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I remember that when I was a child, Easter was never as important to me as Christmas. Because for Christmas you get presents and it snows, and it’s all fancy, right? But Easter too is a festive season for us, and back in the Czech Republic, where I come from, we have many – both Christian and folk – traditions.

This year’s Easter will be different as for the very first time in my life, I won’t be going back to Prague to spend it with my family but will be in London with my partner. We got back to London only a few weeks ago after being nearly a year in Prague because of the pandemic. So, going back for Easter would be too difficult.

On Ugly Saturday (we have our own names for Easter days which I decided to use throughout my text), when I was a child, we would always go to Kutna Hora, a small town near Prague where my great uncle lives. This would be my family’s tradition, practised since the 70’s when my mum was born. And it actually still happens (when there’s no pandemic) – even though my siblings and I grew up, my little cousins still go to Kutna Hora because every year, the travelling amusement park would come to that town just for that one Easter weekend. Many people from Prague would go there, just as the locals, and everyone from the close villages, everybody dressed in their best clothes. This fantastic mixture of people would blend in this colourful event, full of cotton candy, loud music, and cheaply looking but actually-not-so-cheap fun— all surrounded by the gothic architecture of this UNESCO-protected town. We would first have lunch at my great uncle’s place and then go to the park. In my atheist country of origin, the traditions do not tie that much with religion – after all, the biggest roller-coaster would always be in front of a majestic church built in 14th century. However, these events always offer us another occasion to be together and eat (food plays a crucial part in all our celebrations). After the pandemic situation in the Czech Republic started to be unbearable after Christmas, someone said that the Czech people will rather risk infecting and killing their loved ones than not seeing their family. Which is, unfortunately, true. We (they?) might not be that friendly at first, but love to get together.

Spending Easter in London will be different. I won’t be eating the little sweet pies called Jidášky (‘Judases’) my mum always makes on Ugly Wednesday. I won’t be drinking a green beer with my dad and brother on Green Thursday (that is how we refer to Maundy Thursday). I won’t be painting Easter eggs with my sister on Good Friday. I won’t be going to the countryside to get drunk and bake a huge chicken filled with herb and nettle stuffing with my friends on White Saturday. I won’t be eating beránek, a sweet pie in the shape of a little lamb on Easter Sunday. And most importantly, I won’t celebrate Easter Monday with my family. The traditions of Easter Monday in the Czech Republic are very peculiar and come from pagan times. Basically, if you’re a man, you should pick willow osiers and weave so-called ‘pomlázka’ from these (it is basically a thin plait). On Easter Monday morning, you should go around your village or town, stop by at every house, say an Easter carol and – that’s when it all starts to be slightly questionable – gently whip each girl and woman with pomlázka. If you do that, it means that the girl will stay young and healthy. As a reward for that, she should give you a ribbon which you can tie to your pomlázka, a painted egg, and nowadays, also a shot of alcoholic beverage, if you’re old enough. Whereas in the villages these traditions are still being performed, in bigger cities this doesn’t happen at all, or it does happen only between families and friends, very symbolically – no strangers would knock on your doors anymore.

Every time I told someone in the UK about this tradition, their reaction was the same – surprise, laugh and outrage (in various order). I don’t blame them. The question of whether certain traditions should be abandoned or challenged with our contemporary beliefs arises. I believe they should. However, I’m convinced that if that happens and we, as an individual or as a family, decide to discard a certain tradition for whatever reason, a new one should be introduced. It is not that easy to set up a new habit or custom, but it can be done – my Google search assured me that I will get used to any new routine in three weeks. So why not try it with a tradition when an old one becomes outdated! That is what I actually did – instead of Kutna Hora, I usually go to the countryside and eat chicken.

I trust that these regular events are valuable, and the older I’m getting, the more I appreciate a certain rhythm of the year. Especially now, in these timeless times, in a country where seasons do not change in the way I was always used to, and where you can wear the same coat almost throughout the whole year. It is essential for me to have moments when I know what to do. On this day, I should paint some eggs. Even though the mood is artificially made, it does work. It’s tricky with Easter as it doesn’t happen on the same date every year. Without seeing Cadbury’s Easter Eggs in Tesco, I wouldn’t remember that it’s going to be Easter soon. At the same time, I can’t imagine not celebrating it, at least a little bit. However, whereas I look forward to painting eggs and baking a chicken while speaking with friends over Skype, I’m happy not to carry on with some of the traditions and, at least here in London, forget about pomlázka. But I’m sure I’ll miss it, no matter what I think about it from my “feminist, intellectual” perspective. It reminds me of home and my childhood.



Here you can read more about our Czech traditions:

http://www.myczechrepublic.com/czech_culture/czech_holidays/easter/index.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_whip


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Aktualizace: dub 12

This is a short text I wrote in March 2020 after going back to the Czech Republic because of the pandemic. The text was published on the UpBeat PSS Liverpool blog.


Right now, I’m in a tiny village in the south of the Czech Republic. I came here from London with my partner when our universities got closed due to the current situation. As we could not be in Prague with our families because of the compulsory after-arrival quarantine, we went to the countryside.

The journey from Prague takes only an hour, but within that hour of travelling, the surrounding environment completely changes. From a fast-paced city, through busy highway to roads which are so narrow that one car can barely fit. On these roads, you have to be careful. There are usually no other cars nor other people, but animals might jump in front of your car. Especially at night. When driving on these roads at night, the dense darkness surrounds you and all you can see is the meandering path. And sometimes, two sharp eyes illuminated by your reflectors fearlessly stare at you from the dark. At this moment, you hope that the animal won’t be as fearless as it looks. When you get out from the forest, there is only a short drive ahead of you, and you reach that tiny village in which I am now.

All the roads to that village are downhill. Well, all is a euphemism. There are only two roads, so both roads to that village are downhill. When entering the village, there is a paddock for a couple of horses, and if you drive slowly, they come and greet you. The gate to the paddock is right next to the mouth of a small path leading to the fields. They are grey at the moment but will become green in a couple of weeks.

There is a small village square and about thirty houses in total. The air is saturated with the scent of soil, smoke from the chimneys and upcoming spring. I’m a filmmaker, and during my studies, I was told that certain sounds should be included in a soundscape if you want the audience to feel like they are in a village.

When I stand still in front of our little cabin and quietly listen, I can hear them all. Muffled radio, barking dogs, chainsaw, gentle breeze, yelling kids. The village is surrounded by hills, and all these sounds resonate between them. On one of the hills, the forest is so sparse that you can sometimes see a deer doe weaving its way through. It is cold, remnants of snow can still be spotted on northern sides of the hills, and the bird feeder is busy. Yet, a hint of spring is in the atmosphere. Our tiny house is full of sleeping bugs, especially ladybirds, who are soon woken up by the heat from the stove. Even though there is heating, we always use the old stove and wood for heating. As soon as the room gets warmer, all the up to now dreaming animal start to fly around in puzzlement. It is not spring; it is us who woke them up.

But as days pass by, the real spring starts to thrust its way in nature and sun gains strength. Hills and fields are becoming green, birds enthusiastically twitter, flowers are coming into blossom. The nights are still cold, but days are bright, and as the vernal equinox approaches, nature gives us a clear message – the winter is over.

A stream at the edge of the garden throws little glints of the sun to the spider webs on the terrace and first bumblebees and butterflies flit around. Nature is in expectation of the hot days when air flutters. In expectation of the warm nights when earth still emits heat. In expectation of dried fields and mosquito swarms. But that is going to take some more time. Now the morning phase of the year comes. The garden is waking up, same as the bugs did in our room when we arrived. It is possible to sit outside again and breath in the freshness, the spring, the hope. Nature does not know about the current situation in the world, nor do the animals. They follow the annual cycle as they always did and burst with re-gained energy. It is beautiful to observe it and become part of the process.