Slovakian Easter: Drench And Spank Women, Give Men Presents
If you think about it, the secular parts of our Easter celebration are pretty weird: There's a rabbit who brings eggs, cake shaped like a lamb, and way too much sugar hidden around the yard. It probably looks just as weird to those in Eastern Europe as their traditions look to us. In these countries—such as Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and parts of the Czech Republic—"Slovakian Easter" is celebrated with vodka, spanking, drenching, and a healthy dose of misogyny.
Easter Monday, Not Sunday
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Easter Monday—the day after Easter—is a special day. Festivals and celebrations are held on Easter Monday, or Vel’ka noc, which means "big night." It is also referred to as "Bright Monday" or "Renewal Monday" because it's a day of rebirth and hope for the future. The celebrations held on this day are lively events, with music, feasting, and traditional folk costumes.
Loosely linked to the baptism of Jesus, the young men and boys of Slovakia, Poland, and other parts of Eastern Europe pour buckets of ice-cold water on unmarried young women and girls as part of their Easter Monday celebrations. Supposedly, it's because the "invigorating" downpour is said to promote good health, but the sight of young ladies in clinging, damp clothing probably also has something to do with it. Although the drenching remains a part of Easter festivities, some communities have limited the volume of water the girls must suffer to only a spritz or sprinkle.
As if getting soaked wasn't bad enough, the young, unmarried women of Eastern Europe also endure spanking or switching. After the young men have emptied their buckets on the girls, they swat their bottoms with pussy willow branches. According to tradition, this is supposed to enhance a woman's fertility and beauty, but it has evolved into a bizarre courtship ritual, as the lads prefer to whip girls they like. Long ago, the spanking could get brutal, but these days, it's more of a light tap. Still, this part of the Slovakian Easter tradition is often met with criticism from those who believe it promotes partner abuse.
A Spirited Thank-You
After the drenching and spanking was over, the young lady in question was traditionally expected to "thank" her attacker by offering him the gift of vodka. In some areas, the vodka could be substituted for any other kind of booze. Often, a freshly dyed egg was included in the gift to the young men.
The Great Slovakian Easter Debate
Although the drenching, spanking, and drinking have been a part of traditional Slovakian Easter celebrations for centuries, its customs have been called into question in recent decades. Many people feel it's unnecessarily harsh and unfair that women should have to endure such discomfort while the men just get drunk, and it's hard to say they don't have a point. Even the traditional reason for the spanking—to make women prettier and more fertile—is of dubious value at best.
Most Eastern Europeans who immigrated to the United States embraced new traditions, but in areas with heavy concentrations of Eastern European settlers, the old ways lingered on. In Buffalo, New York and South Bend, Indiana, for example, Dyngus Day—another name for Easter Monday that comes from the term smigus dyngus, or "Wet Monday"—is a much-loved local holiday. Although there may be vestiges of sprinkling and swatting, Dyngus Day has evolved into the unofficial start of the political campaign season. The day of drinking and feasting, usually on Polish sausage, is accompanied by local candidates coming out to shake hands and kiss babies (or, this year, finger-gunning and waving at babies).
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