Slavic Saturday

Lets talk about easter and easter eggs and associated traditions.

Most readers of this blog grew up with germanic traditions regarding this holiday. Which are completely different from what I grew up with, so when I first heard about easter bunny, I had to look up what it is. Not that easter bunnies from chocolate were unknown to us, but they did not have any special meaning and for long I assumed that they are bunny-shaped just for the cutesies. About the only thing that is common between germanic and slavic easter traditions are the painted eggs, but they are used differently.

The symbols of easter here are willow twigs, coloured eggs and a lamb. Willow twigs decorated with ribbons and painted eggshells are used for decorations and lamb is usually baked from dough, or recetnly made from chocolate etc. The willow twigs and coloured eggs are carryover from pagan times, symbolizing rebirth of the year, although christians staunchly deny this and insist on easter being purely christian holiday etc. etc. It is not. It was appropriated by christians by blending christian and pagan traditions together, just as Christmas, as a way to make converting pagans easier. There is nothing in the bible about coloured eggs and willow twigs.

The lamb however is probably later addition and it does symbolize christ and other stupidities from the bible in all their goryness. Only the cutting of its throat and smearing of the blood over door hinges or tresholds before baking it was replaced by making it from dough. Much less gory and cheaper to do, especially in big populations that diverged from raising sheep to cattle centuries ago.

So far, so good. Nothing particularly egregious about these traditions. But there is more to it, and as much as I loathe christian superstitions and traditions for their immense stupidity, one of the carry-overs from pagan times I hate even more.

Those willow twigs and coloured eggs do not serve only as a decoration. On Monday, hardboiled eggs are given by women and girls as gifts to men and boys who are supposed to go from house to house  (so-called koleda) and sing traditional songs and recite poems in exchange for the eggs. And they beat the women.

Yup. You read that correctly. In CZ and SL the men go from house to house with clubs (called pomlázka) woven from usually 8 to 9 long slender and supple willow twigs, decorated with ribbons, and they are supposed to beat the women with them, depending on region either shoulders, legs, ankles or simply their derrière. Some take it symbolically only, some take it literally and bruises can be raised, although it is expected to stop short of actually causing an injury. The beating of women with young willow twigs should magically transfer the youthfulness and freshness from the twigs to the women, or some such incredibly stupid shit. Thus the name of the club – po (prefix that can mean “to make”) mlázka (derived from “mladý” = young). Today nobody believes the magic, it is just “fun” and “tradition”. In this case, “tradition” really just means “an incredibly stupid thing that has been done for a very long time”.

In some regions today women are not completely defenseless – they can douse the men with cold water in return. But this is later appropriation in these regions, because originally it is the men who douse the women, in some regions instead of, in some regions in addition to, the beating, and there are regions where it is practiced as such still.

As a child I loved easter for the painted eggs. I loved the creative work involved with it and it was something to look forward to. But I loathed pomlázka from early on, de facto from as far back as I can remember. I did not like going about begging and beating people. I did not see how it is supposed to be good to spend a few joyful days with my sister and my mother painting eggs, and on monday beat them with a club whilst reciting some verses that have lost their meaning. Well, strictly speaking as a boy I was supposed to skip the painting and do only the begging and beating. Fuck that. Beating anyone with anything is just wrong, even symbolically, and creativity does not have gender.

I see no reason in preserving the tradition, it has no cultural value anymore and it produces nothing of value. Well, the women produce the beautifuly painted eggs, but the men are not expected to do anything worthwhile whatsoever. And in some regions even the eggs are already being skipped and exchanged for shots of booze, so the men instead of coming home with a basket of painted eggs come home drunk as a skunk. I would love for this tradition to die already. I will miss the eggs, but I think they are not worth preserving if the ritual beating is to remain too.

It won’t happen any time soon. What I find the saddest thing about this is that in loathing this despicable tradition I am the exception, not the rule. In fact, AFAIK I do not know a single other person sharing my view.

Edit: Due to my illness I have slightly lost track of time and I thougth it is saturday already. I have decided to leave it as it is.


  1. loplpo says

    When I was a little kid, I didn’t think much about Easter. I wasn’t fond of it but I also didn’t hate it. I considered it to be just a harmless tradition. Unlike you, I didn’t like painted eggs at all. I never understood why someone would take the time to draw meaningless color patterns on an egg. The aesthetics of this tradition was completely lost on me. Although I never accepted the reasoning behind beating someone with pomlázka (“it will make them healthier” etc.), I still did recite some Easter poem (“It’s just a tradition, right?”) and symbolically beat them. And then happily accepted the reward for beating them -- usually some cookies, fruit, chocolate bunnies or sometimes eggs.

    As I grew older, I became more skeptical and I was no longer looking forward the reward. Therefore I lost big part of motivation for celebrating this holiday and after few years I stopped celebrating Easter completely. But, just like you, I don’t know anyone with similar opinion. When I refuse to beat someone with pomlázka, typical reaction is something like “Geez, it’s just a tradition. Stop being so uptight.”

    But the, ehm, mental laziness doesn’t stop here. On the contrary, it gets even more ironic: Lot of Czech people are anti-Islam/anti-muslim and one of the many arguments that gets thrown around is the mistreatment of women in Islam. But those same people seem to ignore the fact that some elements of “our culture” that they’re celebrating so loudly (beating women is beating women, pomlázka makes no difference here) are just as bad as some elements of “horrible Islam” that they’re criticizing just as loudly.

  2. chigau (違う) says

    What a charming tradition.
    I wonder if a new aspect could be introduced;
    the ritual kick in the crotch of anyone carrying a pomlázka.

  3. Jazzlet says

    Chigau your suggestion seems eminently sensible.

    There was a point, maybe in the seventies?, when there was a slew of magazine articles in the UK about paint eggs in the slavic fashion, but there was no mention of the beating of women, I can’t imagine why.

  4. Jazzlet says

    Oh I meant to say sorry that you are still feeling so disconnected and ill Charly. Also to thank you for these posts, I find them fascinating.

  5. lumipuna says

    When I grew up in the 90s, eating roast mutton on Easter had just recently become The Thing in Finland. To me, it seemed like some timeless tradition, but it was actually younger than my parents’ memories.

    As I understood later, most other people didn’t actually like mutton that much -- It was kind of a ritualistic fashion thing. Our old sheep farming tradition had nearly disappeared earlier, people now thought of mutton as an exotic meat and almost nobody had ever tasted good quality mutton cooked properly. We bought cheap frozen mutton from New Zealand, and I liked it, but many others thought it’d be better without the mutton flavor.

    Now, these days we have a growing market (even outside of Easter season) for high quality locally grown lamb -- not so much for mutton, because people still prefer the flavor as mild as possible. Plus now we have immigrants from cultures where eating mutton is actually common. I think they buy from either halal markets, or they buy the frozen NZ stuff (which I hear is also halal nowadays).

  6. says

    I was nodding along (painted eggs, decorated willow twigs) until the beating part.
    Here (broadly in the region) there are some local traditions, like the youth going through the villages with noisy instruments to substitute for the silent church bells and the mostly forgotten tradition of visiting your godparents and getting some sweet bread.
    Personally easter meant that grandma would make noodles, which were delicious, but also great fun as they would hang almost everywhere.
    And of course searching for the eggs. We used to go for a walk and my grandparents would occasionally drop chocolate eggs which we picked up. It took me ages to realise that they kept dropping the same eggs that we faithfully brought back to them.

  7. voyager says

    I rather like having Slavic Saturday on Friday. It’s an unexpected treat.
    I don’t like that you’re still not well, though. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that your current antibiotic will do the trick.

    I don’t know what to say about the Slavic tradition of beating women on Easter Monday. I wonder why it’s tolerated in this day and age?

    When I was young my mother was still quite religious and Easter was a day to go to church and think about Jesus. I don’t think I believed in Jesus even then, but I also always got an Easter basket filled with chocolate and after church we went to my grandparents for a ham and scalloped potato dinner. My Opa used to hide eggs coloured by my Oma in the garden and for every one I found I’d get a few jellybeans.

  8. rq says

    I wonder why it’s tolerated in this day and age?

    Because it’s “funny”?
    I also wonder how much of these beating-each-other traditions go back to sauna traditions (because in some rituals here young women go and hit young men with switches), where the ritual leader will ‘beat’ the other participants with a ‘broom’ or whisk or swatter made from the dried new leaves of trees -- it’s part of the washing process, a kind of massage, but in rituals you change up the kind of swatter you’re using (different trees, plants included, etc.) to ‘beat’ different kinds of things into someone: health, patience, goodwill, etc. It makes sense in context, because it’s always a mutually consensual thing, and not random running around beating other people (women) on purpose because it’s tradition. (Also going to the sauna for these rituals was usually a same-sex activity.) I just wonder if there’s a distant connection.
    But taking this out of the context of the sauna is atrocious and sounds pretty vicious -- I like chigau’s suggetion upthread, that would be a good tradition to revive.

  9. says

    Thanks for the well wishes. I feel better already for a few days in a row, so hopefully the illness is finaly over. My calendrical confusion was just a result of me being at home for six weeks and being in bed most of the time, I had no real need to keep track of which day of the week it is.

  10. says


    In Latvia traditions somewhat differ. Spanking people with willow twigs is a dead tradition. Personally, I have never experienced or witnessed it anywhere with my own eyes. Anyway, in past the spanking happened differently—whichever family member got up first early in the morning got to spank everybody else in their household. In some regions the tradition somewhat differed and only children were subject to spanking—it was somehow supposed to make them grow up healthy. Nowadays, willow twigs are purely decorative; you just put them in a vase at home and that’s it.

    Coloring eggs is a tradition that’s still alive here. Usually people use onion peels for that. With onion peels you get very beautiful dark brown eggs. Since cooking is considered a female chore, it was mostly women and girls who did the coloring, but there was no rule against men and boys joining them. Personally, I’m not into cooking (even when it’s creative and artistic), so instead I get my colorful eggs from my boyfriend who, unlike me, actually knows how to cook.

    I have never experienced people going from house to house, but I grew up in a city, so things might be different in the countryside.

    Easter bunnies are familiar here, they are part of the traditions. A whole bunch of Christian stuff is also familiar here. I’ll skip the details about those. I’m not familiar with anything lamb-related.

    Some take it symbolically only, some take it literally and bruises can be raised, although it is expected to stop short of actually causing an injury.

    Why do women don’t resist? If somebody even tried to hit me, even symbolically, I’d beat the crap out of him. And I’d call that justified self-defense. I understand that women didn’t resist 100 years ago back when they were conditioned to accept abuse, but women who live in 21st century shouldn’t tolerate getting bruises.

    Back when I was a small child, I somewhere heard that spanking children is illegal. That meant I was allowed to fight back. And I sure did. I “won” several fistfights against adults. It usually went like this: Some adult wants to discipline me and hits me. I hit back. We exchange a couple of punches. I absolutely refuse to give up—the more they hit me, the more desperately I fight back, totally ignoring the pain from any hits they managed to land on me. The adult realizes that their attempt to discipline me isn’t working—unless they break all my limbs, I won’t give up. At that point the adult gives up. I have “won” the fight. My ego skyrocketed. In my childish naivety, I believed that I must be absolutely amazing if I won a fistfight against an adult (it took me a while to realize that I wasn’t “winning” these fights, adults simply decided to stop). I wasn’t hurt or traumatized, I was absolutely happy. And did I mention my ego skyrocketed after each failed attempt to discipline me. Thus, as a child, through sheer stubbornness, I converted what ought to have been a traumatizing experience into a moment of triumph. Not that there were many such occasions. My mother attempted to spank me exactly once. The end result was her getting bruises. She didn’t try it for the second time.

    Nobody ever tried to spank me with willow twigs, but there’s no way I would have allowed it if there was a similar tradition where I live. Nobody spanks, or hits, or even touches me without my explicit permission. Period.

  11. voyager says

    Andreas Avester,
    I wish I’d had your spunk when I was young. I can still vividly remember my dad spanking me. He used to make me take my pants down so he could spank me on my bare bum. It was humiliating, which I think was the point. Nowadays, I wouldn’t let anyone switch me with twigs even in fun because it wouldn’t be fun for me. It would make me irate.

  12. says

    voyager @#12

    Nowadays, I wouldn’t let anyone switch me with twigs even in fun because it wouldn’t be fun for me. It would make me irate.

    Yeah, talk about irritating. Nobody has tried to actually hit me for a very long time, but relatively recently I have experienced people making jokes about spanking me. That sure isn’t fun, it’s immensely irritating.

    This is the annoying thing about bad jokes—when I refuse to laugh and complain that the joke was inappropriate, whoever made the bad joke will act as if they were the one who was mistreated by me having no sense of humor and failing to appreciate their efforts to be funny.

    It was humiliating, which I think was the point.

    Yes, humiliation is usually a significant part of abuse. A while ago, I wrote a blog post in which I tried to deconstruct humiliation and how it’s used to maintain control over abuse victims—
    My own take on the subject is similar to my attitude towards spanking—the victim can theoretically refuse to submit. Unfortunately, the society has conditioned people to accept abuse and feel ashamed whenever somebody mistreats us. Thus “refusing to submit” gets harder than it should be.

  13. avalus says

    What a terrible tradition,I hope it goes away.
    I hope you are getting better Charly!
    As a kid I most enjoyed painting the blown out eggs. It always amazes me how light and strong they are.

  14. voyager says

    Thanks for the link to your post. It’s a thoughtful essay and I couldn’t agree more. The causes of shame vary from culture to culture, but the effects of it don’t. Humiliation creates a power imbalance that’s easily exploited.

    My own take on the subject is similar to my attitude towards spanking—the victim can theoretically refuse to submit. Unfortunately, the society has conditioned people to accept abuse and feel ashamed whenever somebody mistreats us. Thus “refusing to submit” gets harder than it should be.

    Conditioning is certainly an important aspect of shame, but I disagree that victims of abuse have the theoretical right to refuse to submit. I think most cultures would refuse that right, even in theory, to children.

  15. says

    voyager @#15

    I disagree that victims of abuse have the theoretical right to refuse to submit.

    If it’s government sanctioned abuse, victims usually cannot escape it psychically. Getting out of a jail cell isn’t that easy. But emotionally and rationally, a victim can refuse to acknowledge their experience as shameful. When it comes to abuse that comes from individuals, there are even more ways how to fight back. For example, sometimes it’s possible to just leave. Or, alternatively, punch the annoying person in their face.

    How we react to abuse and attempted abuse is our choice. We can submit or fight back or ignore it. In my own life, I never submitted, I always either fought back or ignored attempted abuse. For example, if some anonymous online troll who happens to be transphobic attempts to make me feel miserable and ashamed of who I am, I can choose not to yield to them.

    By the way, by saying that occasionally a victim may have the possibility to resist attempted abuse, I am not trying to blame a victim for their unfortunate situation. The blame always lies on the abuser. For me personally, knowing that I can influence what happens to me, is empowering. I don’t have to just passively accept whatever some bullies try to do with me, instead I can turn the tables and make the wannabe abuser regret messing with me.

    I think most cultures would refuse that right, even in theory, to children.

    Where I live, spanking is illegal. The same goes also for anything else that could be defined as child abuse. Officially, my culture says that abusing a child is illegal in the first place. Children who are victims of attempted abuse also have a right to seek help from social workers.
    Anyway, my personal experience with resisting attempted child abuse was excellent—I routinely got away with disobeying adults and nobody tried to mess with me for the second time. Of course, it was convenient that I had the right personality traits; I was stubborn and fearless enough to confront people whose behavior I didn’t want to tolerate. I know that this isn’t the case for most children; I was the exception.

  16. lumipuna says

    I see the willow twig is a versatile device of spring ritual…just to add another local report.

    In Eastern Orthodox culture -- or at least in Finland’s Orthodox minority -- the twigs are given some religious veneration, aside from just decorative purpose. Children might go door to door on Palm Sunday, chant blessings while waving the decorated twigs in air, and then exchange the twigs for eggs (more recently, candy). More recently, this has become a nationwide tradition, mixing simplified elements of the abovementioned blessing tradition, and elements from Swedish Påskkärring, which is very much like US Halloween trick and treating.

    Historically, livestock animals were sometimes “blessed” by lashing them with willow twigs. I guess culturally this wasn’t far removed from lashing women.

  17. voyager says

    Yes, personality traits are a factor in how people deal with abuse, but being able to control your reaction to events is a difficult skill to learn, especially for people who have experienced abuse. Often these people suffer with poor self-confidence and limited self-worth. The personality traits of the abuser are also a factor. If I had spoken back to either of my parents the way you did it would have enraged my father and the punishment would have been swift and severe. Worse than if I’d just accepted the original punishment. It was character building for me, but I was in my late 20’s before I felt comfortable standing up for myself. I left my mother’s home when I was 18 and once I was away from the negativity of that environment my mental health improved, but it took years of hard work to develop the ability to control my reaction to events. First, I needed to develop confidence and trust in my abilities. I think many people who live in abusive or dysfunctional relationships simply aren’t able to resist abuse because their abuser has stripped them of the necessary abilities to do so. Leaving can be difficult for a lot of reasons including access to money and a lack of resources and punching someone in the face seems like a bad idea to me because it escalates the situation. I like your kick-ass attitude, though, and agree that standing up for yourself and learning not to internalize negative thoughts are important life skills.

  18. says


    being able to control your reaction to events is a difficult skill to learn

    Yes, it was somewhat tricky to learn. I sucked at it back when I was 15 years old. By now, I have gotten extremely good at it. I just grew a very thick skin and stopped caring about some things. Practice makes perfect. Not that I’m prefect at it, but I’m good enough to deal with all the crap a person is likely to experience though their daily life.

    especially for people who have experienced abuse

    Yeah, I was lucky in this regard. I have experienced numerous failed abuse attempts. Mostly at school from children who wanted to bully me; later, after publicly coming out as genderqueer, also from transphobes. The key is that I always won against every single wannabe bully. This gave me an immense amount of confidence. Being a public speaking teacher/debater and a martial arts practitioner also helped—I know that majority of people wouldn’t even be actually capable of hurting me.

    If I had spoken back to either of my parents the way you did it would have enraged my father and the punishment would have been swift and severe. Worse than if I’d just accepted the original punishment.

    My mother was exactly the same as your father. Whenever I argued with her or fought back in any way, she got incredibly angry. Nonetheless, I often intentionally chose to escalate the conflict. I and my mother both knew that she was powerless to do anything to me. In my country, a parent simply cannot take their beaten-up child to a hospital and get away with it. On top of that, any abused kid could also simply take a phone and call a social services number that was regularly advertised on national television. My mother knew very well that I didn’t fear getting hurt or being in pain, the threat of pain simply didn’t work to make me obey. The only thing my mother could do to me was yelling at me. When I was 5 years old and she got angry and yelled at me, it hurt me immensely. As I got older, I simply stopped caring about all that noise she made every now and then. By the time I was a teen, seeing that nothing works on me, she got desperate and started to threaten to kick me out of home. I quickly figured out that her treats weren’t serious (she did love me, she wouldn’t have done that for real). By the time I was in my late teens, I had established myself as the head of the household.

    As a child, I observed that if I established a reputation of being somebody who doesn’t give a fuck about pain, then nobody tried to hit me repeatedly. All it took was a single fistfight during which I refused to yield or cry, and afterwards the same person wouldn’t get into a second fistfight against me. Therefore, I simply accepted that it was necessary to escalate conflicts for the sake of demonstrating how tough I was. Sure, those fights hurt, but I had the satisfaction of knowing that I have secured my peace and comfort for the future. My strategy was the same also for school bullies who tried to abuse me verbally. I intentionally escalated the conflict, then I won either by publicly trash-talking the bully or by simply refusing to show any fear. Once some person realized that I couldn’t be intimidated, they left me alone. Of course, on most occasions I faked it. I faked not caring about physical pain, I faked not being afraid. I even faked being confident. As time went by, I actually became pretty confident for real.

    Of course, escalating conflicts can be risky. It was safe for me to do this with my mother (a physically weak woman who didn’t even know how to fight properly) or my classmates (just a bunch of pathetic wannabe bullies who didn’t even know how to properly dash out verbal abuse). It would be an entirely different situation with a mentally unstable guy who is physically strong and capable of beating me to death.

    I used to occasionally fight as a child. I haven’t done that for a long time by now. It annoys me immensely that I’m stuck with a weak female body (gender dysphoria), but in reality escalating conflicts towards violence is a stupid strategy. Whenever I’m dealing with adults who try to annoy me, it is sufficient to state in a calm but firm voice that I’m not going to tolerate abuse. So far that has always worked for me. Actually, even expressing confidence as part of my normal behavior is sufficient to stop attempted abuse before it even begins. Funny fact—all the catcalls and groping I have ever experienced was from complete strangers. People who have interacted with me in person even for two minutes don’t even think about provoking me like this.

    learning not to internalize negative thoughts are important life skills.

    This one is immensely important. Especially in a world full of online trolls. Personally, I try to remain cheerful by convincing myself that I don’t have to care about all the usual trans issues that I commonly experience, that some things are trivial and not important enough to be worth worrying about. I just won’t allow wannabe bullies to make me miserable and unhappy. People might succeed in discriminating me, they might direct some insults my way, but they don’t really have that much power over me, because it’s up to me whether I allow any other person to take away my joy of being alive or not. Therefore, I prefer to not worry about certain kinds of problems and instead focus on the things that I enjoy in my life.

    One of my tricks is to rationally deconstruct my experiences. If I feel some negative emotion, I try to rationally analyze why I even feel it, and I often conclude that it is irrational for me to feel that emotion in the given circumstances, and this usually helps me to reduce the intensity of the negative emotion. A simple example: somebody tells me an insult, which makes me feel sad and upset; I ask myself why do I even care; I conclude that I don’t need to care; this conclusion somewhat improves how I feel. This is exactly why I wrote that article about shame. In it I laid out my thought process step by step about how exactly I convinced myself that I don’t need to feel ashamed. I pretty much rationalized myself out of being able to feel humiliated, I actually no longer feel this emotion in most cases. I have no clue whether this can possibly be helpful for other people, maybe it’s only me who can think myself out of feeling negative emotions. But who knows, maybe my experience could help somebody who is struggling with shame.

Leave a Reply