Christmas passed just a few weeks ago and my mother started to panic, along with 51 percent of the Slovak female population. This might seem strange to somebody who does not know our traditions. The end of February is the time of year when people are getting ready for one of the most important holidays in Catholic tradition, Easter Holiday. In fact, most of the Slovak population practices Roman Catholicism and its holidays are strongly connected with traditions, especially in the small towns and villages. My family and I happened to live in one. The very first step in a long process of preparations for Easter starts about two months before the actual holiday. My father and his two faithful friends kill a pig in our backyard. This might seem cruel but this “Easter murder” is part of a traditional Easter meal and supplies us with meat, bacon and sausages for several months. My mother gets busy the following month. As an owner of a little convenience store, her main responsibility is to order enough food supplies for the population of fifteen hundred people settled in our village. First of all she looks through the magazines with the topics of upcoming holidays and writes down the best recepies. Based on their ingredients, she orders the food that is required to prepare them. Experience taught her to do this long ago. Not surprisingly, many of these often unusual items will be sold out within a few weeks. Orders of chocolate eggs, rabbits and other animals are equally important. The second step in her business Easter preparation is to decorate the store. Since she is the only employee of her shop, and my brother is the only one of the three children still living at home, this task must be done by the two of them. Meanwhile, the teachers in the elementary and high schools require their students to decorate school buildings and classes.
The most important time for all the women is the week before Easter Monday. Everyday they come home early from work to clean their houses. First of all they would clean the attics of their houses. Unwanted articles of clothes, furniture, and old magazines often stored there for years, would go to the charities or would get burned in the back part of the garden. In my family, this has always been a task for my brother. Mother would then proceed to clean the windows of the entire house, which can take more than two days. Afterwards, everybody does their part in vacuuming, dusting, polishing and organizing.
Easter is a symbol of early spring and that is the reason why all of us store our winter outfits including huge ski jackets and coats and take out the summer clothes. By the time all of these chores are done, the Holy Friday comes. On this day, school children will stay at home and help their mothers to bake numerous cakes and many different desserts. They will also buy or get branches of the fruit trees from the garden that will bloom on Monday. At 6 o’clock in the evening it is time for Holy Friday Mass. Saturday is the last day in which final touches are made in cleaning and preparing smoked ham with a horseradish.
Easter Sunday might be the most important day in some other cultures, but this is not the case in Slovakia. On Sunday morning people attend church and afterwards women stay at home and all the men and boys go together to visit their female family members. By tradition, when the door is opened by a younger woman or girl, the men splash her with water from a plastic bottle with a hole in the cap. However, if it is an older woman who opens, the men splash her hair with some kind of perfume. These symbolize long life and youth. After that, the men pretend to hit her with a whip that is home made out of dried bush branches. That symbolizes the long health of the woman. In return she offers them food, drink and some chocolate eggs. This process repeats until the men visit all their family members.
The Easter Monday mass is the most important one. Even the people who did not attend the previous masses are present at this one. Later when people come home, men go out this time to visit neighbors and friends. Women stay at home waiting for male friends to visit. The process from the previous day repeats with one exception. The teenage friends and classmates of the girls come to their houses, and instead of using a small amount of water in a bottle, they carry a big bucket full of ice cold water. This is often an interesting show for the entire neighborhood as the girls are running down the street and a group of young men with the buckets following them. Tradition says that the next day is the girl’s turn to perform the process of visiting. However this never happens; probably because girls are somewhat wiser and would not want to chase the men with water.
The sad part about this tradition is that it is slowly disappearing from our culture. People are moving to the bigger cities where it is not “cool” anymore. Nevertheless, there are still enough people in our village who come to visit my mother’s house every year and I hope that we will never loose our wonderful traditions.