by Martina Čermáková
Not too rarely, you’ll find the Czech Easter whipping tradition in one of those stories on odd holiday traditions featured in the corky-news section. From my experience, anyone who’s just learnt about the spanking of girls and women with braided willow sticks (pomlázkas) that goes down on Easter Monday will see it as that: an awkward cultural mainstay that’s probably no fun for the female population.
Within the Czech Republic, though, the pagan tradition of boys and men whipping females in exchange for eggs and ribbons doesn’t seem nowhere near as disputable as foreigners might deem it. The most recent poll carried out by Unilever this April shows that just 4% of Czechs oppose Easter customs.
Though Easter comes packaged as a happy-bunny time marking the coming of spring, as a child, I’ve always though one could do without April. Already as a six-year-old, I’ve faked sore throats and high fever–though not very successfully–to avoid having to open the door of our
panelák flat, butt out, to strange boys. But it had to be done. It was a tradition, after all. As much as my family presented this to be a good thing for a girl, since the pomlázka whipping is said to ensure fertility and good health over the next year, I remember trying to reason out what fertility meant and how the twig whips translated into good health. (Also, I disagreed with my brother getting all the candy eggs.)
Though, to be honest, I didn’t have it bothersome as my parents’ and grandparents’ generation, when it was more common, especially in smaller villages, for older men to go around whipping women for a shot of booze. In their drunkenness, these “carolers” proved obnoxious to deal with and difficult to oust from the house.
Long story short, my grand escape came at 11 years of age when I moved to Holland and never had to deal with the demeaning pomlázka tradition again. Dying eggs and baking a lamb cake actually became a pleasant, anxiety-free Easter ritual. These days, we only celebrate Easter in a very watered-down way that involves a chocolate
bunny for everyone. Mom will stock up on candy eggs–a hard-boiled egg is like giving an apple to trick-or-treaters–and open the door for the kids, who aren’t just boys these days. Residing on the fifth floor in the heart of Prague, I am happily safe from anyone ringing my door on Easter Monday.