Unusual Traditions – Field Note about Culture

Abstract: In Slovakia there are a number of strange traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. Because this country is so old, many people don’t know one reason why some traditions exist!

Introduction: Easter is a very special time of year in Slovakia, because this country is very Catholic. Slovaks begin celebrating it in full swing on the Sunday before Easter, which is Palm Sunday. Villages have Easter markets where people sell dyed and carved and painted eggs, as well as gingerbread and chocolates! The markets are a bunch of little huts placed in line in the town square, and often there are bands and folk dancers performing. Some people even reenact Palm Sunday, and walk down the village square with palm fronds shouting and jumping. While the celebration of Easter is really fascinating, it’s the day after Easter that you have to watch out for…

What tradition did I learn about? Dyngus day, or Oblievačka as it is known in Slovakia, is one of the most bizarre traditions I have experienced in Slovakia. On the Monday after Easter all over Eastern Europe young men dressed in traditional folk attire walk around the villages with woven willow branches. They go to the houses and ‘whip’ the women on the back of their legs with the branch. This symbolizes good health for the coming year. The women then pay the men in candy and painted eggs and tie ribbons around the willow canes. When I first heard of this tradition I was appalled or upset, but the ‘whipping’ isn’t really violent. Many girl students of my class enjoy the holiday, especially when her “crush” comes over to pay her a visit.

Why does this community have this tradition? This tradition has existed for a very long time, and is meant to symbolically wish the men and women a healthy year without evil spirits. Slovak culture is a very superstitious culture, meaning that they believe in jinxes and bad luck. In some parts of Slovakia men don’t ‘hit’ women with the willow canes, but instead throw buckets of water on them to cleanse them of evil spirits. In the Czech Republic, a country to the north of Slovakia, women throw buckets of water on the men.

Like many Slovak traditions this one too has natural origins. Slovak culture is very connected to nature, and most people here enjoy nature daily by going on long walks in the woods. Oblievačka is meant to give the young women good health and prosperity throughout the year. The canes are made out of willow branches, which is a tree used to make traditional medicines, such as teas and balms.

 

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