Easter and Anzac Day neatly align this year: a perfect excuse for an adventurous trip. Just don’t expect it to be all bunnies, eggs and hot cross buns, as bizarre traditions are all around…
Find yourself in Scandinavia for Holy Week and you might be fooled into thinking it is Guy Fawkes’ Night (although this is slipping away as a celebration) or Halloween. Preferring raucous pagan rituals to more dour Protestant traditions, the people of Sweden and Finland are known to build giant bonfires and practice ‘trick-or-treat’ dressed as witches.
Doing their own thing, as is often the case, Norwegians like to stay at home and wallow in cryptic tales of mystery. ‘Paaskekrim’ (Easter Crime) is a time to watch the latest detective series, often released to coincide with festivities, or turn the pages of a dark crime thriller.
Eastern Europe is a treasure trove of both historic tourist gems and particularly odd seasonal pranks where women play the willing victims. In the former Czechoslovakia, apparently in an effort to preserve their beauty for another year, men gather in public to playfully spank their womenfolk with a special handmade whip made from willow saplings and adorned with bright coloured ribbons.
Whatever floats their boats. Just to the south, Hungarian ladies fare only slightly better, being subjected to a thorough dousing in the ‘watering of the girls’ ceremony. In this case, it is their fertility and not their looks being preserved.
Black and White
With Catholics making up over 95% of the population, Italy takes Easter seriously and nowhere more so than in Taranto, deep in the country’s south. Easter Friday processions here are sombre spiritual affairs, where lines of pilgrims walk painfully slowly and barefoot behind a cross-bearing man around the town.
Forget the colour and sounds of Latin America’s parades, white robes enveloping the whole body (except pin prick holes for the eyes) are the official dress code for followers, whilst officials wear jet black uniforms. The music comes only from the rattling ‘troccola’, an instrument chosen to mimic the sounds of the falling stones hurled at Christ as he dragged himself along his fateful march.
Cross Off the List
One destination to avoid during Easter is the Philippines where – despite discouragement from the Catholic church – religious fanatics are known to re-enact the crucifixion with gruesome realism. Across the villages and towns of this beautiful archipelago, men and a handful of women are strung up with ten-inch nails to huge wooden crosses to the cheering of hysterical crowds.
Worryingly these barbaric acts attract ever larger groups of tourists of a particular mindset. Equally concerning are the crucified who put their holey hands up year after year (some over 20 times) for the privilege of being abused in public.
Public Enemy No.1
Switching focus from the crucified messiah to the traitor who got him into trouble, Mexicans go to special efforts on Easter Saturday to reap retribution on Judas Iscariot. Across Central and Southern regions, giant effigies of history’s most famous turncoat are lovingly prepared in the prior weeks, only to be blown sky high in colourful ceremonies known as ‘la quema de Judas’ (the burning of Judas).
Typically the models are made from paper mache and, with revered artists often involved in their creation, they are magnificent works to behold. But preserving these masterpieces is definitely not on the agenda, as they are stuffed with firecrackers to guarantee a spectacular send-off.
Smell a Rat (or a Turtle)
In Hungary, life-sized lamb shaped sculptures are created entirely from butter for locals to tuck into over Easter. If find this a bit passé, you should head to Colombia. Top of the list of craved treats for a ‘semana santa’ (holy week) feast are slider turtles, green iguanas and capybaras (the world’s largest rodents, below).
No-one is entirely sure how this started, but it is a problem for environmentalists and transport officials alike. In Australia, you might take a rack of lamb to an Easter family BBQ. In Colombia, they take live rats as big as 100-kilos, with mayhem ensuing across the nation.