It has been three years now since our South African-American family moved to Croatia, and we are approaching our fourth Easter in this country
Once again, we can experience and compare traditions and differences from the various countries where we have lived. Admittedly it is an imperfect comparison, because as protestants we have no experience of the traditions the catholic majority share here. We can simply compare our own family traditions and what we observe from our respected countries in general.
In America, any celebration is exploited to the extreme – often a mixed blessing. While Easter is a Christian celebration and tradition, many secular aspects have been added. Families fill Easter baskets for their children with gifts and presents, they hide them the night before, and on Easter morning the children hunt through the house and garden to find them. Easter eggs originally symbolizing new life and resurrection – are hidden for Easter egg hunts, a tradition followed by all. These are hosted by families, churches, and now entire communities! Especially elaborate Easter outfits and hats are often bought to wear for the day as well.
Christians will usually attend a Sunday Easter service followed by a big family meal. And often nominal believers will honour the tradition they have normally abandoned, leading to church services being unusually full on the day. Many churches produce special programs and productions of the Passion Play for people to experience, sometimes over the entire weekend.
Growing up in a Christian American household, my own family strove to maintain a balance of both faith and fun. While we always received a chocolate Easter bunny and experienced family Easter egg hunts, my parents desired the focus to be on Christ. We would read the story of the resurrection together, attend church, and celebrate with our extended family over a big lunch. Many times we participated in some of the local productions sharing the Passion Play over the weekend.
In South Africa, summer has come to an end and schools take a two week vacation from their summer school semester. While various faiths and practices are observed alongside Christianity, Easter is a four-day weekend starting on Good Friday. This time is mostly spent with family, and if the weather is nice it is often by the sea. Traditional foods like hot-cross buns and pickled fish are popular. Chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs are hidden for children to find, and Christian church services are unusually full. Overall it is a time of extended rest before the cold weather hits.
In Croatia, schools are closed for a week and families often take a short holiday together. Both catholic and protestant churches are full, and in our protestant churches there is usually an extended time of celebration and often a shared meal together following the morning service. It is a time of both rest and celebration here. While we celebrate with our church, our family continues to observe and create our own traditions and memories. We hide chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs for our young boys to look for on Easter morning. We make resurrection rolls filled with marshmallows that dissolve, leaving an “empty tomb” inside (and creating a sweet treat!) We read the Easter story together and share a special family meal.
Unfortunately with the presence of COVID our observation of Easter here is and has been limited when it comes to traditions. But we hope as we continue to live here that our experiences of Croatian culture and Easter traditions will grow and expand!
By Danielle Thomson