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September 21, 2021



How Easter has been celebrated among Roma of Slovak or Vlax origin in the Czech Republic

21.4.2019 16:33

Easter is the most important Christian holiday. It is based in the Latin term Pascha, which is translated as the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

According to Christian belief, the resurrection happened on the third day after the crucifixion. Easter is celebrated all over the world and also involves longstanding traditions based in pre-Christian celebrations of fertility and spring.

Folk customs associated with Easter differ locally, understandably. For that reason we have interviewed three Romani women to familiarize you a bit with something about the Easter celebrations in the Czech Republic of Romani people originally from Slovakia as well as the Vlax traditions, which belong to that most specific group of Roma.

Libuše: The meaning of Easter is being lost

I like remembering Easter, as a little girl I helped Mom cook the Easter dishes. If you imagine that we ate potato salad with cutlets, open-faced sandwiches and I don't know what all else, then you'd be surprised.

That [Czech] food had no place on Romani tables. Today it's more the domain of young Romani people who are not upholding traditions very much or who don't honor them at all.

Before Easter our family fasted, but there had to be meat on a Romani traditional table. The morning began with dzeveli - roasted homemade sausage with eggs.

Mom would bake marikľe - Romani bread - on a hotplate to go with it. We ate breakfast together.

The fragrance of sweet strudels called shinga wafted throughout the house. They were stuffed with curds, plum jam and poppy seed.

Some people also put cherries in those. We couldn't afford a beránek [a Czech Easter cake in the shape of a lamb], those were different times.

The chicken soup had to be strong and served with homemade noodles called trepanki. Chickens were stuffed, and even brisket, which was something for the men.

Holubki were either dark or light green cabbage leaves stuffed with three kinds of meat and baked in the oven. The day before Easter Monday, we colored eggs.

Mom couldn't afford dye, she made everything herself. She reached into the cupboard for coffee beans and made the dye in no time at all.

She put coffee into the boiling water and then carefully laid the white eggs in it. They were beautifully brown in an instant.

The same was done with onion skins - red onion skins dyed the eggs pink and yellow onion skins died them beige. We had beautifully colored eggs.

I remember the elderly Romani men from the neighborhood who came over to wish us Happy Easter. They stood outside the front door and wished us good health for the entire year, that we would live in accordance with God's commandments and mainly, that we would be satisfied.

Then they sprinkled perfume or water on the women's heads. The women would return the favor by pouring them a shot of something good and they could help themselves to whatever food they liked.

They always had to tear off a bit of marikľe with a pinch of salt, though, otherwise it wouldn't have been correct. The children from the neighborhood sometimes came to sing Easter carols as well.

You see, today it's been 25 years since somebody rang our doorbell on Easter. Its meaning is being lost, even though it's the holiday when we recall all that Jesus Christ did for us.

We should also remember our loved ones who are no longer with us. We go the cemetery and pray for their souls every year on this day.

Monika: All our relatives get together on Easter

As children we used to travel to Slovakia to celebrate Easter, and our family from Austria and Germany would travel there too. I remember how on Good Friday we all abstained from eating meat, because that was the day the Son of God was crucified.

We don't eat meat again until Easter Monday. Usually we celebrate Easter at the home of a family member, where all of our relatives gather.

We all bring food. We have burgers, cutlets, potato salad, and from the traditional Vlax dishes we have perkelt with parado chumer or horejzo arnenca, which is something like risotto with eggs.

For dessert we bake, for example, rejteški with kiralesa, darasa, makosa, lekvarasa, kirešenca - in short, baked goods filled with curd and everything from plum jam to poppy seeds. We also serve beránek or mazanec (hot cross buns).

From our old customs it's worth mentioning bathing in the river on Easter Monday, which is where the Vlax Roma used to go to be healthy for the rest of the year. Today we color eggs, but that wasn't a tradition before.

To this day the men still go around wishing Happy Easter, but "just" those from the family. For us it's not the custom that people from the neighborhood would come wish Happy Easter, or that musicians would come to play music in front of the house, like the Moravian and the Slovak Roma do.

The older men sprinkle a few drops of perfume or water on the girls and women. Today I also see little children carrying the pomlázka [a Czech tradition of braiding willow branches into a whip, which is used by boys and men to spank girls and women].

My family still fasts and cooks traditional cuisine. Unlike the Slovak Roma we do not go to the cemetery on holidays, but we remember our dead.

Veronika: We have always had more of a Czech Easter

I'm half-Romani and in our family traditions were not much upheld. We have always had more of a Czech Easter and still do.

Today we bake beránek. Before it was either mazanec or a wreath that was decorated with painted Easter eggs and ribbons.

We baked Easter stuffing, and it was best with baby nettles. We put pussy willows in a vase for protection.

My parents, mainly Dad, knew how to braid a willow whip, but I never learned how. We ate hard-boiled eggs, baked chicken, rabbit, and home-made bread.

Dessert was jidáše [a baked good of spiral or S-shaped yeast dough] spread with honey. Back then we used to go to Holy Mass and light candles for our ancestors, but today we don't go to church anymore.

The boys from the neighborhood would walk from house to house singing Easter carols and scaring the girls with their whips so they won't "wither up and die". In exchange we would give them either money or sweets.

Sometimes they used water, but usually there was just a symbolic beating with the whip. If I had to compare Christmas and Easter, while they are both Christian holidays, Christmas is the one I feel closer to.

Jana Telváková, Rena Horvátová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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