Easter in Slovakia: Whipping and Watering Women
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.
May 07, 2014 @ 15:15:13
As an American woman this seems a little bizarre, but nonetheless interesing. Your photos and anecdotes are fascinating. And, of course, your recipes are inspirational. Thank you.
May 07, 2014 @ 16:58:25
Seems bizarre to me too! Thanks so much for your comments, I really appreciate that you enjoy this little space.
May 08, 2014 @ 09:15:17
Hahaha!!!! Bez toho posledneho just kidding by to bolo lepsie!!!! ale nie! vies co, mne sa najviac nepaci na tejto tradicii, odhliadnuc od bizarnosti toho celeho, ze sa to vyzdvihuje vyssie ako cela Velka noc, lebo Velka noc by mala byt o zmrtvychvstalom Jezisovi a nie o sibacke. ale momentalne sa ovela ovela viac propaguje tato hlupa tradicia. dost ma to trapi. s celym tym trapnym procesom sibania som sa zmierila, ale s tymto sa asi nezmierim.
Apr 01, 2018 @ 11:48:57
take it easy Eli, it suppose to be fun, not DOMESTIC ABUSE…
May 27, 2014 @ 17:23:39
Hi Naomi, it’s always interesting for me to read, how non-Slovaks are dealing with our traditions. 🙂 I’m slovak living in Switzerland and happy, that my girls have learned about Easter Bunny. Thanks for sharing.
May 28, 2014 @ 06:38:25
It’s definitely different, that’s for sure! My girls have the benefit of all our traditions, we do a Easter egg hunt too. You must have had to adapt to new traditions too!
May 28, 2014 @ 22:10:00
Yes and I somehow like it. We have mixture of painted eggs and chocolate eggs. What I miss is “bryndza” as we love “bryndzové halušky”. Is there some food you miss?
May 29, 2014 @ 06:31:41
Have you tried mixing sour cream with feta in a food processor? I think that would give approx results.
Yes! I miss the availability of international foods. I can buy most things now but it’s more expensive and I have to make a special trip to BA or a bioshop.
May 29, 2014 @ 07:06:57
That’s exactly what we do. I’m always trying to find some substitute. It’s same over here, expensive.
Jun 20, 2014 @ 18:34:22
Jun 20, 2014 @ 20:14:56
Not exactly like serene pysanky decorating, is it? 🙂
Apr 16, 2017 @ 22:21:24
Coming from a house with four daughters, my sisters and I we absolutely hated it !
Apr 20, 2017 @ 16:32:27
Did you get wet? I wouldn’t be a fan of that either. It’s funny that Slovaks are so afraid of being cold (you never see wet hair outside!) except on this one day. Makes women stronger I guess!
Mar 31, 2018 @ 01:29:39
My grandfather made a korbach, not for Easter, but to use as a whip to punish the children when they were bad. I remember my mother telling me how much she feared the privacy because it was not used gently! Now I know how my grandfather learned to made a korbach!
Apr 01, 2018 @ 18:10:17
Oh, goodness. Standards of disciplining children has changed over the years. Yes, everyone here would know how to make a korbac.
Apr 01, 2018 @ 12:30:31
it all becomes a chore, if you allow it to become so….ok, I understand the girls, my ma hated it it for reasons of wet everywhere…so I went to my cousins in the village and hid well:), so as NOT LOOKING FOR easter EGGS, but myself….:)
Apr 01, 2018 @ 18:20:03
My girls hide too, and go for long walks out among the fields early in the morning.
Aug 16, 2018 @ 23:46:27
Do you have a recipe for the lost chicken dish? Looks really good but I couldn’t find the recipe on google.
Aug 21, 2018 @ 11:45:09
Every Easter I mean to get this recipe up! I don’t have a recipe, other than being able to tell you that you mix ground pork, soaked bread, and lots of parsley. Everyone has a different recipe, but you can get an idea with this one (through google translate) https://varecha.pravda.sk/recepty/stratene-kura-fotorecept/50739-recept.html
The only thing is that it translates ‘pork cow’ by which they mean ‘pork shoulder’.