Wednesday, April 7, 2010


It’s the Wednesday after Easter, which we spent at the in-laws in South Bohemia, and I have just about recovered from the orgy of eating it involved. Not that this way of celebrating one of the key days in the Christian calendar is anything new for me.

When I was a kid in England the main way Easter seemed to be celebrated, certainly by everybody I knew, was to eat chocolate eggs and their contents till we either threw up or exploded. Even my father, not normally renowned for possessing any chocoholic tendencies, had a weakness for the type they used to make Easter eggs, which he claimed was a superior variety to the stuff he showed little interest in during the rest of the year.

Here chocolate perhaps plays rather a lesser role, and most of that in the form of rabbits rather than eggs. Instead, people tend to commemorate the crucifixion of Our Lord by eating lamb, something they almost never eat at other times of the year, or, failing that, a sponge cake baked in a lamb-shaped cake dish.

But the most enthusiastic celebrations of Easter, which take place on the Monday, are purely pagan, which is perhaps no great surprise in what is, apparently, statistically the most Godless country in Europe, together with Iceland. Posses of males roam the streets from early morning till noon, each armed with a tatar, a whacking-stick made of plaited willow wands and decorated at the business end with ribbons. Here's one as depicted by the great chronicler of Czech life Josef Lada:

They visit houses and use their tatars across the buttocks of the females they find there, who reward them with either painted hen’s eggs, like these:

or, in many cases, alcohol. In Slovakia, instead of this the guys often spray the women with either perfume or, less romantically, water, which prompted a young lady from there who I taught to write to me: “Today was Easter. I do not like Easter. The boys came to my house and irrigated me.”

The symbolism of this, while crystal clear, is also a source of great horror to many people who come here from places where strong notions of politically correct behaviour are in the ascendant. When I first got here I too was aghast at what I think I then categorised as an act of sexist physical aggression, but since then I’ve seen my ex-mother-in-law, a very dignified retired medical doctor in her sixties, skipping round the living room and giggling like a tipsy schoolgirl as a singer from the local opera house whisked her fundament with his tatar and with great gusto, and Lenka has made it very clear that it’s part of my duty as a good husband to give her at least a symbolic seeing-to, and these days I’m not so sure. Cultural sensitivity, innit?