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Czech Republic, Slovakia: Whipping Girls and Other Easter Traditions

Easter is a very important celebration both in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, called Velikonoce – from Veliké noci or Great Nights. Although the religious connotations of Easter were suppressed under the communist regime, nowadays Czechs and Slovaks are again aware of the strong Christian background of Easter, although they regard it as mostly fun times. Many traditions are still observed, especially in villages. Several bloggers have been describing some of them.

Prague Easter
Easter by Nic Hyland, used under a Creative Commons Lincense.

Green Thursday

The Thursday before Easter is the day of the last supper, when Jesus Christ feasted with the apostles on lamb with bread and wine. Because of that, it is usual to bake lamb for Easter, but now real lamb often gets replaced with gingerbread lamb replica. The Journeys of Captain Oddsocks explains that Green Thursday is so called “because of the long green robes worn in church and the spinach and cabbage traditionally eaten on the day.” He also describes the customs of the day:

… customs include the boys’ game Chasing Judas, and the baking of twisted spiral buns representing serpents, the symbols of betrayal. In some villages there are processions led by a captive Judas in a straw suit which is ceremonially burnt at the end of the day. When sprinkled into a clean jug of water, the ashes of Judas were believed to have special powers including the abilities to guard against fire and protect the health of livestock for the coming year.

Easter Sunday

The Journeys of Captain Oddsocks describes Easter Sunday as “the big day”:

The day that Christ rose from the grave, the day of new life cleansed of suffering and victorious over death. The morning is for attending church services, (the bells having returned from Rome) and the early afternoon is set aside for a great feast. After the meal it’s time to visit relatives, and in some places to ride in a horseback procession through the countryside with blessed twigs to ensure fertile fields for the year ahead. While the men and boys are out gallivanting around on horses, girls are at home decorating eggs in preparation for the following day.

Easter Eggs
Egg Time by Semmi, used with permission.

Easter eggs are called kraslice, from the old Czech word krásný, meaning red, which was the most common colour used for dying. The designs are usually very intricate and, as The Foreigner's Guide to Living in Slovakia points out, “some eggs are even decorated by using a drill and hollowing out portions of the shell”. In fact, the techniques used to hand-paint and decorate them are truly an art form, and there are even competitions for the best kraslice and a museum dedicated to the craft.

During the weeks preceding Easter, Czech and Slovak cities have street markets selling kraslice, gingerbread lambs and other Easter items, such as the one in Prague's Old Town Square, photographed by My Czech Republic Blog.

Red Monday

Easter Monday practices, involving boys pouring water over girls and lightly whipping them with braided branches, are the most controversial of Easter traditions. As The Foreigner's Guide to Living in Slovakia explains, “if you are not Slovak and didn’t grow up around these traditions, you might find them at best—odd, at worst—barbaric.”

Easter Pomlazka
What? by Laura Appleyard, used under a Creative Commons license.

So what happens exactly on Easter Monday? The Czech Daily World explains the pomlázka whipping tradition:

Throughout the day men (usually in groups) visit their female relatives and friends and spank them with special whips. [...] These whips are hand-made from willow rods, the length ranges from 50 centimeters to two meters. There are ribbons at the end. There used to be a tradition that women would add their own ribbons so the whip would say how many women the particular man has already visited but this seems to fizzle out. And women are chased around (if they decide to make it interesting or to play along), or they just stand motionless and the male visitors would spank her butt. However, it should not hurt. Or at least not throughout the whole procedure.

The Foreigner's Guide to Living in Slovakia explains why willow branches are used to make the pomlázka (which is called korbáč in Slovak): “It is the first tree that ‘wakes’ in spring and, according to folk tradition, the fertility and vitality from the branches were thought to flow into the woman during this act.”

Czech Mate Diary explains the exchange taking place during the whipping:

If you were one of the first houses the mob visited, you were lucky: the guys are still kind of sober, kind of polite and kind of mellow. You let them into the living room – or better – just a hallway, give them some refreshments, offer them more vodka and let them “spank” you. If they still have their egg baskets, you would also stuff couple of eggs in them and if you are lucky they leave afterwards.

Pomlazka whipping
Pomlázka whipping in the village of Hříchovice, near Pilsen.

Tischler's in Prague posted an article from the Prague Daily Monitor on an American woman's reaction to the tradition:

…men and boys [...] go door to door singing Easter carols, demanding “treats” (eggs, chocolate, liquor, or a peck on the cheek) and the right to beat the women with their pomlázka whips for good luck. While my female students said they generally enjoyed decorating Easter eggs and preparing Easter sweets, none seemed too fond of the pomlazka or gendered traditions.
[...] Being both female and a foreigner, I presented a problematic situation. Should our hostess offer me chocolate eggs and liquor as she did her male friends? Should she offer me nothing? In the end, I was given a warm welcome and a glass of red wine.

In addition to whipping, Easter Monday also involves dousing. According to The Journeys of Captain Oddsocks, in some regions the girls get their revenge on Tuesday when it’s their turn with the whips, while in other regions they return the rejuvenation with a bucket of ice-cold water. In Slovakia, however, it seems that it's the girls who get watered on Easter Monday. The Foreigner's Guide to Living in Slovakia explains the ritual:

…it’s customary for the girls and women to stay at home while the boys and men, usually dressed in nicer clothing and sometimes even in kroj – traditional costume, go from the residence of one relative to another, bringing greetings and intending to oblievat’ – to “water” the female relatives present. Water is the symbol of life and the pouring of water is a gesture meant to bestow year long health and beauty. Some use a spray of perfume instead of water, or both.
Isn’t that nice? The women folk get watered and whipped while the men get fed and given drinks, and the little boys are given money or chocolate in exchange for their work of the day. Just so you know, being watered can range from having a teaspoon of warm tap water dribbled over you (my personal experience), to a bucket of frigid well water thrown at you.

  • masihi banda

    Nowhere in the Bible it instructs you to beat young girls on Easter. What an ugly tradition! It’s a degrading tradition of filthy old men so that they can watch young girls squirm and thus satisfy their libido of perverted imagination. Women are a wonderful creation of God Almighty made equal to men. In this case, men who abuse women are trying to prove their manhood through the attitude of lust. A man does not live by genitalia alone; rather the worth of manhood is upheld by the love and respect a man holds for the gentle gender.
    To demean women is to demean your mother, your sister, your aunt, and your daughter.
    All such old traditions are worthless and should be banned once and for all. These ugly traditions were once a part of all religions where women were demonized and held to a subservient role. But not now, we live in a modern world where democratic rules apply. The women have the power to change old traditions by the simple majority they hold in the world.

    • dear masihi banda

      Who talks about bible? These tradition goes way back before the christianity; we don’t follow any written texts, just common sense :) Thanks for defending women though, thumbs up! But I think, there are women in the world, who need a real attention and are really abused, like in muslim world, on daily bases… This is not really problem you should be focused on, don’t take life too seriously. And I’m saying this as a Slovak woman, aka I’ve been there in the front row, since the little girl, to see, what you’ve just read about on 21st of february 2010… So let me tell you a little secret – it’s real fun, specially avoiding it (water and korbac :)), what I successfully managed all my life. It’s not like we are some victims waiting for punishment, actually, we can be as fierce as our men… I would never think, I would be defending our men one day over our easter customs :) but here I am, just to set things straight! Our men don’t do us any harm on Easter, they wouldn’t dare :D They have to spent the rest of the year with us, don’t they? It’s just a little piece of our slav warrior barbarism, in the nicest possible way, I can assure you. And all Slovak women have a choice, it’s not mandatory or something by the book (it never is with us), it’s pure fun, nothing dirty or whatever you’ve imagined…peace out :)

  • Xabi

    This Eastern I had the chance to live the tradition in Slovakia and I can say that the feelings this tradition inspired on me were opposed. By one side you enjoy watering the girls, but in the other, being Spanish and not having anything similar back home, I had certain feeling of transgression. Spanish feminist (specially our equality minister) would kill you for that without asking. The whipping are made cheerfully and with respect (it is not a punishment). Girls sometimes run and get to get wet some of the men. I could see that girls were waiting anxious for their favourite visitors. Slovak men are not very talkative and this tradition is a good way to get to know them. It is good for both, men and women. After the game, there is talking, laughs, jokes,… indeed, the watered girls fill the cubes of men for them to go to other houses. I think that to criticise or celebrate this tradition is neither healthy nor fair, because we have different perception and education. I personally prefer much more this tradition, that to make children of 9 years old to be models in a walkway and make them to have Barbies as an example of beauty and style of life.

  • Mjergen

    Nope, “krásný” means “beautiful” or “pretty” in Czech.
    It is in Russian that “krasniy” means “red” and “krasivi” means “beautiful”.

    To everybody else : I was born in Slovakia, raised in France and now live in Czech. There’s a gigantic contrast between Czech & Slovakia (and more generally, Eastern Europe) and other countries. France for example doesn’t have traditions, doesn’t have a common and shared *history* when it comes to celebrations. The Alsace region in the East has its own, Germany-influenced habits and customs, Bretagne in the West has some of its own, of Celtic influence, including its own dialect (!), the Toulouse region in the far South of France near the Spanish border has its own Spain-inspired holidays and feasts…

    So when I see a whole country (namely, Czechs and Slovaks but the entire Poland, Hungary and other Central Europe countries) coming together, enjoying the same tradition all together, it is really a great experience. For one weekend, the entire Central Europe becomes one large community.
    People have their Monday off, so they usually visit their relatives at the opposite side of the country. The Easter tradition here also consists in cooking a calf-shaped cake called beránek (“beran” = “ram”, the male sheep), so friends and families share their recipe secrets and bring their own bakings to those they hold dear, to share it. Most of the families living in the urban areas also own a small cottage in some rural area near the city where they invite friends for this extended Easter weekend, do some barbecuing, light a campfire, etc…
    Assuming that I’m talking to American folks, I could compare its importance to your Thanksgiving tradition, which I believe is observed throughout the entire USA (and Canada ?) and which brings all people and families together, even when they’re spread out amongst several states.

    Now, as far as the “beating” or whipping part that upsets you is concerned, it is not a beating per se. First and foremost, on the Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning, women take their revenge and are the ones to water & whip men. This being said, you use the willow whip with only the same force as a magician would tap his wand on his hat, maybe slightly stronger. However, douchebags are sadly everywhere, so you’ll be also able to find individuals who’ll take the whipping way too literally. Bear in mind however that the whipping part of the tradition is not meant as a means of punishing or chastising. Girls and women who have not been visited and whipped will rather feel insulted and frustrated. The whipping is meant as a wishing of strong health, youth and fertility. Men come with *whips* with whom they *touch* girls in the lower half of their body (calves, thighs, buttocks) and ONLY IF girls consider that the guy has done a good enough job, a satisfying job, as a reward, give out hand-crafted and hand-painted *eggs*.
    Come on people, this is foremost only a mating ritual, could there be any stronger phallic and fertility symbol at all….?

    This whipping on Easter is but a part of a group of traditions aimed at parting with the winter and welcoming the spring, the rebirth of Nature after its winter sleep, and so on. It usually begins early April with the drowning of Morena, which is a representation of winter or the Slavic pagan goddess of winter herself. People get rid of her so that spring can come. Then, they wish girls youth, strength and fertility at Easter, as Nature awakens. Finally, it usually culminates with the erection of Maypoles (in villages and rural areas boys sometimes even erect a Maypole in front of the house of the girl they wish to court) and the Walpurgis night, here called the “burning of witches”, in the night from April 30th to May 1st.

    I see this article dates back from 2008, so I don’t get my hopes up as to being read by a lot of people. If however I helped shed some insider’s insight and a different point of view, then it is all I wished for.

  • Czech girl

    I would like to make clear that all the Easter whipping is just a game. Well, there are men who are drunken and cruel. And this is bad. I fortunately don’t have this experience.
    But most of the times it is just fun. During the week before Easter Monday there is a fight and banter between men and women. Boys say: Hey, on Monday we will beat you up! And girls: No, you won’t! Hi hi:D And if you will I will throw ice-cold water on you! Boys: And you think you will catch me? etc.
    And on Easter Monday… It’s still a game! Yes, boys whip girls. But it doesn’t hurt. It is all about screaming “No, no! You can’t! Go away! I will put some ice bricks into that water if you won’t stop!” That’s all:)

    • http://www.facebook.com/jeppe.christensen.33 Jeppe Christensen

      And how can you know the girls really don’t want it, if their rejection and screaming are parts of the game?
      What will happen with the drunken and cruel men, you are talking about? Will they be arrested and convicted of harassment and violence?

  • mm

    This is very disturbing to me. It is never OK to strike another person, whether it is a tradition or not. One writer says that 8 out of 10 woman like it, so the boys leave the 2 girls alone who do not like it? I don’t think so, I think they do it to all indiscriminately of whether the girls consent or not. This sends a terrible message to boys and girls that it is OK to do things to girls and women against their will. I hope this tradition is replaced by something that does not involve doing things to people without their consent. I am sorry if I offend anyone, but most cultures have had to let go of old ways that were oppressive and most are also still working on evolving more all the time. Just because something is a tradition does not make it acceptable. Please my sympathies to all the women who are forced to submit to male domination against their wills, in all its forms.

    • Jerry

      Dear mm and other contributors who don’t like this custom,
      what is disturbing is the fact, that some people like to talk and write without knowing what they are talking about. It demonstrates a great deal of ignorance, maybe even something more serious.
      I am Czech and consider this custom a beautiful one, especially if one knows a little about its history and origins.
      It is encouraging to see that many people would agree with me. Thank you.
      Obviously, the original article suffers from the fact that the writer does not know much about the subject. The linguistic and etymological comments (krásný, etc.) required editing long time ago.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jeppe.christensen.33 Jeppe Christensen

        What happens if the girl says she does not want it?
        Will the men do it anyway?
        If the men do it without the girl’s consent, will the men being arrested and convicted of harassment?

        • MaeD

          What? Harassment? Arrested? :D I’m a Czech woman and even men were drunk, when I refused, they never “spanked” me during this day. They tried to talk me into it, because it is a tradition and after all, wast majority of woman don’t mind it. It is supposed to bring you youth, good health, fertility. I don’t mind it either, but sometimes is nice to use the power of a woman’s no and let them sweet talk their way into this. Btw. if someone really beat you, and you called police, they’d get arrested, but I have that yet to see. No one aims during that day to physically harm you. I haven’t seen or heard of even single reported Easter whipping attack on a woman. No one gets arrested for light gentle swatting on your butt and not leaving any marks. Is your choice to open the door. Don’t want to participate? Don’t open the door, simple! Btw. this tradition ranges from place to place. Tradition at our place was, when those guys were late coming to Pomlazka and found themselves in front of the woman’s door past noon trying to gain entry, they were the ones who got blessed with bucket of cold water. Lovely payback and I always looked forward to it. Sorry to answer two years late but I was looking for some article to explain our traditions and found this. :)

  • Richard

    Hi,
    Good traditions in Slovakia, I regard Pomlázka as an interesting tradition, I live with an Slovak girl who is really nice but cheeky sometimes during the year so each time she behaves bad I remind her about “Pomlázka” and put it down in a book so when April comes she receives deserved whips according to the severity but don´t think bad since I am not cruel at all, so it is just a game simply…there are many interesting things/traditions in the Slovak culture (I adore Milukash).
    greetings from Peru for everybody
    Richard

  • Richard

    by the way, that Slovak girl is my girlfriend and I have never known such a nice, kind, beautiful and bright woman in my life, I thought that Europeans could be cold and serious different to latins but I was wrong, I feel myself blessed for living with her and I am really fond of learning slovak traditions and language as well…
    Long life to Slovakia!!!

  • Rubinstein

    Nothing wrong about this tradition if it remains a game and nobody is hurt.
    A bit like in the birthday-spanking tradition.
    But if men would hurt the girls, this would be abuse and the girls would be entitled to complain at the police !  A traditional game is Ok, but it shouldn’t turn into non-consesual sadomasochism.
    It ‘s a little bit similar to the problem of student initiations/ hazing

    • http://www.facebook.com/jeppe.christensen.33 Jeppe Christensen

      And what if the girl really don’t want it? What if she refuse to let the men do it?
      Would the men just say “It’s probably just a part of the game. This is all just for fun. She likes it, but she pretend she does not want it. Let’s do it in any case”?
      Are the ladies also do this with the men, or is it only the men who can do this?

      • MaeD

        Again, you refuse, you refuse. Nothing happens, no one touches you. Don’t want them come? They have to gain entrance to your house, so just simply don’t open. With opening the house you’re participating in the tradition.

      • Yanai

        Look, I’m a Slovak girl and I don’t know any girl or woman, who would refuse that much, that she would call the police XD…and even if she would not like guys to pour water on her, she wouldn’t open the door or would hide under the bed :D And if they pour some water on her though she doesn’t want it, she’s usually just pretending that she doesn’t want being poured, because when a boy comes to her house on easter monday and whip her a little or pour some water on her, it means he adores her at least as a very good friend, if not something more ;) I really enjoy easter monday, though I have to change several times :D

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