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Holy Week: Global Traditions

Updated: Mar 28

As we enter one of the holiest weeks of the calendar year, many around the globe will practice cultural customs and family traditions centered around the events of the cross. Some will be believers or nominal believers, and many more will be unbelievers ignoring or overlooking any religious associations. Whether you are a follower of Jesus who thinks these holiday practices honor our Lord and Savior or are more pagan in nature, it is important to remember that Holy Week lends a supernatural softening of the hearts of unbelievers to be more open to hearing the true Gospel of Christ. This gives great opportunity for us as believers to share our faith gladly and invite them to celebrate the atonement of Jesus.   

While customs and traditions can breed familiar contempt or indifference, they can also be a source of identity bearing fruit. Our kind and loving Creator God has set eternity in every human heart - a natural curiosity and longing to know Him intimately, even in ignorant darkness. So that even these seemingly playful customs and ritual traditions can be used to point unbelievers to Him in a more meaningful and authentic way should we be open to the opportunity to invite others into our celebrations. Please take a moment to appreciate the symbolism within these unique global celebrations that may potentially spark a heartfelt spiritual conversation with your ethnically diverse neighbor. Paying attention to commonalities that can help bridge conversations.

  • France: Chocolate church bells replace bunnies representing silence until Sunday’s celebratory peals and lamb is the traditional Sunday meal. Additionally, beyond Napoleon folklore, a unique 3-day festival takes place in Bessières, France where a giant omelette consisting of 15,000 eggs is made on Easter Monday and distributed to festival goers as a celebration of community and friendship.

  • Australia & New Zealand: Because both countries are located in the Southern Hemisphere, Easter is celebrated in the Fall instead of Spring. Hot cross buns are popular with the Kiwis and since rabbits are considered to be a pest, Australians celebrate with a similar looking endangered animal called a bilby.

  • Guatemala: Having just 24-hours before Good Friday, artist from the town of Antigua paint the streets in colorful “carpets” made from sand, flowers, sawdust, fruits and vegetables that can stretch a half-mile long and depict nature imagery and biblical stories as a sacrificial act of detail and time.

  • Bermuda: People celebrate Good Friday by eating cod fish cakes, hot cross buns and flying homemade decorated kites to illustrate Jesus ascending to heaven.

  • Ethiopia: Christians celebrate Fasika, which is a 55-day fasting period (similar to Lent) of meat and meat products leading up to Resurrection Sunday. A somber vigil is held the night before, but when morning comes a celebration of music and dancing occurs amongst family and friends.

  • Greece: Orthodox believers forgo pastel-colored eggs for a bold crimson red to represent Jesus’ blood, rebirth and his triumphant return as the Son of God. Every year at noon on Holy Saturday on the island of Corfu, locals having decorated their windows and balconies in red flowers or ribbons throw large clay pots filled with water from their balconies to smash on the ground at the sound of church bells ringing. This noisy festival is said to represent the earthquake following Christ’s resurrection.    

  • Hungary: On Easter Sunday, an Orthodox tradition called locsolkodás (loosely translated “watering”), women dressed up in traditional clothes are playfully splashed with water or more modernly spritzed with perfume by men throughout the day as a symbol of baptism or fertility depending on views. In return, women give the men either a painted egg, a sweet treat or a shot of alcohol. The now controversial tradition is also practiced in Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine and the Czech Republic possibly taking it a bit further by “lightly whipping”girls with pomlázka switches adorned with ribbons to encourage good health and beauty in good fun.

  • Poland: Traditions include Easter cleaning of the home (similar to Spring cleaning in the US), blessing baskets full of food that are taken to church on Saturday before Easter, elaborately decorated eggs called pisanki and a fun game involving egg fighting where people knock their hardboiled eggs together to see which egg cracks first.

  • Mexico & Latin America: Catholics use satiric humor to burn or explode with fireworks an effigy of Judas in public squares as punishment for his betrayal of Jesus for money on Holy Saturday. Effigies are more likely now to be depicted as horned devils to illustrate destroying sin, since the practice is condemned by Jews for being antisemitic.

  • Germany: Beginning on Good Friday, fires are lit everywhere as small as a candle to as large as a bonfire to symbolize Jesus as the light of the world.

  • Spain: A week long celebration called Semana Santa (Holy Week) is filled with processions full of elaborate relics, art, somber reenactments of the the Stations of the Cross and joyful celebrations of the resurrection honoring the Passion of Jesus Christ.

  • Philippines: Pabása is the uninterrupted reading, chanting or singing of an epic poetic narrative called Pasyón (Passion) about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection during Holy Week. The verses are structured in five-line stanzas, with each line containing eight syllables and each stanza chanted or sung in only one breath. This song preserves oral tradition memorized and passed down from illiterate generations, members of rural villages or inmates wanting to participate wholeheartedly in Christ’s Passion during this week.

Have you experienced any of these global traditions for Holy Week? Do you have a unique cultural or family tradition that is your favorite to celebrate this week? Tell us in the comments below.

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