One of the best ways to broaden your horizon and to discover new worlds is to travel around the holidays. Thus, if you go beyond the universal and artificial “traditions” that give each major holiday a commercial overtone you can observe habits that express the true nature of a culture. The next major holiday to expect is Easter, so let's take a look at a few places where it's worth spending – but first, let's take a look at its origins.
Today, Easter is the celebration of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But before him, it was a pagan festival to celebrate the resurrection… well, not of a person but nature.
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?ostre (or Ostara) was a Germanic fertility goddess, associated with spring, and the month of April was bearing her name. Germanic people, including the pagan Anglo-Saxons, held fests in her honor during her month, a habit replaced by the Christian Paschal month, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.
Easter comes with a couple of traditional foods consumed in its honor – in many countries, these are the eggs and the lamb. Eggs are in many areas considered a symbol of new life, and are part of spring holidays in many countries – even non-Christian ones like Iran, where they are part of the Nowruz (the first day of spring). Lamb meat is a tradition carried over from the Jewish spring festival Pesach (Passover), celebrating the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt.
Some countries have pretty curious Easter traditions. In Hungary, for example, lads gather to visit the girls in the village and sprinkle them with water as a fertility ritual (today, water has been replaced with perfume, and the visits are limited to female friends and relatives). In Sweden, children dress up as påskkärringar (Easter hags) and visit the houses of the neighbors asking for treats (much like American kids do at Halloween). In Finland, it's traditional to light bonfires on the Saturday before Easter to drive evil spirits away. And in the Philippines, the devoted will have themselves crucified to share Christ's pain.
The best Easter destinations
To observe some of the most uplifting and unique Easter traditions – that involve penitents in pointed hats (capirote) – you should visit Seville, the capital of Andalucia. Here, you'll have the chance to witness their processions that involve elaborately decorated floral floats, Jesus and Mary statues, and brass bands walking slowly from their parish churches to the cathedrals and back.
Barcelona is one of Spain's best city break destinations in the spring, and it's perfect for an Easter getaway with processions and festivals all around the city.
Rome is another traditional destination during Easter, a great time to discover the city and to see the Pope during the special mass held in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican. Some of the traditional events to follow here during the holiday includes the ritual procession commemorating the stations of the cross – Via Crucis – next to the Colosseum or to attend the Pope's Saint Peter's Square address on Easter Monday.
Paris is also a great place to spend Easter – the most romantic city in the world. Among others, you can center your visit on the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral, where you can attend both religious celebrations and laic events like concerts, lectures, and other events.
And if you're looking to boost your vitamin D levels after the long, harsh winter, you can always choose a Mediterranean destination like Cyprus, Crete, even Morocco, and soak up some sun.