled with eggs, wearing Easter bonnets or bunny ears, having picnics and feeling festive. There’d be live music playing on the bandstand and ice-cream vans galore to cater for the thousands and thousands of happy people all gathered in one place to celebrate the Paschal feast. What a sight!

But, inevitably, in recent years a “rough element” have also infiltrated the gathering, turning the rolling hills of the Ribble Valley into a battlefield where hard-boiled eggs fly through the air like missiles or get lobbed at passers-by like hand grenades. And yet regardless of the risk caused by such ne’er-do-well spoilsports, the park will still be the most popular destination in the entire city on Monday, simply because it’s the tradition. And Easter certainly has some weird and wonderful — and often confusing — traditions associated with it.

But it’s no wonder really, when you think of its origins. This was, after all, originally a Pagan festival celebrating fertility and the arrival of spring, before Christians adopted it as the anniversary of the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus.

The result of such a clash of mixed messages has given rise to some very bizarre rituals. 

In the Czech Republic, for example, young men are given a whip on Easter Sunday. Yes, an actual whip. For whipping people with. The idea is that they then use the whip to whack the girl they find most attractive and then she, in return, gives them a hand-decorated egg as a thank-you ... er ... for being whipped. The following day the women get their own back by dousing the whipper in iced water. The mind boggles, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile in Cyprus, the young lads there celebrate with competitive bonfire building. Very much like our July Twelfth ‘bonies’, in fact. Gangs of lads roam the towns and villages there looking for scraps of wood (often obtained by vandalism) and the one who gets the biggest bonfire made — and burnt — wins the woman of his choice. In Bermuda, they celebrate Easter by building and flying hand-made multi-coloured kites, shaped like umbrellas, the more extravagant and flamboyant the better. These are launched on the island’s many beaches and are supposed to symbolise the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Then, at the end of the day, they dismantle and burn them, which is all part of the ritual. Confused? You will be. Just wait until you hear about Denmark.Over there, Easter meets Halloween in a really strange custom. There, kids do a kind of trick-or-treat ritual, where they dress up as witches and warlocks and then go around their neighbourhood ringing on doorbells and asking for Easter eggs. In return for their chocolate gifts, they hand over a willow branch that they’ve painted and decorated with ribbons and bows. Don’t ask me why.

But possibly the most bizarre way to mark Easter happens in Norway, where everything — and I mean everything — shuts down for the whole of Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to Easter Monday. No work, no schools, no banks, no shops. Nothing, or as they say in Norway, “absolutt ingenting”. So what does everyone do for an entire week? They stay home and watch murder mysteries, of course. Everyone does it. The TV schedules revolve around red-herrings and whodunnits. Now, it doesn’t take an expert in cultural anthropology to work out that this last one is not a very ancient tradition. And yet, it is about as relevant to Easter as throwing hard-boiled eggs at strangers, I suppose.

Anyway, however you choose to celebrate it, have a great holiday folks. I hope the Easter Bunny are good to you!

Belfast Telegraph

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