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Bunnies, Flying Bells, Peppers: Easter Traditions Around the World
From the Vatican to the White House, here's how the world celebrates Easter.
IMAGE Alvesgaspar / Wikimedia Commons
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Holy Week remains to be a big deal in the Philippines, with many honoring the traditions of visita iglesia and pabasa. Some townspeople still mark it with self-flagellation and crucifixion. And while we’ve also embraced the Easter egg hunting practice of the West, not everyone is necessarily into cute bunnies. Here’s how a few other countries observe their Easter season. 

Italy

Though Christmas, which commemorates the birth of Christ, might be a bigger to-do, Easter, which celebrates his triumphant resurrection, is the most important event in the Roman Catholic Church’s liturgical year. The Vatican begins its Holy Week activities on Palm Sunday, building up through Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Black Saturday. The week culminates with an Easter Sunday mass said by the Pope in St. Peter’s Square. The square can accommodate up to 80,000 visitors and requests for tickets (which are free) should be made at least two months in advance as throngs of the faithful flock there every Easter—oftentimes spilling out into the nearby streets. Having a ticket does not guarantee entrance to the square if it has reached its full capacity, so coming several hours early is highly recommended. This April 16th, Pope Francis will preside at the Mass of Our Lord’s Resurrection before giving his Urbi et Orbi blessing (which means ‘to the city of Rome and to the world’) from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica.

France

If you had the pleasure of viewing the film Chocolat (2000), starringJuliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, this next tradition might (literally) ring a bell. In France, young children weren't weaned with the Easter bunny. Instead, they're taught that all the church bells grow two little wings and fly to Rome in the days before Easter. As the legend goes, the bells are blessed by the Pope, and when they return to France on Easter morning, they carry with them a bounty of chocolate and brightly colored eggs for all to enjoy. This charming tradition is rooted in the fact that church bells are not rung on Good Friday and Black Saturday as a sign of mourning. Their merry clanging on Easter Sunday celebrates Christ’s resurrection and the goodies they bring are a wonderful treat that children in France look forward to every year.

U.S.A.


The Annual Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House is one of the oldest annual traditions held by the presidential mansion. The 139-year-old custom dates back to 1878, and for generations, U.S. presidents and their families have marked Easter Monday by hosting this event. Things have changed and evolved through the years, but the main attraction has and always will be the egg roll, with children pushing brightly colored Easter eggs down the lawn using wooden spoons. And though the event was cancelled during war and periods of austerity, it was always brought back when times were better. Nowadays, one can acquire a ticket to this highly anticipated affair by joining an online lottery. Last year over 35,000 people came to celebrate the occasion with the Obama family. As it was their 8th and last Easter Egg Roll at the White House, the moment was said to have been both joyful and poignant. 

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Mexico


Thanks to its Spanish colonizers, Mexico is predominantly Roman Catholic, and fasting and abstinence on Good Friday and Black Saturday have long been encouraged, if not mandatory. As a result, Mexico has developed an amazing culinary tradition that revolves around seafood and vegetables. Dishes such as tortas de camarón con nopales (shrimp and cactus fritters), chiles rellenos (stuffed chilies), sopa de habas (fava bean soup), and capirotada (Mexican bread pudding) are among those that have been whipped up in Mexican Lenten kitchens for generations. Similar customs exist in South American countries that were also colonized by Spain or Portugal. Ceviche, which is always popular in Peru, takes center stage, and countries like Argentina and Uruguay serve Potaje de la Vigilia, the Spanish fasting soup which includes codfish, garbanzos, and spinach. When it’s time to break the fast on Easter Sunday, the special Rosca de Pascua, a braided Easter bread ring, is served.

Russia


The Russian-Orthodox Church celebrates Easter later than the rest of the world as it follows the old Julian Calendar (while Roman Catholics and Protestants started following the Gregorian Calendar in the 16th century). Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and all Russia, the head of the Russian-Orthodox Church, holds the main Easter service at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, which is situated on the northern bank of the Moskva River, just a few blocks southwest of the Kremlin. The faithful dress in their Sunday best and gather in the cathedral on the eve of Easter. Priests hold candles and crucifixes, and from the altar, they make their way around the church, singing solemnly. The rest of the congregation follows suit, joining the procession, singing, and lighting candles. At midnight, the church bells ring to announce the resurrection the Christ, and people acknowledge one another with the traditional Easter greeting, “Christ is risen!” The appropriate response to this is, “He is truly risen!”—fully celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.

The days leading up to Easter Sunday are traditionally very busy as this is the time of year when Russians do their spring cleaning. Easter day itself is often bright and sunny, so another ancient tradition is the opening of birdcages and setting birds free.

Last but not the least, one cannot mention Easter in Russia without referring to the time-honored tradition of beautiful Easter eggs. In the olden times, these eggs were thought to have magical powers that could protect crops, cattle, and ward off evil spirits. The craft and practice of creating stunning eggs for lucky charms grew, and the most famous of these Easter eggs are the exquisite, bejeweled Imperial Easter Eggs that Fabergé designed for the Royal family.

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