Easter is just a few days away, a holiday full of bunnies, brightly colored eggs, chocolates and dressing up in new clothes for church--at least for Americans. But what about visitors from other countries spending Easter here? What are their Easter traditions? A number of au-pairs working in Arlington were happy to answer those questions.
<b>IN SWEDEN,</b> Easter begins with Palm Sunday, a day that commemorates Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. For religious people it is a day of joyous parades where they carry branches of budding willows to lay before the images of Christ.
There is also a superstition associated with the Swedish Easter. People used to believe that witches were exceptionally active and that their black magic was exceptionally strong during Holy Week. On Maundy Thursday they were supposed to fly off on their brooms to a place called "Blåkulla", where they would meet with the devil.
As a result, it is a tradition for Swedish boys and girls to dress up as hags and go door-to-door on Maundy Thursday, visiting neighbors and giving them a "Happy Easter" card in return for some candy or money.
"I always used to dress up as an Easter hag," said Charlotte Andersson, a 19-year-old Swedish au-pair. "It was so much fun and you always get a lot of candy. Swedish candy is so much better than American candy, especially the chocolate," Andersson added. "Yes, there's nothing like Swedish chocolate," her native au-pair friend Emma Furberg agreed.
<b>EGGS ARE THE MOST<b/> common Easter food in Sweden. The tradition is to decorate them in different patterns and colors before they are eaten on the evening before Easter Sunday. Another custom is to give children hollow plastic or cardboard eggs full of candy and money on Easter Eve – a tradition highly appreciated by the young population of Sweden.
Emma Furberg, 21, explained. "I always used to get Easter eggs filled with candy, but then at the bottom of the egg my parents always put a toothbrush," she said with a smile. "I used to get socks and underwear in my egg," said 19-year-old Emelie Eriksson, also a Swedish au-pair from the same area.
An old tradition that most Swedes have forgotten about, or try to forget about, is the event that used to take place on Good Friday. Early in the morning all the boys in the villages of Northern Sweden used to gather, armed with twigs and branches.
Then they went to every house, seeking all the girls and whipped them with the branches until the poor girls gave them some liquor. The girls got their revenge though, because the night between Easter Day and Easter Sunday was payback time! Luckily, this is a tradition that the Swedes have abandoned.
<b>IN POLAND</b> they celebrate things a bit differently. The Polish prepare a basket on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter, called the Blessing Basket. In it they put colored eggs, bread, cake, salt, pepper and white sausages. They then take the basket to church to get it blessed. On Sunday they eat the food in the basket for breakfast. "It is a very special breakfast," said Aleksandra Samborska, a 23-year-old au pair from Poland.
The Polish believe that Great Lent, the 40-day fast before Easter, is not over until the basket has been blessed. "This tradition is only for people who go to church," Samborska explained. Many people in Poland are Catholic, and she believes that about 80 percent of the people in Poland go to church. Samborska is one of them.
Another Polish Easter tradition is Watering. Everybody splashes water on each other, to bring people good health for the year to come. "Everybody is wet," Samborska said. "You are scared to go out, but at least you get clean," she said.
Samborska likes Easter. "I like the flowers, the green colors and the fact that everything is so fresh," she said. But there are some boring things too. Samborska said that people spend a lot of time cleaning and cooking before Easter. "They don't have to, but they do," she said.
<b>THE GERMANS START</b> their Easter celebration on Good Friday by covering the cross.
On this particular day it is a custom to eat fish dishes. Saturday starts with a Mass. Just like the Polish, the German Catholics bring a Blessing Basket to church, and have a priest bless the food in the basket. The Mass lasts all through Sunday, which is called Family Day. This day the Germans spend with their families and eat colored eggs and a cake shaped like a lamb.
Katrin Duennebier, a 20-year-old German au-pair, is very familiar with that custom. "We always have a big family dinner on this day, so that's something I'll miss this year," Duennebier said.
"Every Easter I work as a church leader at my Catholic church back home, so I'll miss doing that this year," said 21-year-old Stefanie Vogl. "I'm in charge of a group of young girls and we usually prepare Easter food and color eggs together," she added.
Another German tradition is the Easter Fire. They gather up all the old Christmas trees and burn them. This custom is supposed to clean away winter and welcome spring.
Melanie Schmid, 20, another German au pair in Arlington, explained another German tradition. "On Palm Sunday we make our own palm trees. We take broomsticks and decorate them with leaves and brightly colored eggs," Schmid said.
Of course the German children get a lot of candy as well for Easter, compliments of the Easter Bunny. One year one little German girl thought that nice tradition would be over though. "When I was about eight years old my mother ran over a hare the day before Easter," 19-year-old Stefanie Schulze said. "I was so sure that it was the Easter bunny, and was terrified that I wouldn't get Easter candy anymore. I did though, so I guess my mom didn't hit the Easter Bunny after all," Shulze concluded.
Usually the Easter Bunny hides the candy-filled eggs and then make their children go look for them, but in 19-year old Petra Matzen's family they do it differently. "I usually hide eggs from my parents and make them look for them," Petra said. "Sometimes they find them, and sometimes they don't!"
<b>EASTER IN SLOVAKIA</b> starts with a fast that lasts from Friday to Sunday. "People are fasting to prepare themselves for Easter and usually during Lent they fast from the things they like the best, like music," said Luba Hricova from Slovakia.
According to Hricova, the Slovakian people are very religious and take the Easter traditions seriously. Good Friday is very strict when it comes to what can be eaten. Milk, eggs and meat are not allowed during the fast, so when Sunday, the day of Resurrection comes, a great meal is prepared.
One of the traditions of Easter is to bring a basket of food including sausage, ham, eggs, salt and syrek to church for its blessing during fast. Syrek is a type of bread made only during Easter from meat, eggs and flour. After its blessing, the basket is brought home for the family to share.
In addition to Easter Bunnies and candles, a traditional Easter Bahniatka, which is a typical branch about to bloom for the season, is brought inside to put on the table with painted eggs for decoration.
"Christos was voskres" is the Easter greeting in Slovakia. This is also used when boys are pouring water on girls, a quite popular tradition that originates from the Slovakian Catholic religion. In return the boys want chocolate candy.
Hricova spoke very warmly of her country's Easter tradition. "For this Easter I wish to be with other Slovakians and provide with some Slovakian things, such as cooking, and perhaps introduce some the traditions to my host family," Hricova said.