Eastertime Remembered

The countdown to Easter Sunday has begun. Somehow, the excitement of this week was more evident as I was growing up than it is now.  Perhaps it was the excitement of being a child and anticipating a visit from the Eastern Bunny.  Perhaps it was the progression through Holy Week as a student at Holy Name. Whatever added to the excitement of the Easter Season, as a child, I felt it in abundance.

It wasn’t until I was looking through early issues of The Duquesne Times at the Mifflin Township Historical Society that I remembered a part of the Easter season that I always got excited about. I remember always participating in The Duquesne Times Easter Coloring Contest whenever it was run. I don’t remember ever winning, but I know I gave it a good try. If I didn’t know better, I would swear that the contest was sponsored by the local dentists since the prizes were always those 1 pound fruit and nut chocolate Easter eggs.

Since I was an altar boy at Holy Name, during Holy Week, I often was excused from class in order to serve at whatever Easter Rite would be happening. I remember carrying one of the candles that accompanied the crucifix as we moved in unison from each Station of the Cross. It seemed like forever until I was old enough to be trusted to carry the crucifix. I think I was in 5th or 6th grade before that rite of passage occurred. I remember how the good sisters struck fear in our hearts for the sanctity of the hours of Noon until 3 p.m. on Good Friday. I remember how I would watch the sky during that timeframe to see if it darkened in remembrance of the hours when Jesus hung on the cross and died. To this day, I still honor  those special hours in silence and reverence. “Old habits die hard.”  When you think of it, there is irony in that statement as it pertains to the good sisters.

Aside from the very busy schedule I kept during Holy Week, there were also all types of preparations going on at home as well. The biggest preparation event would be dying the Easter Eggs! It’s funny how certain smells are associated with different events in your life. The smell of vinegar immediately makes me think of Easter. Since vinegar had to be added to active the Paas Easter Egg Dye pellets, the sensory association is understandable. My mother would prepared at least 3 or 4 dozen hard boiled eggs to be dyed. I swear that she never cracked an egg when she boiled them. She would watch the pot so intently while they cooked, they wouldn’t dare to crack! Once the perfect amount of time had elapsed, Mom would drain the boiling water and begin rinsing off the eggs to stop the cooking process and to keep the yolks from turning that grayish color on the outside. It always seemed to work as she managed to prepared the perfect hard boiled egg each time.

Now, it may seem that I am dwelling on this hard boiled issue, however I do have a very good reason. It is a misconception to think that every hunky mom has an innate ability to prepare any type of meal and have it turn out perfect. Not the case, I assure you! The proof came out each Easter as we all exchanged Easter eggs with each of our relatives. As we would gather at our grandparents on Easter Sunday, we would bring along eggs for each aunt, uncle and cousin. I have always loved hard boiled eggs and looked forward to Eastertime to enjoy them to my heart’s content. The concern about cholesterol had not surfaced, so we used to eat them whenever we wanted. After the eggs were exchanged came the defining moment. I recall cracking the colorful eggs and being able to easily peel off the shell with ease. That would elevate that particular aunt into the “good cook” category in my mind. Then there were those eggs that required you pick off the cracked shell in tiny pieces until the egg was finally ready to eat. It was like an archeological dig as we picked away trying to unearth the egg. It took forever in many cases, but always from the same aunts. Let me just call them the “culinary challenged.”

Back to the egg dying. When the time actually came for us to begin dying the eggs, Mom would completely cover the kitchen table with layers and layers of newspaper. She would line up a row of teacups to hold the various colors of dye. My brother and I would drop the dye pellets into each of the cups after which Mom would carefully measure a spoonful of vinegar into the cup, covering the tablet. Nothing much occurred at that point until she began pouring cups of boiling water into the cups. Before we began to dunk the eggs, we would first write the name of the family member who would receive the egg on the shell. Mom would usually do this since it was a wax crayon and the egg was very hot. After identifying the eggs by name, we would perch each of them of the wire egg holder and begin to dye each one. We would get creative as we could by combining colors, etc. The big thrill would come when Mom would add at spoonful of cooking oil to each cup after we had all of the solid colored eggs we wanted. By adding the oil, the dye would only adhere to parts of the shell, producing a tie-dyed effect when all was said and done. Of course, we would have to pick our favorite after we were done, and this egg would be the last one we would consume and would NEVER be exchanged with relatives.

As I look back at old family photos taken on Easter, it was clear that it was a VERY special day in our hunky family. Just like Judy Garland and Fred Astaire walking down the avenue in the 1948 movie “Easter Parade,” the entire family would dress to the nines on that special day. Each Easter we would have to line up and be photographed as a group. Of course, the most memorable pictures were the candid shots of the kids enjoying their Easter treats.

I vaguely remember hearing about Easter in the “old country.” I did a bit of research and thought you might enjoy reading how our ancestors celebrated this special holiday. In addition, just to help you get into the mood, enjoy the trailer from Easter Parade. Just click on the picture below.


Friday, April 06, 2007

Easter Traditions in Croatia

Just in case you’re curious, here are some of Croatia’s Easter traditions….

The Holy Week is called the Big Week (“Veliki tjedan”) in Croatia. On Palm Sunday (“Cvjetnica”), Croatians traditionally go to church and take a small olive twig to be blessed. On Friday, different kinds of fish are eaten. Saturday is the customary day to dye eggs. Easter Sunday involves going to the early morning mass with small baskets filled with food to be blessed; eating a breakfast of ham, eggs, grated horse radish, spring onion and home-made bread; and a dinner of turkey. Little children might also get candy from the Easter Bunny. Easter Monday is for visiting relatives.

One of the oldest traditions is making “klepetaljke” and “cegrtaljke” (very similar to rattles and clappers), particularly popular in central Dalmatia and the Konavle region. Those on the island of Krk are especially interesting: metal plates that hang at the end of a 12 inch board produce strong sounds when the device is shaken. In other regions, “klepetaljke” were made differently: small wheels were attached to wooden boards and connected to metal sprockets; the whole device made a rattling noise when pulled.

People used to believe that wine transformed into blood in the body and made people stronger and healthier, and therefore drank it as much as possible for Easter. Documents from the island of Brac show that housewives used to prepare, among other dishes, cod and cabbage — food that makes people thirsty so that they could drink as much as possible.

Since palms can rarely be found on the Adriatic, people mostly use olive or rosemary branches and flowers. Nevertheless, chronicles from the city of Split show that people used to gather on Easter at the only palm tree in the city, located in the garden of a certain inhabitant, in order to collect palm branches. The inhabitants of Brac used to ship palm branches from the island of Vis, where palm trees can be found in abundance, and distribute them to the islanders. The branches were decorated with crosses or wreaths made of ribbons and flowers. This skill was so respected that one decorated branch could be exchanged for Easter bread and 20 colorfully decorated eggs. On the island of Korcula and in the surroundings of Sibenik, olive branches were woven into plaits, while branches were woven into wreaths with crosses in Istria.

Sweet bread (sirnica) is another Easter tradition in Croatia. Made with lots of eggs and sugar, rosewater or orange peel is also added for a sweet smell. Often people dip this sweet bread into a sweet wine called “prosec” to make it taste better. One type of sirnica looks like a baby, and the head is created by a decorated egg. It’s called “garitula.”

Coloring and decorating Easter eggs, called “pisanice” (“to write”), is among the oldest Croatian Easter traditions. There are several ways of decorating Easter eggs. The best known method is to use hot liquid wax with the help of pencil-like instruments. After coloring, the wax is removed, revealing the splendid decorations. Before artificial coloring, eggs were colored by being boiled in water with onions, walnuts, roots and herbs. In order to get their shine they were polished with oil before being placed in the basket. Another method of decorating, popular in continental Croatia, was to use a knife, as well as threads of silk and wool, while the third method was to use formic acid. Eggs in the southern part of Croatia are traditionally colored in red and have white star or rosette shaped decorations, while decorations such as pine branches, flowers, circles and spirals are more common in other parts of the country.

Finally, there is one more custom related to Easter eggs – the so-called “tuca” (egg fight). Everyone would choose an egg from the basket and would hit it against their adversary’s egg. The winner would be the person whose egg remained intact throughout the “fight.”

Written by Marla


Czech & Slovak Easter Customs: Yes, We Really Beat Girls!

Today I have met many people, who couldn’t believe me my stories about Czech and Slovak Easter customs, especially when I said we beat girls. But let’s start from the beginning, there are more surviving pagan customs in our brother countries. The most popular one is definitely the colouring and decorating of eggs.

Decoration of eggs

Professionals in the art of egg-decorating can turn eggs into genuine works of art, decorating them with straw, wax or bobbin lace. They usually use egg shells from which the raw yolk is blown through two opposite holes poked in the top and bottom. Normal people, especially families with children, prefer to decorate hard-boiled eggs, which are less fragile. The most common method of decorating is dying the eggs with onion skins, which makes their colour deep brown. During the communist days, it was also common to use fabric dye. Nowadays, children have a vast variety of colours and stickers to choose from.

Whipping of women and dousing them with water

Another popular pagan tradition surviving to these days is the whipping of women and girls. The whip or „pomlázka“ is braided from three or more willow rods. Actually, in every region of our two states it’s called in a different way – „švihačka“, „mrskačka“, „čagan“, „karabina“, „korbáč“, „tatar“, „žíla“… Pagan Slavs believed that whipping brought good luck, wealth and a rich harvest for the whole year. Its original purpose and symbolic meaning is to chase away illness and bad spirits and to bring health and youth for the rest of the year to everyone who is whipped with the young pussywillow twigs. B.oys would whip girls lightly on the legs and possibly douse them with water.

Easter carols and Christian traditions

Traditional whipping should be accompanied by the singing of Easter carols. Unlike Christmas carols, they are not that well-known. Carolling is also accompanied by the sound of the clapper and rattle, an activity definitely more enjoyed by children than by their parents. According to the Christian tradition, all the bells are rung on Green Thursday and then they are silenced until White Saturday. Meanwhile, their toll is replaced by the clapper and rattle.

Eggs, candy, lamb cake and shots of home brew

Girls and women present the carollers with eggs, the pagan symbol of life and fertility. But apart from eggs – real and chocolate ones, Easter is also associated with other foods, mainly with lamb. These days lamb is rarely eaten in the Czech Republic but it still appears on Easter tables – in the form of a cake – with eyes made of raisins or cloves and a green twig in its mouth… It’s also very usual to present whipping men by shots of home brew.

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2 Responses to Eastertime Remembered

  1. Sue says:

    Jimmy, I bet my mother was one of the aunts who gave eggs that were cracked!! 🙂 Loved the pictures!!! “Stevie Joe”, you, Cheryl, Tommy and Kenny. Is that right?

  2. Laurine E. says:

    I also remember getting up really early and being dressed in my new “Easter outfit” and being taken to the park by City Hall for the early multidenominational Sunrise service. I also remember being constantly reminded to “keep clean” for our own church service and for the family dinner afterward. Then after dinner I was allowed to change into regular clothes to eat some chocolate from the Easter Bunny.

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