Easter Celebrations

The Easter Fire is a custom of pagan origin spread all over Europe. It is a symbol of victory, the victory of beautiful and sunny spring over the cold days of winter.

On Holy Saturday or Easter Sunday, in rare occasions also on Easter Monday, large fires are lit at dusk in numerous sections of Northwestern Europe. These regions include Denmark, parts of Sweden as well as in Finland, Northern Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.

The fire is lit usually on the top of the mountains – Easter mountain, Osterberg – and it is obtained from wood by friction. In Germany, the Easter fire is created by gathering all the Christmas trees and burning them into a huge fire, a sign for everyone to leave behind winter and prepare for spring.

Though not documented before the 16th century, the custom presumably is based on Saxon, pre-Christian traditions, that are still performed each year. There are several explanations of the meaning of these fires. The Saxons believed that around the time of Easter, Spring becomes victorious over Winter. The fires were to help chase the darkness and winter away. It was also a symbol of fertility, which works in a literal sense in that the ashes were scattered over the meadows and thereby fertilized the soil.

The pre-Christian meaning of Easter fires is hardly experienced anymore. Nowadays they are meant to bring the community together, which guarantees a pleasant night combined with the consumption of beer, mulled wine or liquor, and snacks.

Source: Wikipedia

Palm Sunday is a Christian moveable feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter. The feast commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in each of the four canonical Gospels.

In many Christian denominations, worship services on Palm Sunday include a procession of the faithful carrying palms, representing the palm branches the crowd scattered in front of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem. The difficulty of procuring palms in unfavorable climates led to their substitution with branches of native trees, including box, olive, willow, and yew. The Sunday was often named after these substitute trees, as in Yew Sunday, or by the general term Branch Sunday.

In the Greco-Roman culture of the Roman Empire, which strongly influenced Christian tradition, the palm branch was a symbol of triumph and victory. It became the most common attribute of the goddess Nike or Victory. For contemporary Roman observers, the procession would have evoked the Roman triumph, when the triumphator laid down his arms and wore the toga, the civilian garment of peace that might be ornamented with emblems of the palm.

Although the Epistles of Paul refer to Jesus as “triumphing”, the entry into Jerusalem may not have been regularly pictured as a triumphal procession in this sense before the 13th century. In ancient Egyptian religion, the palm was carried in funeral processions and represented eternal life. The palm branch later was used as a symbol of Christian martyrs and their spiritual victory or triumph over death.

Variations of the traditional observances:

In Latvia, Palm Sunday is called “Pussy Willow Sunday”, and pussy willows – symbolizing new life – are blessed and distributed to the faithful. Children are often awakened that morning with ritualistic swats of a willow branch.

In Bulgaria, Palm Sunday is known as Tsvetnitsa (tsvete, “flower”) or Vrabnitsa (varba, “willow”), or Flower’s Day. People with flower-related names (e.g., Lilia, Margarita, Nevena, Ralitsa, Rosa, Temenuzhka, Tsvetan, Tsvetana, Tsvetelin, Tsvetelina, Tsvetko, Violeta, Yavor, Zdravko, Zjumbjul, etc.) celebrate this day as their name day.

In Finland, it is popular for children to dress up as Easter witches and go door to door in neighborhoods for coins and candy. This is an old Karelian custom called Virpominen.

In the 15th through the 17th centuries in England, Palm Sunday was frequently marked by the burning of Jack-‘o’-Lent figures. This was a straw effigy which would be stoned and abused on Ash Wednesday, and kept in the parish for burning on Palm Sunday. The symbolism was believed to be a kind of revenge on Judas Iscariot, who had betrayed Christ. The effigy could also have represented the hated figure of Winter, whose destruction prepares the way for Spring.

In Oriental Orthodox churches, palm fronds are distributed at the front of the church at the sanctuary steps, in India the sanctuary itself having been strewn with marigolds, and the congregation proceeds through and outside the church.

In the Church of Pakistan (a member of the Anglican Communion), the faithful on Palm Sunday carry palm branches into the church as they sing Psalm 24.

In many Protestant churches, children are given palms, and then walk in procession around the inside of the church.

In Hoegaarden, Belgium one of the last remaining Palm Sunday processions takes place every year. A fellowship of Twelve Apostles carries a wooden statue of Christ around the town, while children go door to door offering the palms (box) for coins.

In Italy, palm leaves are used along with small olive branches, readily available in the Mediterranean climate. These are placed at house entrances (for instance, hanging above the door) to last until the following year’s Palm Sunday. For this reason, usually palm leaves are not used whole, due to their size; instead, leaf stripes are braided into smaller shapes. Small olive branches are also often used to decorate traditional Easter cakes, along with other symbols of birth, like eggs.

When Christianity came to Lithuania, the plants which sprouted earliest were honored during spring feasts. The “verba” or “dwarfed spuce” is used instead. According to tradition, on the Saturday before Palm Sunday the Lithuanians take special care in choosing and cutting well-formed branches, which the women-folk decorate with flowers. The flowers are meticulously tied onto the branches, making the “Verba”

In the Saxon regions of the Netherlands, crosses are decorated with candy and bread, made in the form of a rooster. In the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, a great procession with oil lamps is held the night before Palm Sunday in honor of the Sorrowful Mother of Warfhuizen.

Many Polish towns and villages (the best known are Lipnica Murowana in Małopolska and Łyse) organize artificial palm competitions. The biggest of those reach above 30 meters in length; for example, the highest palm in 2008 was 33.39 meters.

In Elche, Spain, the location of Palmeral of Elche (the biggest palm grove in Europe), there is a tradition of tying and covering palm leaves to whiten them away from sunlight, and then drying and braiding them in elaborate shapes. A Spanish rhyming proverb states:

Domingo de Ramos,
quien no estrena algo,
se le caen las manos

On Palm Sunday,
the hands drop off of those who fail to wear something new.

In Wales, Palm Sunday in called ‘Sul y Blodau’ (‘Flowering Sunday’) and it is traditional to decorate graves with flowers on that day, especially in the industrial towns and villages of south Wales.

Source: Wikipedia

 

Mothering Sunday is a holiday celebrated by Catholic and Protestant Christians in some parts of Europe. It falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent, exactly three weeks before Easter.

The other names attributed to the fourth Sunday in Lent include:

  • Refreshment Sunday
  • Pudding Pie Sunday (in Surrey, England)
  • Mid-Lent Sunday
  • Simnel Sunday
  • Rose Sunday

Simnel Sunday is named after the practice of baking simnel cakes to celebrate the reuniting of families during the austerity of Lent. (Here is a recipe: Simnel Cake.) Because there is traditionally a relaxation of Lenten vows on this particular Sunday in celebration of the fellowship of family and church, the name Refreshment Sunday is sometimes used, although rarely today.

Simnel cake is a traditional confection associated with both Mothering Sunday and Easter. Around 1600, when the celebration was only held in England and Scotland, a different kind of pastry was preferred. In England, “Mothering Buns” or “Mothering Sunday Buns” were made to celebrate. These sweet buns are topped with pink or white icing and the multi-colored sprinkles known as “hundreds and thousands” in the UK. (Here’s a recipe: Mothering Buns).  They are not widely made or served today in the UK but in Australia they are a bakery staple, not related to any particular celebration. In Northern England and Scotland some preferred “Carlings”, pancakes made of steeped peas fried in butter.

It is sometimes said that Mothering Sunday was once observed as a day on which people would visit their “mother” church. During the 16th century, people returned to their mother church, the main church or cathedral of the area, for a service to be held on Laetare Sunday. This was either the church where they were baptized, or the local parish church, or more often the nearest cathedral.

Anyone who did this was commonly said to have gone “a-mothering”, although whether this term preceded the observance of Mothering Sunday is unclear. In later times, Mothering Sunday became a day when domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mother church, usually with their own mothers and other family members. The children would pick wild flowers along the way to place in the church or give to their mothers. Eventually, the religious tradition evolved into the Mothering Sunday secular tradition of giving gifts to mothers.

It was often the only time that whole families could gather together, since on other days they were prevented by conflicting working hours, and servants were not given free days on other occasions.

Whatever its origins, it is now an occasion for honoring the mothers of children and giving them presents. It is increasingly being called Mothers’ Day, although that has always been a secular event quite different from the original Mothering Sunday. In the UK and Ireland, Mothering Sunday is celebrated in the same way as Mothers’ Day is celebrated elsewhere.

By the 1920’s the custom of keeping Mothering Sunday had tended to lapse in Ireland and in continental Europe. In 1914, inspired by Anna Jarvis’s efforts in the United States, Constance Penswick-Smith created the Mothering Sunday Movement, and in 1921 she wrote a book asking for the revival of the festival.

Its wide scale revival was through the influence of American and Canadian soldiers serving abroad during World War II; the traditions of Mothering Sunday, still practiced by the Church of England and Church of Ireland were merged with the newly imported traditions and celebrated in the wider Catholic and secular society. UK-based merchants saw the commercial opportunity in the holiday and relentlessly promoted it in the UK; by the 1950’s, it was celebrated across all the UK.

People from Ireland and the UK started celebrating Mothers’ Day on the same day that Mothering Sunday was celebrated, the fourth Sunday in Lent. The two celebrations have now been mixed up, and many people think that they are the same thing.

Mothering Sunday remains in the calendar of some Canadian Anglican churches, particularly those with strong English connections.

Found at: Wikipedia

Blins or blini were symbolically considered by early Slavic peoples in pre-Christian times as a symbol of the sun, due to their round form. They were traditionally prepared at the end of winter to honor the rebirth of the new sun. This tradition was adopted by the Orthodox church (Shrovetide, Butter Week, or Maslenitsa) and is carried on to the present day. Blini were also served at wakes to commemorate the recently deceased.

Traditional Russian blini are made with yeasted batter, which is left to rise and then diluted with cold or boiling water or milk. When diluted with boiling water, they are referred to as zavarniye blini. The blini are then baked in a traditional Russian oven. The process of cooking blini is still referred to as baking in Russian, even though these days they are almost universally pan-fried, like pancakes.

French crêpes made from unyeasted batter (usually made of flour, milk, and eggs) are also not uncommon in Russia, where they are called blinchiki and are considered to be an imported dish. All kinds of flour may be used for making blini: from wheat and buckwheat to oatmeal and millet, although wheat is currently the most popular.

What follows is a recipe for traditional Russian blini from RusCuisine. These pancakes are served with different dressings – most popular are sour cream, jam, syrup, red caviar, salmon, cottage cheese and others.

Ingredients:
  • 3 1/2 c All-purpose flour
  • 3 tb Water warm 105-F degrees
  • 1 1/2 pk Yeast dry
  • 3 3/4 c Milk warm 105-F degrees
  • 1 tb Sugar
  • 1/2 c Heavy cream
  • 1 Egg white
  • 2 Egg yolks
  • 1 ts Salt
  • 4 tb Butter unsalted melted and cooled until just warm

Take 1 tablespoon of the flour, the warm water, 1 teaspoon of the sugar, and the yeast and mix together in a small bowl. Cover and set in a warm place for 15 minutes. Mix in a large bowl the the 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar, flour, milk, the yeast mixture and salt. Beat by hand for 4 minutes. Cover and set in a warm place for 1 hour.

Mix the egg yolks and remaining sugar and add to the natter along with the butter and beat with an electric mixer for 3 minutes or by hand for 8 minutes. Whip the egg white separately and whip the cream as well until very stiff. Fold in the cream then the egg white making sure to mix well. Cover again and place in a warm place for 45 minutes.

Grease the skillet with butter, place 2 tablespoons of batter in the center of the skillet, (at this point you may add any of the flavor garnishes that you wish or none at all) cook for 1 minute, turn the bliny over, and cook for 35 seconds, and serve smothered in sweet butter.

The last day of the Russian Butter Festival, also called Maslenitsa , or  Cheesefare Week is called “Forgiveness Sunday.” Relatives and friends ask each other for forgiveness and might offer them small presents.

At Vespers on Sunday evening, people may make a poklon (bow) before one another and ask forgiveness. Another name for Forgiveness Sunday is “Cheesefare Sunday”, because for devout Orthodox Christians it is the last day on which dairy products may be consumed until Easter. Fish, wine and olive oil will also be forbidden on most days of Great Lent.

The day following Cheesefare Sunday is called Clean Monday, because people have confessed their sins, asked forgiveness, and begun Great Lent with a clean slate.

Here is a deeper explanation of the Catholic symbolism of this day:

Before we enter the Lenten fast, we are reminded that there can be no true fast, no genuine repentance, no reconciliation with God, unless we are at the same time reconciled with one another. A fast without mutual love is the fast of demons. We do not travel the road of Lent as isolated individuals but as members of a family. Our asceticism and fasting should not separate us from others, but should link us to them with ever-stronger bonds.

 

Found at: Wikipedia and other sources

According to archeological evidence from 2nd century A.D. Maslenitsa may be the oldest surviving Slavic holiday. Maslenitsa has its origins in the pagan tradition. In Slavic mythology, Maslenitsa is a sun-festival, personified by the ancient god Volos, and a celebration of the imminent end of the winter. In the Christian tradition, Maslenitsa is the last week before the onset of Great Lent.

During the week of Maslenitsa, meat is already forbidden to Orthodox Christians, and it is the last week during which eggs, milk, cheese and other dairy products are permitted, leading to its name of “Cheese-fare week” or “Crepe week”. The most characteristic food of Maslenitsa is bliny thin pancakes or crepes, made from the rich foods still allowed by the Orthodox tradition that week: butter, eggs and milk. Here’s a recipe: Classic Krasnye Blini

Since Lent excludes parties, secular music, dancing and other distractions from spiritual life, Maslenitsa represents the last chance to take part in social activities that are not appropriate during the more prayerful, sober and introspective Lenten season.

In some regions, each day of Maslenitsa had its traditional activity:

Monday:
Monday may be the welcoming of “Lady Maslenitsa”. The community builds the Maslenitsa effigy out of straw (из соломы), decorated with pieces of rags, and fixed to a pole formerly known as Kostroma. It is paraded around and the first pancakes may be made and offered to the poor.

Tuesday:
On Tuesday, young men might search for a fiancée to marry after lent.

Wednesday:
On Wednesday sons-in-law may visit their mother-in-law who has prepared pancakes and invited other guests for a party.

Thursday:
Thursday may be devoted to outdoor activities. People may take off work and spend the day sledding, ice skating, snowball fights and with sleigh rides.

Friday:
On Friday sons-in-law may invite their mothers-in-law for dinner.

Saturday: Saturday may be a gathering of a young wife with her sisters-in-law to work on a good relationship.

Sunday:
Relatives and friends ask each other for forgiveness and might offer them small presents. As the culmination of the celebration people gather to “strip Lady Maslenitsa of her finery” and burn her in a bonfire. Left-over pancakes may also be thrown into the fire and Lady Maslenitsa’s ashes are buried in the snow to “fertilize the crops”.

Found at: Wikipedia

Maslyanitsa means butter in Russian, and it is also the name of the festival that says goodbye to winter and welcomes summer. From Moscow to St. Petersberg, Russians celebrate Butter Week just before their Lent fast days. The dates vary falling sometime in February or March. (In 2018, this festival begins on Feb 12).

During Lent, meat, fish, dairy products and eggs are forbidden. Furthermore, Lent also excludes parties, secular music, dancing and other distractions from the spiritual life. Thus, Maslenitsa represents the last chance to partake of dairy products and those social activities that are not appropriate during the more prayerful, sober and introspective Lenten season.

Monday is the high point of celebration, when people cook pancakes, or blini, served with honey, caviar, fresh cream and butter. The more butter there is, the hotter the sun is expected to be in the coming summer.

The most characteristic food of Maslenitsa is bliny (pancakes). Round and golden, they are made from the rich foods still allowed by the Orthodox tradition: butter, eggs and milk. Here’s an authentic traditional recipe: Classic Krasnye Blini.

Maslenitsa activities also include snowball fights, sledding, riding on swings and plenty of sleigh rides. In some regions, each day of Maslenitsa had its traditional activity: one day for sleigh-riding, another for the sons-in-law to visit their parents-in-law, another day for visiting the godparents, etc. The mascot of the celebration is usually a brightly dressed straw effigy of Lady Shrovetide, formerly known as Kostroma.

As the culmination of the celebration, on Sunday evening, Lady Maslenitsa is stripped of her finery and put to the flames of a bonfire. Any remaining blintzes (pancakes) are also thrown on the fire and Lady Maslenitsa’s ashes are buried in the snow “fertilize the crops”.

The last day of Butter Week is called “Forgiveness Sunday,” At Vespers on Sunday evening, all the people make a poklon (prostration) before one another and ask forgiveness, and thus Great Lent begins in the spirit of reconciliation and Christian love. The day following Forgiveness Sunday is called Clean Monday, because everyone has confessed their sins, asked forgiveness, and begun Great Lent with a clean slate.

Found at: Wikipedia

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