Easter is celebrated in different ways across Europe. Countries like Hungary, Poland, Estonia, Slovenia and Germany have unique Easter traditions that you may not know about. But is it just a holiday that observes Jesus Christ’s resurrection and marks the beginning of the spring season? What about the chocolate bunny? Across Europe, Easter usually consists of basket blessings, colourful eggs, bread, cakes, sausages and big family gatherings. In this article Orest Franchuk delves into the "religion vs. tradition" issue. Learn what Easter really means to young Europeans.

Photo: Julia Vogt (CC-BY-NC-ND)
In many European countries Easter involves painting eggs and eating chocolate bunnies

To discover the current state of Easter celebrations, I interviewed five young Europeans from different countries. First I took on the topic:

What does celebrating easter mean to young Europeans?

To Mare, from Estonia, Easter means no more that a nice vacation. In Estonia they have a week off from school and it's a pleasant time to get some rest.

 Barbara from Hungary goes hiking and celebrates the coming of spring. She does not like the Hungarian traditions such as egg tapping or Wet Monday, when guys throw buckets of cold water over girls to make them healthy for the rest of the year. Nevertheless, Barbara enjoys the food that is part of the celebration.

 Kristi from Slovenia says that for her "Easter is more like a tradition. I like it that the whole family is home and prepares for the holidays. We make all the traditional food together and go to church." She enjoys the warm atmosphere when her family is together. Kristi doesn't go to church because of religion – it's a part of tradition, a routine she and her family go through every year.

 Poland remains religious till the present day. For Ziemowit, Easter is the most important holiday in his religious calendar. He's grateful and happy: "Luckily in Poland it's still rather about religion than marketing, especially in comparison to Christmas."

 Christian from Germany compares the two - Christmas and Easter: "although Christmas is not extremely important to me either – in some ways it’s more important to me than Easter."

How do you celebrate Easter, and why?

Although not religious, Mare loves dyeing eggs with her little brother. She does it only out of tradition and because it's fun to play with food. "Sometimes the eggs turn out beautiful too," she jokes.

 My other interviewee, Barbara, just loves hiking with friends and family - and she still finds a bit of time to search for presents and eggs in the forest.

A typical Easter day for Kristi consists of colouring eggs, making "potica" - a traditional sweet bread from Slovenia - then going to church and eating lunch together with her family.

“There's nothing special about celebrating Easter for me, apart from going to church. When it comes to a more "secular" side of celebrating I simply stick to the tradition," says Ziemowit from Poland.

Christian does not celebrate Easter although he enjoys the "date and time of the year". As a very artistic person he admires the coloured eggs, especially with geometric decorations.

A typical Easter day for Kristi consists of colou ring eggs, making 'potica' - a traditional bread from Slovenia - then going to church and eating lunch with her family.

Does the religious aspect have a big effect on you?

Mare says that the religious aspect doesn't have any meaning for her. Explaining the reason, she says: "When I was younger they always showed boring movies on TV about Christ and it annoyed the hell out of me."

Contrary to Mare, Kristi thinks the religious aspect should have a stronger meaning for us. She believes: "We should try to make Easter more interesting to youngsters."

For Ziemowit Easter is much more important than Christmas. "If you look at our lives – it's always more important to rise up or be resurrected," he says. The religious aspect of Easter is a lot clearer, and is almost tangible to Ziemowit in comparison to Christmas.

Image: Calafellvalo (CC BY-NC-ND)
Many people forget about the religious meaning behind the Easter celebrations

Christian is not religious, or as he says "rather anti-religious". But he has he lived and been socialised in a religious environment. Hence religion for him is interesting as a phenomenon and part of culture. He remembers: "Religious tales as well as Easter eggs are part of my childhood memories. But I guess they're transforming."

From my experience of talking to people about Easter I discovered that now quite a few people think there is a tendency of commercialisation. Maybe Easter is partly losing its the religious aspect. This motivated me to ask the young people the following question:

Do you think we are losing Easter traditions? How has Easter changed over time?

Mare thinks we might be losing the religious side of it as people are becoming less and less religious. However she thinks that families still enjoy dyeing eggs and eating Easter chocolate. Mare hopes that will remain.

Barbara agrees that we're losing not only Easter traditions but mainly the religious side. However she considers: "It's up to people. If they want to keep it religious they can take care of that. I do it my own way and I think it is okay to do so." Barbara also believes that Easter has changed a lot; it has become more impersonal and unfamiliar.

Kristi from Slovenia thinks a little differently. She is sure the tradition is not changing. According to Kristi, we are slowly losing the holiday spirit: "We are forgetting what the main story behind Easter is."

In Poland quite the opposite is the case. Ziemowit tells us: "It's definitely changing but in Poland people appreciate typically Polish Easter traditions."

People don't care anymore about religion but we still value things like being home with the family, having some nice food and a nice vacation.

In Germany, probably as in many other western countries, Easter seems to have rather broken loose from its religion aspect and is subject to extensive and often annoying commercial ambitions. Christian is annoyed to see Easter eggs and rabbits in the supermarket by January. But that has become common sense and is happening every year. "Maybe then Easter becomes more superficial and even superfluous. I reject that, but I don’t reject the shrinking role religion plays in my society," says Christian.

Only two of these five young people are more or less religious. They celebrate it the traditional way with all the religious rites and ceremonies and are strict about the details. Others exclude the religious aspect and want to celebrate Easter their own way. In this article we can see two ways young Europeans celebrate Easter: from anti-religious Christian - who respects the tradition - to religious Ziemowit, for whom Easter is the most significant holiday. From my side, as a Ukrainian, I can only add that Easter means a lot to me, especially the religious aspect.

Is Europe changing then, or is it us? We lose traditions mainly because we're losing ourselves. People don't care anymore about religion but we still value things like being home with the family, having some nice food and a nice holiday. There's no right or wrong answer.