Every time I mention our Slovakian Easter tradition to Americans, they look at me with horror in their eyes and their mouth wide open. They expect me to say I am only joking, but I am not. It indeed is the most absurd and still practiced way of celebrating Easter that I have ever heard of, hands down. As a child and teenager, I couldn't make up my mind if I enjoyed this tradition or not. Today, as an adult, I am glad I live in America and don't have to undergo this madness, even though it can be quite fun and exciting. What is this tradition that I speak of? Every Easter Monday, men gather together and go house to house to visit every female they know: family, neighbors, and friends. Their mission is simple: to pour as much water on all women, one by one, as possible. It can mean anything from an elegant spray of perfume on a female's neck (should you be so lucky) to glass or bucket of water thrown on you (most common), to drenching you fully clothed in a shower (once a while). And if your house happens to be near a small river or creek, there is a good chance you'll be taking an involuntary dip. This is called "oblievacka" or "getting soaked." This Slovakian Easter custom doesn't discriminate against age. Unlike Easter activities in America and Western Europe, which are mostly for children, this tradition is for all ages. The fun is designed for the whole family, although I think the men enjoy it the most. Depending on how many visitors stop by the house, as a woman, you will be changing your outfit several times that day. Once enough water is thrown on a woman, it's on to part two of the men's task: they take out their whips, usually handmade from young willow trees and decorated with colored ribbons tied at the end, and they proceed to whip you. Yes, you heard right. I said they whip you while reciting Easter rhymes and well wishes. This part of the tradition is called "sibacka". As a thank you, a woman will tie another colored ribbon on the whip and offer the man a hand-painted egg and some homemade cake, and perhaps a shot of liquor. The more ribbons a boy or man has, the prouder he can be. By now, you are probably shaking your head, but I can assure you this is a legal, normal, and accepted way of celebrating Easter in Slovakia. Overall this is a very joyful occasion, with a lot of excitement, screaming, chasing (since women would not voluntarily jump fully clothed into the shower or river). And if you are a teenager and a boy you fancy knocks on your door, there is a good chance he likes you as well, especially if you get soaked through and through.
The rest of the Easter celebration revolves around food. The Slovakian classics are served during Easter Sunday lunch and throughout the rest of the holiday. Some of the delicacies include smoked ham soup (one of my favorites), homemade Paska Easter bread, ham, schnitzel, cold potato salad, and many savory and sweet cakes and desserts.
This four-day celebration starting on Good Friday will bring you back to work on Tuesday, super clean, whipped for good luck and health, and completely stuffed with all the delicious Easter goodies.
Happy Easter everyone….and good luck to all Slovakian (as well as Polish and the Czech Republic) women during these holidays!
Written by: Viktoria Rusnakova & Samuele Bagnai, authors of Enthusiastic All the Way & Tuscan Who Sold His Fiat to the Pope, respectively.
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