Easter time is coming! If you hadn’t already guessed by the abundant bouncing bunny, cute chick and egg-shaped chocolate displays plastered throughout your local supermarkets, we’re here to remind you of it — and of 7 Easter Celebrations in Europe you can’t miss.
We all love a good party, but throughout Europe, Easter time isn’t always celebrated in a uniform manner. Sure, we all love the Lindt rabbits that have become a hallmark of the holiday, but local customs, traditions and, of course, theologies have manifested and evolved into a multitude of diverse and eclectic range of festivities.
With the uni break coming up, why not check out some of the eggciting celebrations taking place at your doorstep? Here are the top Easter celebrations in Europe you cannot afford to miss!
Spain: Semana Santa
9-15 April 2017
Easter Week, or Holy Week (Semana Santa), is a big deal across the Spanish-speaking world, but in Seville the celebration takes place with the most gusto. Famed the world over, the tradition of Semana Santa can be traced back to the 14th century, cementing the holiday firmly at the heart of Spain’s cultural and spiritual heritage.
During the holiday, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, the city is any photography enthusiast’s dream, being draped in more than 100 fancy floats adorning ornate images and life-size tableaux of Christ and the Virgin, which are carried by a 60,000-strong army of hooded members of 57 religious brotherhoods, known locally as the cofradías. It’s a sight not to be missed.
The most important of Seville’s Semana Santa processions takes place at midnight on Maundy Thursday, when Seville’s six oldest and most respected brotherhoods parade through the streets in a sombre procession, stopping at each of the city’s churches. The emotional event can draw in a crowd, so to be sure to get a good viewing platform, pick up a copy of El País newspaper — they publish a daily route leaflet, highlighting the churches and recommending viewing spots throughout Sevilla.
Portugal: Ecce Homo
Date: 13 April 2017
Unlike its neighbour, Holy Week in Portugal is more of an intimate affair with many families holding their own private ceremonies at home. As a mostly Catholic nation however, religious festivities are still of great importance and therefore, as a visitor in the North of the country at that time, the city of Braga offers a great cultural insight for those seeking enlightenment. It’s probably also a good time to climb to Bom Jesus and check the view!
Dressed with beautiful street altars clad in flowers and glistening lights for one entire week, the city of Braga is a picture-perfect destination to witness the religious celebrations. The Ecce Homo procession on Easter Friday, which commemorates the burial of Christ, is the main event, and the coffin-bearers are the main attraction. As part of the ritual, a team of hooded, barefoot coffin-bearers wearing purple tunics carry bowls with flaming pine cones and re-enact a burial in honour of Christ. While the atmosphere can be somber, the feeling of community and unity can be felt throughout the crowds.
Date: 30 April 2017
Rumour has it that many of the modern day customs associated with Easter, such as decorating eggs and the much loved Easter bunny find their origin in Germany, home of fairytales and famous folklore. And in true German tradition, there cannot be just one celebration to travel for during this time, but rather a handful of bizarre and wonderful festivities taking place throughout the country, including the summer day parade of Sommertagszug, or the plentiful Ostermarkts dotted throughout the cities.
While it’s not strictly Easter related, what better way to see out April than on top of a mountain amidst witches and warlocks? That’s right, according to local myths and legends, witches, warlocks and all things wicca convene on the last day of the month, known as Walpurgisnacht, at different locations throughout the Harz Mountains, before flying off to the city Brocken on broomsticks, where they recount the year’s evil deeds.
While the peasants used to hang amulets of crosses or herbs outside their homes to serve as protection against the devil’s advocates, nowadays locals use the occasion to dress up in homage to the haunted and dance around homemade bonfires.
Norway: Sami Easter Festival
Dates: 8-17 April 2017
If you’re looking for another change from the tradition Christian Easter celebrations, but witches aren’t really your thing, why not head to Northern Norway and embrace the way of life of the semi-nomadic Scandinavian indigenous people: The Sami.
During the Easter long weekend, the Sami in Kautokeino hold their annual Easter festival showcasing Sami life, music, film and the much anticipated World Reindeer Racing Championships. Yes, that’s right, get up close and personal with Santa’s chauffeurs and experience another side to Scandinavia that you never knew about — visits to the Clauses, however, aren’t a viable option, as currently their workshop is engrossed in full operation until the end of the year.
Italy: Scoppio del Carro
Date: 16 April 2017
Italians are world-renowned for their love to express emotion and what is more fitting than for the city of the arts, Florence, to celebrate Easter by putting on a dramatic performance for all city dwellers to revel in?
Taking place on every Easter Sunday, the Scoppio del Carro, literally “the explosion of the cart”, is a local feat involving a 30-foot tall antique cart packed with fireworks being hauled by a team of white oxen across the city. Chaperoned by 150 soldiers, musicians and revellers costumed in 15th century dress, the crowds light up the path from Porta al Prato to the Piazza del Duomo in anticipation of the evening’s events.
If the sound of that alone doesn’t peak your curiosity, the loaded cart houses a wire that stretches all the way to the altar inside the Duomo, so that as soon as the final Glooorrria!, from Vivaldi’s Gloria in excelsis Deo has been performed during Mass, the archbishop can light a fuse to ignite the fireworks and commence a blessed display to symbolically illuminate the upcoming year by guaranteeing a great harvest. Mind and pyrotechnics Blown.
The Netherlands: Koningsdag
Date: 27 April 2017
While birthday celebrations for royalty are supposed to be a highly civilised and refined affair complete with Earl Grey tea, scones, clotted cream and jam, the land of hash cookies guarantees a day deviating from the norm.
In celebration of the King’s birthday, which falls close to the Easter holiday, the atmosphere of the nationwide holiday in Amsterdam promises to deliver a wild and wonderful celebration of music, madness and mayhem.
Street markets and parties, live music, dense crowds and lots of beer pour out into the street, only to be masked by the hordes or celebrants painting the town orange around and in the canals — the customary colour for all attire in tribute to the former King William of Orange.
Greece: Leonidio Balloon Festival
Dates: 8-16 April 2017
In similar form to all other practising Christian nations, during Easter, every church in Greece hosts religious services on Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday to honour the life, death and sacrifice of the messiah. However, a tradition not practised as commonly among the other counties, several regions throughout Greece adapt the tradition of releasing hot air balloons in celebration of the return of JC.
Set on the serene Peloponnese, the city of Leonidio is the go-to destination for a spectacular Greek Easter. For centuries, hundreds of handmade, homemade balloons are let off to light up and illuminate the sky on Holy Saturday, in accompaniment to burning effigies of Judas that light up the land below.
According to local accounts, the tradition dates back to the 17th century, when sailors who were fascinated by an equivalent Asian traditions of releasing lanterns into the air, and incorporated it into their own religious rituals to celebrate the Resurrection. And as no Greek celebration could be complete without some smashed crockery, it’s customary for city-dwellers through the town to cast clay pots full of water from their balconies to the floor below, to crash in harmony with the bell tolls from the local church to welcome Easter Sunday and the return of the Son of God.
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What other Easter celebrations do you know of in Europe? Let us know in the comments. And remember: if you need student accommodation, you’ll find the perfect student home you’re looking for on Uniplaces.