Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Visiting the Easter Markets in Prague and learning about Czech Easter traditions!

A woman dressed in a traditional Moravian costume at the Easter Market at Wenceslas Square in Prague.
As I learned during my visit to the market, the lacy looking eggs are originally from Slovakia.
Traditional Czech Easter eggs can be seen in the photo below. 

Remember what it felt like to be a child on Easter morning? Perhaps you would wake up bright and early in anticipation of the annual egg hunt, and maybe even peek out of your bedroom window to catch a glimpse of a colorful egg hidden behind a bush in the garden. 

I felt that same sense of excitement while walking to Old Town Square last Thursday morning. As part of my one day takeover of their Instagram account, the official Czech Tourism Agency had provided me with a list of possible subjects to photograph. Just like my childhood Easter egg hunts, some of the things were easy to locate, while others were more elusive. 

Traditional Czech Easter eggs at the Easter Market in Prague

As soon as I spotted a stand with an "Original Czech Easter Eggs" sign, I knew my quest was off to a good start. Thought to be a symbol of new life, fertility and rebirth, the tradition of painting eggs pre-dates Christianity. It was believed that the divine power attributed to eggs increased when they were painted or decorated with ornaments.

In the Czech Republic, some of the most traditional Easter eggs are made by dying the egg a single color before using a sharp object, like a needle, to scratch off some of the color to expose the white shell underneath. During the early days of Christianity, only red dye symbolizing the blood of Jesus Christ was used. More intricate designs are made with the wax-batik method. After a design is drawn on the eggshell with melted beeswax, the egg is successively dipped into red, black or orange dye. As with the colors, many of the motifs on the eggs are symbolic.

Another traditional egg decorating technique is to cut a piece of straw into different shapes and then glue the small pieces onto an egg to form a pattern. The eggs are usually dyed a dark color, such as red, brown, black, blue or green, to contrast with the yellow straw.

The Easter Egg Tree at Old Town Square in Prague

The star attraction of the Easter Market at Old Town Square in Prague is a young birch tree decorated with colorful Easter eggs. Czechs use budding pussy willow or forsythia branches to display their hand-painted eggs at home. Harbingers of longer days and warmer weather, the budding branches are a wonderful way to create a springlike atmosphere inside. You'll also see Easter Trees in hotel lobbies and restaurants in Prague.

These whips are used for one of the oldest Easter traditions in the Czech Republic.

Curious about all of the braided pussy willow branches tied with colorful ribbons at the market, I learned that these branches are used for one of the oldest Easter traditions in the Czech Republic. On Easter Monday, men and boys whip (gently, I hope!) the calves and bottoms of girls and women with the branches to bring them health, happiness and youth during the next year. While they're whipping the women, the men recite special Easter poems. Because this whipping is supposed to be beneficial for women, they reward the men with painted eggs or even a shot of a strong Czech herbal liquor.

In the past, men used to make their own pomlázky by soaking the branches in water before plaiting the pussy willow branches together. Now, they can easily buy the whips at the market, florist or garden center! While I'm not completely sold on this tradition, the whipping seems to be done in the spirit of fun.

Photo of lamb cakes: Isabelle of Wine Travel in France

The only remaining item on my "to find" list was an Easter lamb cake, known locally as beránek. Fortunately, Isabelle of Wine Travel In France / WineChicTravel knew of my quest and forwarded a photo of the cute lamb cakes she found at the market in Pilsen, Czech Republic.

The most popular Easter Markets in Prague are located at Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square and Náměstí Republiky Square. They will be open through April 3, 2016.

In addition to traditional Czech Easter eggs, whips, lace, Easter cards and handcrafted wooden items, you'll find huge hams and sausages roasting over embers, sweet trdelníky, and beer to quench your thirst.

From approximately 4:00pm to 7:00pm, there are daily performances by folklore groups, children’s choirs, and folk dancers on the stage at Old Town Square.

Did you know that Czechs drink green beer for Easter? Find out why by clicking here.

Aerial view of the Easter Market at Old Town Square in Prague

3 comments:

  1. Such fun Easter traditions! I used to make an Easter craft every year with a friend of my mom's: we made a quilt, an egg tree, blew eggs and covered them with fabric, we did a bit of everything. Such great memories!

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  2. A fun visit! Thanks for the information.

    Yes, the whips are curious. Christianity has a history of flogging anyway.

    Happy Easter.

    jxg

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