There's more to Easter than chocolate (nice though it is...). From Easter markets in Vienna to passion plays in Mexico, and from skeleton dances in Spain to Easter egg rolls on the White House lawn, we take a look at some of the Easter traditions around the world.
The colourful Easter markets in Austrian cities such as Vienna are a feast for the senses, and are perfect for Easter gifts such as ornately decorated eggs - this age-old tradition is popular in many countries, and you can try your hand at decorating them yourself. In Austria you’ll also find delicious cakes such as reindling (made with raisins and cinnamon). In the Easter evenings, there are spectacular concerts, with opera popular in Salzburg, and fires are lit, which people sing and dance around. Easter brunch features osterpinze (sweet bread), cold meats and coloured eggs, while osterlamms (sweet pastries in the shape of a lamb) are traditionally given to children.
The day before Lent - Vastenavond or Fast Eve - is carnival day: a visual feast of dances, parades and masquerades. Listen to the Matthäus Passion in a beautiful concert hall and enjoy the sight of the flower fields in bloom. Children are given palmpaas (Easter palms), festooned with oranges, cakes, raisins and chocolate eggs.
Easter has some more unusual traditions too (in Poland, there are water fights on the streets). In some Spanish cities, Maundy Thursday is marked with a macabre dance performed by men dressed as skeletons. During Easter parades, pasos (floats) with saints are carried through the street and elaborate costumes are on display.
The Spanish celebrate their love of chocolate at this time of year, and go further than the ubiquitous chocolate Easter egg - elaborate chocolate sculptures are made in many regions, which are just as incredible to look at as to eat. Other Easter specialities include Mona de Pascua (large doughnuts topped with a hard-boiled egg), hornazo (Easter bread stuffed with meat and eggs), and pastries with a whole egg inside (shell and all), which are then traditionally broken on people’s heads (!).
An age-old Easter tradition in France is rolling eggs down a hill (the surviving egg wins), which symbolises the stone being rolled away from Jesus's tomb. On Easter Sunday, according to folklore, the ringing of the Easter bells in the morning is what makes chocolate eggs magically appear in children’s baskets.
The French love their food, and Easter feasts include lamb and Gateau de Pâques (a lamb-shaped Easter cake). If you happen to be in Bessières near Toulouse in the Midi Pyrenees at Easter, you’re in for a treat - a giant omelette festival. According to legend, at the beginning of the 19th century Napoleon stopped off in an auberge here for dinner, and loved his omelette so much, he ordered all the eggs in the village to be gathered for a huge omelette for his regiment. Since then, the Global Omelette Committee (yes, that’s a real thing, and has spread to the US and Japan) has made a giant omelette in Bessières every Easter Monday - using 15,000 eggs - with portions handed out to eager villagers.
German carnival parades before Lent feature elaborate costumes and masks, and crullers (doughnuts) are traditionally eaten before the fast of Lent begins. Easter bonfires are the first barbecue party of the year - old Christmas trees are gathered and burned, marking the end of winter and beginning of spring. Decorating trees with handcrafted eggs is also common, and one resident, Volker Kraft, has taken this tradition further - an apple tree in his garden in Saalfeld is now festooned with 10,000 eggs and has become a tourist attraction. Germans tuck into banquets of lamb at Easter, and Maundy Thursday is known as Gründonnerstag or Green Thursday, when green foods are traditionally eaten - chervil soup is popular.
Brazil's famous Rio carnival marks festivities of eating, drinking and dancing before the start of a meat-free Lent period. Holy Week begins with the blessing of palm tree branches, and streets are decorated with colourful patterns before the processions. There is a carnival on Sabádo de Aleluia (Easter Saturday) to celebrate the end of Lent and a hangover ball to celebrate the hanging of Judas. Straw men representing Judas are created and hung on the streets before being destroyed. Passion plays re-enact the trial and crucifixion of Jesus (which are also an Easter tradition in parts of Europe). Brazilians feast on Paçoca de Amendoim (a sweet treat made with peanuts, sugar and cassava flour).
Semana Santa (Holy Week) is full of religious processions, passion plays and joyous celebrations in Mexico, including fireworks, music and dancing. Capirotada, a Mexican bread pudding with raisins, spices and cheese, symbolises the crucifixion - the cloves represent Christ’s suffering, cinnamon sticks represent the nails on the cross and the bread itself represents the body of Christ.
Easter is the most important time of year in Peru, and is full of Incan and native religious influences. Celebrations include processions and dancing, as well as feasting and drinking - including besitos sweets (made from condensed milk and coconut) and Chicha, a beer made from corn.
The Easter salubong in the Philippines sees little girls dress up as angels for an early morning procession, with men led by a resurrected Christ and women led by a veiled Mary. The two processions meet at church, symbolising Christ meeting and consoling his mother after his resurrection. The angels remove Mary’s veil and the procession becomes full of light and festivities. The Easter markets here are full of pretty coloured eggs.
In Australia, the Easter holidays are seen as a last chance to enjoy the summer, with many people camping or heading to the beach (in contrast to Scandinavia, where they head to the mountains and the snow at this time of year). Instead of the Easter bunny, the bilby (above) is the Easter mascot - this unique animal, which has a distinctive snout and long ears, is an endangered animal in Australia.
Large street parades are held on Easter Sunday in New York and in cities around the USA, and of course there are the famous Mardi Gras parades, especially in New Orleans. Mardi Gras means ‘Fat Tuesday’ (Shrove Tuesday) and this colourful extravaganza is a final celebration before Lent, the season of preparations for Easter, begins on the following day, Ash Wednesday. Traditional coloured cakes are eaten. The Easter egg hunt, now popular worldwide, is said to originate in the USA, and another popular game is the Easter egg roll (each player rolls their own hand-decorated egg to the finish line). This game is a highlight of the annual Easter festivities held on the White House lawn.
Late Easter Saturday services are held across Russia, with songs at midnight to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Kulich (above), a tall sweet bread with white icing and colourful flowers, is often blessed by priests afterwards. Russians also tuck into Pashka, a pyramid-shaped dessert made of cheese and decorated with religious symbols.