By Hannah Bae
For many believers around the world, Easter is a time of renewal and reflection in remembrance of Christ’s resurrection. But as celebrations have evolved country by country, they’ve taken creative, brilliant form over centuries, incorporating local customs and rituals. Here, take a look at some of the most joyous, raucous or just plain extraordinary ways that people around the globe mark this major spring holiday.
Thousands of small, homemade rockets streak across the Aegean sky during Orthodox Easter, when two rival church congregations on the Greek island of Chios declare a “rocket war” at midnight Sunday. The goal for each side is to hit the other church’s bell tower, but good luck declaring a winner—both sides usually end up declaring victory, leading to the annual rematch.
2. Italy - Sicily
Come Easter, the Sicilian village of Prizzi is where the wild things are. For the “Dance of the Devils,” children don giant masks—red for “devils” and yellow for “death”—and cavort in the streets. The spectacle is meant to represent the battle between good and evil, but all it takes to keep these young spirits happy is a sweet treat, a fresh egg or a bit of small change.
3. U.S. - Washington, DC
Since 1878, the White House has hosted thousands of American children for the annual Easter Egg Roll. Using spoons to roll dyed eggs across the South Lawn may be the main event, but nowadays, the day’s festivities also include an egg hunt, concerts, storytime and, of course, a visit from the Easter bunny. All told, the White House typically hand-dyes 14,000 hard-boiled eggs for the annual celebration, on top of providing more than 80,000 commemorative wooden eggs for guests to take home. In this 2012 photo, President Barack Obama helps a young visitor complete the roll.
Home to the largest number of Catholics on the planet, Brazil puts on many a magnificent Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebration. A standout is the Easter procession in the former mining town of Ouro Preto, which carpets its cobblestone streets in flowers for worshipers dressed as biblical figures and their retinue of angels, pictured here in 2015. The florid display can be traced back to the 18th-century Portuguese colonial period.
5. Czech Republic
Don’t worry, this traditional Easter “whipping” isn’t intended as a punishment. In countries like the Czech Republic, Slovakia and parts of Poland, women and girls are swatted with these pomlázka to bring them health and youth on the day after Easter. Often made from braided willow branches or pussywillows and decorated with ribbons, they are part of the ceremonial Ride of the Kings in the southeastern Czech Republic.
Beautiful, hand-decorated eggs created with a wax-resist method are part of the Orthodox Christian Easter traditions in several eastern European countries, including Ukraine, Belarus and Hungary. Pictured here are blown eggs decorated with highly detailed patterns in Bucovina, Romania, where an iron-tipped tool is used to paint on patterns in molten wax before the egg is dyed.
Easter is a cause for celebratory bonfires in Northern Germany, Denmark, Switzerland and other areas of northwestern Europe. Known as “Easter fires,” they often burn on Easter Sunday as a traditional ritual to mark spring’s triumph over winter and as a symbol of fertility. Pictured here is an Easter fire on the banks of the Elbe river near Hamburg.
Traditionally, on the Monday after Orthodox Easter, it’s the single boys who pour water on the unmarried girls in Ukraine, Poland and other eastern European countries, while the girls wait to get their payback the next day. But these days, it’s not uncommon for the feisty water fight to go both ways on “Wet Monday,” as demonstrated by these young women at the Mamajeva Sloboda Open Air Museum in Kiev, Ukraine. The ritual hearkens to the soaking spring rains that later lead to a good harvest.
In arguably the most adorable Easter tradition, children in Finland dress up as witches, complete with rosy cheeks or freckles, oversized clothes and headscarves. They’re meant to represent the evil spirits that were once believed to wreak havoc on the eve of Easter. Now, these “little witches” essentially go trick-or-treating, casting “good spells” and collecting candy or money in copper pots as they go door-to-door.
In Russia and many other Orthodox Christian communities, it isn’t Easter without kulich, a rich, lightly sweetened bread. Baked into a tall loaf, it’s a yeasty, eggy treat often decorated with a cross, flowers or, these days, sprinkles. A representation of Christ’s atonement on the cross, it’s a meaningful reminder of the holiday’s roots.
Most of the time, royal ceremonies in the U.K. come to the Queen. But Holy Week marks the only time the monarch travels to honor the British people during the annual Royal Maundy service. Each year, the Queen makes a pilgrimage to another part of Britain to award pouches of “Maundy money” to pensioners for their service to their churches and communities. The religious ceremony, abundant with pomp and spectacle for onlookers, returns to London only once every 10 years.
Easter can mean showers of confetti in Mexico, especially in areas along the U.S. border. Cascarones are decorated, blown eggs that are filled with confetti or small toys and cracked over a friend’s head to bring good luck. Popular at Easter, they also make appearances on birthdays, at weddings and during other holidays including Cinco de Mayo.
13. Italy - Rome
At Easter, flocks of the faithful converge on Rome to observe the Way of the Cross on Good Friday at the storied Colosseum. In a Roman Catholic tradition that dates to the 13th century, the service revisits the 14 stations that mark the passion and death of Christ. A meaningful event for Catholics, the Way of the Cross is a profoundly moving ritual to observe, even for non-Catholics. During the ceremony, the gargantuan amphitheater, lit with a huge cross of burning torches, cuts an even more dramatic profile against the night sky.
Don’t worry if you wake up hungry on Easter Sunday in southwest France. This region is famous for its massive Easter omelette, which is cooked up by dozens of cooks known as the “Giant Omelette Brotherhood” in the town of Bessieres. The gigantic cooking project, which entails about 15,000 eggs, draws thousands of onlookers—but no word on whether the finished omelette is délicieux or not.
15. u.s. - new York city
An extravaganza of millinery and candy-colored attire takes over New York City’s Fifth Avenue on Easter Sunday. Dating back to the 1870s, the Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival stretches from East 49th Street to 57th Street. But its heart (and the best people-watching spot) is in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a wonder of ornate, Neo-Gothic architecture. Every year seems to bring bonnets of ever-increasing dimensions and ingenuity, the kind of springtime style that only New Yorkers can claim.