Getting an ‘Easter birching’ in the Czech Republic
There are so many great traditions connected with Easter celebrations around the world, but it’s true to say some are also a little wacky.
Intrepid’s Petra Palkovicova explains an unusual ancient ritual that has girls on the run in the Czech Republic…
“Easter is one of our most important feasts in the Czech Republic. We send cards to our friends and relatives, decorate eggs and eat lots of chocolate. Almost everything is the same as you probably know it in your country, except for one thing… there is the Easter whipping.
On Easter Monday, Czech men and boys give women and girls a so called ‘Easter birching’. Some people say it’s only a gentle slap on the bottom with a bunch of birch sticks. But if you ask me, it’s often not that gentle!
The whip is traditionally made from willow branches and is a real symbol of our Easter. Historically, the birching can only occur from midnight Sunday until midday on Easter Monday. During that time men are allowed to go around in groups to visit neighbours, relatives and friends and whip all the women. Any women!
The girls have to bear it (or try to) while boys whack them with the birches. Occasionally, with boys around our same age, we would throw buckets of water back at them. The whole morning could easily become one big fun fight.
What’s the reason for boys whipping every girl, known or unknown to them? It’s believed that the whip gives us women strength and good health. Since we have no hope of fighting against this tradition, we secretly protect our bottoms with pillows and try to hide from the boys or run away when we see them.
But before any whipping can happen, the boys have to sing or recite a special Easter carol for the girls. This can be hilarious and you can imagine all the fun and pranks that take place.
After the boy has delivered a gentle whipping, the girl gives him a coloured ribbon to decorate his willow branches. The greater number of ribbons, the more popular the boy. The birchers are also given a lot of food in the houses they visit: chocolate or sweets, sandwiches, sometimes money – although the most usual gift is hand-decorated Easter eggs (usually you would give the best ones to your favourite boys).
For men, there is another speciality – alcohol. Every housewife prepares a few bottles of good alcohol and many glasses. “The first glass to the left leg and the second glass to the right leg!” You can imagine how the Czech men (including fathers and grandfathers) look by noon!
This tradition is starting to die out in some of the bigger cities and you’re more likely to find it celebrated in smaller villages. For me personally, I always found Easter Monday to be a fun day for girls and boys alike, especially if you don’t worry about having to change your wet clothes several times and are happy to get into the spirit of the day. But if you are a girl travelling alone, I would make sure you find a few friends for moral support on Easter Monday!”
Photo of Prague by Tess Follett.