How Easter looks depends on where you are

| Saturday, March 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

While Easter is a time of deep reflection and prayer for all Christians worldwide, different cultures practice a range of traditions to acknowledge the season.

While the commercialized concepts of chocolate bunnies and candy baskets common in America factor into some celebrations, other customs can include everything from public performances to surprise dousings.

In Poland, one must watch out for surprise sprays of water delivered by family and friends on Easter Monday.

“You could be sprinkled, or you could be drenched,” says Eva Tumiel-Kozak of Point Breeze, board member of the Polish Cultural Council and a native of Poland.

The celebration, called migus-Dyngus, is symbolic of spiritual cleansing and new life. People carry spray water bottles, which, sometimes, also contain perfume, and spritz unsuspecting passersby.

In Poland, as in several other countries, people bring their Easter meals to church for the annual blessing of baskets. These baskets are filled with foods rich in religious symbolism, like ham representing abundance and eggs indicating new life. Many churches in America also offer the blessing.

When it comes to eggs, there's more than PAAS. Many Polish people practice “pisanki” and create ornate eggs covered in elaborate patterns and vivid colors, a practice common in several countries — although spelled differently, depending on the region.

“They're beautifully decorated. It's very artistic,” Tumiel-Kozak says. “There are various possibilities using the old techniques. It makes them very special.”

In Greece, eggs don't get nearly as much detail. Most Greeks dye eggs only red to represent both joy and Christ's blood, says the Rev. Christopher Bender, dean of Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Oakland. Greeks hold cracking contests in which they tap their eggs against someone else's. Whoever doesn't break the shell wins. It can get competitive, Bender says.

“Different people have different ways of holding it,” he says with a laugh.

This year, those of the Greek Orthodox faith will celebrate Easter, called “Pasha,” on May 5. It's standard practice for Greeks to attend a candlelit midnight service during Holy Week. In Europe, the light originates each year from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Every year, the flame is flown from the site to other Orthodox countries where it's used to light the candles of fellow faithful believers.

“Light represents the Resurrection,” Bender says. “It's very exciting to witness. Everyone comes out to get their candles lit.”

In Germany, festivities for every major Christian holiday last two days, says the Rev. Horst Bandle, a German native and pastor-in-residence at First Lutheran Church of Pittsburgh.

“The first day of the holiday is strictly for church,” he says. “The second is for family and visiting.”

Many popular Easter traditions originated in what is now Germany, dating back to days when pagans held an Eastre festival each spring centered around the hare. Eastre was a German goddess of spring, dawn and fertility, and eggs were plentiful during the festival. The Eastre festival occurred around the same time as the Christian celebration of Christ's resurrection, and the two melded to become Easter. The use of rabbits and eggs was incorporated into the new holiday.

“These traditions carry on and on,” Bandle says.

In the Czech Republic, where Maryann Sivak is from, one ubiquitous Easter symbol is a decorated whip called pomlázka, which is woven from pussy willow branches and decorated with ribbons.

This centuries-old Easter tradition dates back to pagan rituals and involved “whipping” women and dousing them with water.

“This is done to drive bad spirits away and promote their youth and beauty,” says Sivak of Edgewood.

The men are rewarded by a painted egg, called a kraslice, and a ribbon tied around their pomlázka.

Czech Easter food includes dill stuffing, sweet bread (mazanec) made with almonds and sponge cake made in the form of a lamb (beránek) drizzled with chocolate or white sugar icing. Judas cake and Boží Milosti (celestial crust), a type of doughnut drizzled with honey or granulated sugar, are desserts.

Residents of Susan Blaze's native Mexico celebrate differently, depending on the region where they live. Some worshippers re-enact Christ's crucifixion by tying someone to a cross with rope. Some cities perform silent processions from one end of town to another.

In other parts of the country, it's tradition to construct a large piñata in the shape of an unpopular politician and set it ablaze in the town plaza. The custom started with a piñata in the likeness of Judas and evolved over the years.

“It's always on the TV and the news,” says Blaze, 48, now of Canonsburg. “It's the popular thing to do.”

In Andy Quayle's home of the Isle of Man, located between Great Britain and Ireland, churchgoers attend Easter services at sunrise on hilltops. The tradition is rooted in the belief that these early-morning worshippers would see the sun bow in adoration to the risen savior.

Quayle, 33, now of Munhall, remembers attending these services. But he gets most nostalgic when describing the Easter treats of his native country. Easter eggs are much bigger there, some up to 9 inches tall, and are filled with all variety of candies.

“British are crazy about Easter eggs,” he says.

Many immigrants can find a taste of their home countries around the Pittsburgh region. Hot cross buns — rich, spiced tea cakes — are an Easter staple in Quayle's homeland that he can get in most American bakeries.

Enrico Biscotti, an Italian bakery in the Strip District, makes Easter pies, which are like quiches with Italian meat and cheeses, eggs and cream, in a pastry shell; Ricotta pie, also known as Italian cheesecake; and Easter bread, a brioche, braided and glazed, with a colored egg.

Owner Larry Lagattuta, 56, a second-generation Italian-American, says in Italy, Easter is spent like any other Sunday and everyone goes to Mass. On Easter Monday, people pack up baskets and go off into the country to have a picnic.

“It is a real springtime holiday,” he says. “Every park is full of people enjoying the new spring.

“There is an Italian saying: ‘Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi.' It means, ‘Christmas with your family, Easter with anyone.'”

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com.

Boží Milosti (Celestial crust)

This recipe comes from Maryann Sivak of Edgewood. Her family comes from the Czech Republic.

Preparation: 30 minutes

3 tablespoons butter or 3 tablespoons margarine

1 egg

2 egg yolks

1 Tablespoon light cream

2 12 cups sifted all-purpose flour

14-cup sugar

1 lemon, grated rind

3 tablespoons grape juice or 3 tablespoons sweet fruit juice

Granulated sugar

Fat (for deep frying)

Cream butter and sugar, beat in egg and egg yolks, beat in cream, grape juice and lemon rind. Gradually stir in flour. Wrap dough in wax paper and chill for 30 minutes. Divide dough into 4 parts. Roll each part thinly on floured board, the thinner the better. Cut into 1-inch squares. Drop into hot fat (375 degrees), fry until golden. Drain on absorbent paper, sprinkle with granulated sugar or honey. Serve hot or cold.

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