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Easter around the world

It’s Easter, filled with bunnies, egg-hunts and springtime treats, so we thought we would explore what Easter means to cultures around the world, through objects from the Horniman’s collections.

Polish Easter Eggs and decoration

In Poland, Easter is celebrated according to the Western Roman Catholic calendar. On the week before Easter, Palm Sunday (niedziela palmowa) takes place. Bunches of dried flowers and branches are brought to church representing palm leaves (said to have been scattered in front of Christ as he rode into Jerusalem) because palm trees are rare in Poland. The Holy week proceeds with spring-cleaning and families will decorate their homes in representations of Jesus’ tomb.

On the Saturday before Easter, the tradition of egg decorating, pisanki takes place, a tradition that’s more than a thousand years old. One technique to decorate the eggs is to apply wax, which would then be removed after dying. Another tradition is to make Easter baskets, these contain foods such as eggs, ham and cake. 

Easter Sunday consists of attending church for many to see the resurrection mass ceremony, before the meal and sharing of Easter chocolate. On the final festive day of Easter, known as Śmigus-Dyngus (Wet Monday), boys have traditionally thrown water over girls and hit them with willow branches. Girls traditionally returned the favour the following day.

  • Pisanki , Decorated egg, 'pisanki' , Horniman Museum and Gardens
    Decorated egg, 'pisanki' , Horniman Museum and Gardens

  • Dough lamb with flag, Dough lamb with flag, 2016.111, Horniman Museum and Gardens
    Dough lamb with flag, 2016.111, Horniman Museum and Gardens

  • Paper Easter chandelier, straw spider, Paper Easter chandelier, straw spider, 13.6.56/4, Horniman Museum and Gardens
    Paper Easter chandelier, straw spider, 13.6.56/4, Horniman Museum and Gardens

Paper Easter chandelier, 'straw spider', is a festival decoration made of straw and pieces of coloured paper. Decorations of this type were made during the Easter and Christmas periods and suspended under the ceiling beam. When spun by the wind, the decorations were a great attraction for children.

Easter in Russia

Did you know that Easter in Russia can fall in either April or May? This is because the dates are based on the Julian calendar, which differs from the Georgian calendar that most Western countries use.

All chores should be done the week before Easter, in the Holy Week. In Russia, Easter is called Pashka (Пасха) - one theory is that this derives from Greek for ‘I suffer’, signifying the transition Jesus made to from death to eternity.

As in Poland, Russia also has the tradition of decorating eggs, but this is done on ‘Clean Thursday’. Traditionally these are painted red using red onion skins and represent resurrection and new life. 

  • Lithograph of Easter customs, Lithograph of Easter customs, nn17390, Horniman Museum and Gardens
    Lithograph of Easter customs, nn17390, Horniman Museum and Gardens

The Easter witches of Sweden

In Sweden, children dress as påskgumma, the Easter witch or hag, and as with Halloween and trick-or-treat, the children knock on doors in exchange for sweets and drawings with Easter greetings on them.

In Swedish folklore, witches would travel to Blåkulla to dance with the devil on the Thursday before Easter, Maundy Thursday, and to prevent witches from starting journey people would hide broomsticks and set fires to scare them off.

  • Easter witch 31.10.60/3, Easter witch, 31.10.60/3, Horniman Museum and Gardens
    Easter witch, 31.10.60/3, Horniman Museum and Gardens

The Semana Santa and Pascua – Easter in Mexico

In Mexico, Easter is celebrated across two weeks: the Holy Week, Semana Santa, and Semana de Pascua, Easter week.

Processions and festivities take place on Semana Santa, and these activities change depending on the regions throughout Mexico.

It begins on Palm Sunday with the Blessing of the Palms, but really gets underway in earnest on Maundy Thursday, when there may be a re-enactment of the last supper, alongside services.

Church bells are usually silenced for the three days of Easter and people are called to church services by the use of a large wooden clapper also called a Matraca. Good Friday is marked in many towns and villages by the performance of a Passion Play, but it is Easter Saturday that most children look forward to.

On Easter Saturday large paper figures of Judas are stuffed with fireworks and paraded through the town, before exploding. The noise is added to by the spectators with Matracas. Easter Sunday is the highlight of the week when church attendance is high, and there are noisy celebrations in front of the church.

Semana de Pascua begins in the second week of Easter. This week has a light tone and celebrates the beginnings of Spring. Many Mexican families travel to the coast to pay tribute and enjoy the festivities.

  • Painted tin toy bird, matraca, Painted tin toy bird, known as a matraca, HC.1999.1386, Horniman Museum and Gardens
    Painted tin toy bird, known as a matraca, HC.1999.1386, Horniman Museum and Gardens

This painted tin toy bird, known as a matraca, or Easter rattle, painted black and pink with fake fur neck. Makes noise when rotated. Matracas are part of Easter Sunday celebrations in Mexico when paper figures of Judas are burnt, accompanied by fireworks and the noisy whirring of the matracas.

Australia and the Easter bilby

In Australia, Easter has the same traditions as many Western countries like hot cross buns and the extravagant roast dinner but did you know that the Easter bunny is represented by the Easter Bilby?

The Bilby (Macrotis lagotis), a small rodent-type animal, is used by many to raise awareness for the endangered animal.

Rabbits are seen as unlucky as they devastated the crops for farmers and are not indigenous to Australia.

  • Bilby , Bilby, Sadaka
    Bilby, Sadaka

Why not come and celebrate Easter at the Horniman? There are lots of events and activities happening throughout spring.

Join us in the Horniman fun for the Easter Fair on Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 April and identify the morning songs of birds in Dawn Chorus Walk on Saturday 4 May.