Getting ready for a European Easter
Easter is a great time to travel, with temperate weather, bank holidays, and an opportunity to experience some spectacular celebrations wherever you may be. From Swedish Easter witches to Florence’s exploding cart, here are five unique Easter celebrations you could witness on your European travels, plus an interactive quiz to test your knowledge of Easter around the world.
Penny Alexander is a Midlands based freelance travel writer and blogger at multi award-winning parentshaped.co.uk. A family travel specialist, she is passionate about adventures in nature and uncovering the stories behind the places she visits. You can also find her work in Family Traveller and Day Out With The Kids.
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Scoppio del Carro/The Exploding Cart, Easter Sunday, Florence, Italy
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Back in 1099, legend has it that a young man returned from the First Crusade to the Holy Land with three flints as proof of his courage. Today, a priest uses these same flints to spark the Easter candle. In turn, this is used to light a dove-shaped rocket, which flies down a wire to collide with an elaborate wagon loaded with an arsenal of fireworks. The spectacular display that follows is the thrilling Scoppio del Carro, or the “Explosion of the Cart” and dates back over 350 years. The cart is accompanied to the Duomo by a procession of drummers, flag throwers and figures dressed in historical costume where it is delivered to the Archbishop of Florence.
Easter witches, Sweden and Finland
In an unexpected tradition to most outside of Sweden and parts of Finland, children dress up as Easter witches on the Thursday or Saturday during Holy Week. Wearing old clothes, coloured headscarves, and with red-painted cheeks, they go from house to house giving out paintings in the hope of getting sweets in return.
As Easter Sunday approaches, bonfires and fireworks are lit to scare off the witches that, as the stories would have you believe, are said to fly around on brooms!
Pot throwing on Easter Saturday, Corfu, Greece
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In Corfu, crowds gather at 11 am on Holy Saturday to watch people throw pots, pans and other earthenware out of their windows in a truly memorable Easter celebration. The pots are filled with water to add to the dramatic sound effect as they hit the ground and the crowds erupt with applause. Some say that the custom is borrowed from the Venetians who, on New Year’s Day, used to throw out all of their old items to start the year anew. Others, though, believe the throwing of the pots welcomes spring, symbolizing the new crops that will be gathered as locals replace what they’ve thrown.
Pace egging, Lancashire, UK
Lancashire, UK, is home to annual egg rolling competitions at venues such as Holcombe Hill near Ramsbottom and Avenham Park in Preston. Hard boiled painted eggs are rolled down the hill in a race, with the whole family sure to get involved. As Easter legends continue, it is said that empty egg shells must be carefully destroyed by crushing otherwise Lancashire witches will steal them and use them as boats.
This family-friendly celebration is sometimes called pace egging, a reference to traditional pace eggers who travelled to villages performing Mummers’ plays who you can still catch in action in Mossley, Middleton and Bury on Good Friday. The word pace, though, actually has nothing to do with the speed of the egg’s roll but originates from the Latin word pascha meaning Easter!
Egg tapping, Bulgaria
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This European tradition dates back to medieval times and is, in practice, rather like the game of conkers but with hard boiled eggs. Practiced to celebrate Easter in Bulgaria, egg tapping (or egg fighting) is a delicate art that involves damaging your opponent’s decorated egg as much as possible without cracking your own. The person who ends up with the last unbroken egg is believed to have a year of good luck!
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We’ve uncovered some of Europe’s most distinctive celebrations but there are certainly more out there. Take our quiz to test your knowledge of Easter traditions from around the world…
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1. In France ‘flying _’ drop coloured eggs and sweets for children. Can you fill the blank?
2. Where do Germans hang their Easter Eggs?
3. What does the Pope wash on Holy Thursday?
4. On Good Friday in Bermuda, children…
5. In which country are Iguanas a traditional Easter dish?
6. In Australia, there have been efforts to replace the Easter Bunny with another animal. What is it?
7. In which country is it traditional to make an Easter lamb entirely out of butter?