I’m the sort of person who loves tradition. I romanticize the good ol’ days, all the while fully embracing the power of the internet.
But sometimes, there are traditions I’m not so sure about, like the whipping and water-dousing of girls on Easter in Slovakia.
Ok, ok, I’m being a bit dramatic.
This is a tradition originating in pagan spring rituals, bringing beauty, youth, and fertility to women. So we can blame the pagans. Different areas of Slovakia have various ways of ‘improving’ their womenfolk; nothern and eastern parts mostly douse with water, western areas are heavier with whips, and some people like to mix both.
Easter Sunday starts out lovely. Old grannies bring baskets of food to be blessed after church. Breakfast is a delicious plate of smoked ham with horseradish, boiled eggs, and ‘lost chicken’, a baked mixture of ground meat, wet bread, and lots of parsley.
Lunch is the classic Slovak celebratory meal: a clear, brothy, bone soup with thin egg noodles and vegetables followed by schnitzel, creamy potato salad, and piles of sweet baked goodies.
In the evening, however, events start taking an ominous turn. Earlier that day or Saturday, males of all ages have gone out and cut willow branches. Sticks have been sitting in glasses of water, and now they are pulled out and plaited into whips, called šibák (shibak) or korbáč (korbach).
Some fancy ones have 14 strands, simple homemade ones 8. Wire or tape holds the bottom together while a knot finishes off the top.
Monday morning each girl, young lady, mom, and grandmother is greeted with a circulatory-improving whipping and/or awakening dousing with water. She automatically goes into a standing fetal position, hoping her legs don’t get whipped. While (usually gently) whipping the girl, the boy chants a rhyme ending with with a call for the girl to give him something.
And there’s the rub! For her beautifying treatment, the girl ties a ribbon to the whip and is expected to give the boy a sweet treat or money. I’ve heard that back in the day a girl had one special coloured egg that she gave to her favourite boy, but now every male gets a prize (we wouldn’t want other other boys to feel left out now, would we? *sarcasm drip,drip*).
I have a number of nephews, and Monday morning they go traipsing around town gathering candy and money, while the girls stay at home waiting for the next caller. I’ve always thought this was rather unfair, but I guess life isn’t fair.
Each year I watch my girls to see how they take it. So far, they are caught up in the fun and activity, passing out chocolate eggs and playing with cousins. When it dawns on them that this tradition is rather one-sided, I’ll start making them special Easter Monday baskets as my sister in law does.
Older girls have told me that your coolness was related to the number of boys who came knocking – the more boys came, the higher you were on the cool-o-metre.
I personally prefer the whipping to water and, if you’re smart like my mother in law, you wear your coat all morning. Maybe all the whipping works though – Slovak women are well known beauties after all.