Eastern Slovakia
Slovak and Carpatho-Rusyn Genealogical Research


by Richard Mihalek

The following is an account of the Lenten/Easter traditions kept in Drahovce, Slovakia up to the time of the Communist takeover.  Drahovce is located in western Slovakia near Piestany. 

Special thanks to Veronika Jurisova and the late Anna Majernikova of Drahovce who have made this detailed account of their Slovak Easter available to us all. I dedicate this article to my late grandmother, Katarina (Vanco) Mihalek, who emigrated from Drahovce to a Slovak community in northern Wisconsin and to that community who kept many of these same traditions as an integral part of their Lenten/ Easter season.  I was fortunate to be raised as a boy amid these good and reverent people and honored to have been counted as one among them.  All that remains now are these memories of an era gone by.

There was a large population in Drahovce then including many old and young alike.  The times were harsh, of great misery and wretchedness causing many to emigrate.  There were families where the mother with children could not even satisfy their hunger with enough bread. Nevertheless, the people even in their misery and poverty were unanimous in their belief in God, respected their parents and the aged and had much more understanding amongst one other than what is being shown in present times.

Christmas to Ash Wednesday  was a period in which were held the customary  festivities, entertainments  and weddings.  These activities would come to a close on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.  Beginning with that Sunday and up until midnight of Tuesday, only certain festivities were held within the village.  The children and adults donned their folkdresses and socialized together until 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning.  Raised doughnuts filled with prune jelly and deep fried in lard then covered with sugar were prepared for this occasion.  This was the last time any rich or raised bakery was to be eaten until Easter. At midnight, on the close of Tuesday and start of Ash Wednesday, all festivities ceased and the Lenten period began.  There would be no weddings or usual entertaining occurring until after Easter.

Baking during the Lenten period was plain and with unleavened dough. Very little if any form of food was prepared using lard.  Grandmothers and mothers cared for the children and spun flax which would be finished into cloth later in the summer.  The young women and girls did any needed sewing and embroidering on their folkdresses.  Farmers took care of their livestock, cleared out any fallen snow, fixed roads and repaired implements for the upcoming spring fieldwork.

Their "Week of Easter" began on the Sunday prior to Easter Sunday - Palm Sunday (Flower/Kvetna Sunday by their interpretation).  About a week prior to Palm/Flower Sunday, the older school children would begin preparing a Maypole to be carried upon the streets in the village.  A large branch of willow was decorated and bore a sign saying:

"Jesus Christ was revered upon His coming to Jerusalem."

The children gathered in homes throughout the village making  wreaths of straw and colored cloth.  Many wreaths, including one for the Maypole, were made 20 to 24 inches in diameter and suspended from a pole by a thin cord.  Also, 6 to 8 eggs were "blown" clean, decorated and strung along the cord.  So that their Maypole would have variegated colors, colored paper was bought and cut into strips and suspended from the pole.

On the Saturday before Palm/Flower Sunday, the older boys (16 to 20 years old) went by the Vah River to cut small branches of willow as these were among the first to have small green leaves.  The children formed the willow twigs into wreaths, along with ribbons and decorated eggshells, and placed them in their yards. Besides the willow wreaths, evergreen (yew) was used to make 6 inch wreaths which were to be given at homes when the Maypole parade made a brief stop.

On the morning of Palm/Flower Sunday, children attended the first mass dressed in their folkdresses.  After mass they formed a column behind the Maypole and slowly paraded along the streets pausing before homes singing the following song:

" Christ is going to Jerusalem upon an ass, for our salvation, To His torture and His death, the young Jews hailed Him. Rich garments were strewn before Him. They who had no garments threw cut twigs, And so they did obligation, a heroic deed, God in the Highest. St. George calls, the earth will open, All forms of flowers will come , roses and violets. Grandmothers be merry, we bring you summer, Pretty green rosemary, indeed a grove, a green May."

As the procession moved along, some of the people spread out their expensive garments in the path.  Those unable to afford such garments would cast small boughs ahead of the procession.  The older children went to the homes with their evergreen wreaths and asked the owner, "Do you wish for a new summer ?"  The owner would answer in the affirmative and accept the wreath.  In turn the owner would give the children 1 or 2 eggs and the more wealthy gave an additional 50 halier or even a crown. The wreath was hung in the home to ward off evil.  When the goslings, ducklings and chicks hatched, each was passed through the center of the wreath to give them health and survival.

At the homes of families with infants, a piece of branch was broken off from the Maypole and given to them to foster the health and well-being of the child.  After the procession ended, the children returned to those homes where they had earlier prepared for Palm/Flower Sunday.  The housewife fed them scrambled eggs from those received during the procession.  She also served bread and gave them a special treat of raspberry lemonade which she had purchased for this occasion.  After the meal and before they returned home, the money received during the procession was divided up among the children.

During the second mass of Palm/Flower Sunday the adults came with small bunches of pussywillows and placed them before the altar, symbolic of the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem  when olive branches were placed at His coming.  These pussywillows were then taken  home and placed  on an overhead beam (there were no ceilings then) to protect the home from harm.  After the litany and the mass,  people gathered in great numbers on Kalvaria Street praying the stations of the cross located along both sides of this street.  No further gatherings or activities would be held during the following Monday and Tuesday.

On Wednesday evening the people again prayed the stations of the cross. There was no electricity at that time so youths held oil lamps so that the words to the prayers and hymns could be read.

Before sunrise on Thursday, known as Green/Zeleny Thursday, the owners of horses led them to the Vah River and into the water to a depth of 2 feet or so to bring the horses good health and have sound feet for the entire year.

At home the housewives diligently swept around the home, the yard and the street to ward off harm to the home for the coming year.  During the course of this Thursday, the women specially washed their wooden boards upon which they made noodles, also the rolling pin, the large wooden mixing spoon and bowl for mixing the dough for bread and kolache.

Thursday morning at mass the church bell was tied so as not to be rung. That afternoon, in place of ringing the bell, the schoolboys went over the streets with noisemakers and clappers to announce the beginning of Christ's suffering on the cross. That evening the people again prayed the stations of the cross.

Before sunrise on Good Friday the young children and older girls went to the Vah River to bring back some of its water to wash with later in the day.  This custom was believed to bring them health, skill and agility for the upcoming year.  No sweeping or menial duties were done in the home and strict fasting was observed.  What little was eaten this day was prepared without lard.

Worshipping the crucified Christ began in the church on Friday morning and would continue until noon Saturday (White/Biela Saturday).  A specially made open casket was placed by the side of the altar to represent the tomb of Jesus. The people came dressed in mourning attire to pray at this symbolic gravesite.  The people got down on their knees about 5 steps from the grave and  walked on their knees to the grave to kiss a cross placed there. Mothers also brought their small children who were able to walk to partake in this solemn ritual.

All of the crosses in the church which had been covered in purple cloth since Green/Zeleny Thursday were now uncovered after this morning's (Good Friday's) worship service. As it was with housework, no field work of any kind was done this day in mourning of the crucified Christ. During the entire day the stations of the cross along Kalvaria Street were visited by many worshippers.

Early on Saturday (called White/Biela Saturday), before the children awoke, the women were busy baking various kinds of kolace with poppyseed, nuts, cottage cheese and prune jelly that were then stored in a wooden tub and covered with a tablecloth.  No one was allowed to eat any of the bakery as strict fasting was being upheld until noon.

Also this morning the women began the makings of a traditional dish called "huspenina."  They boiled smoked pork hocks, feet and rinds for 6 to 8 hours.  Soup bowls were set out into which was placed chopped garlic, ground black pepper, paprika and a portion of the cooked meat. The bowls were then filled with the hot broth and put into a cool place to jell.  In about 2 hours, which was by then their suppertime,  the family would eat this jello-like dish.  Mass had been held that morning at the church and the symbolic grave of Jesus remained open until noon this day for any who wished to come to kiss the cross.

At 12 noon on White/Biela Saturday firemen bugled and a two minute silence was observed throughout the community in honor of their citizens who were killed during WW I.

In the afternoon at 3 o'clock on White/Biela Saturday, a celebration of the risen Christ was observed.  All who were able to meet at the church would come dressed in their village folkdresses and were organized into a procession behind a cross carried by an altar boy.  Behind the cross in order, followed small children, school-age children, graduated students, maidens, single men, the remaining altar boys and then the priest carrying a monstrance beneath a canopy.  The canopy was carried by 4 firemen.  Alongside the canopy walked the mayor of the village carrying a statue of the risen Christ.  Behind the canopy followed uniformed firemen with noisemakers, then the chorus, the brass band and after it the women.

Easter hymns were played by the band and sung by the entire procession. The procession made its way to a higher location in the village known as Horna Bodona.  About every 500 yards the fireman would blow their trumpets and the procession would pause and all would turn to face the priest with the monstrance who gave a blessing to the sick of the village - repeating the blessing in all four directions of the earth. The homes along the streets of the procession had lighted candles in the windows showing reverence of the monstrance containing the host (Body of Christ).  After the procession returned to the church, many remained and continued to sing Easter songs,  leaving for their homes when the band began playing lively marching music.

Easter Sunday  morning housewives went to the chapel with baskets of food containing bread, kolace, boiled eggs and a little smoked meat to be blessed by the priest.  Returning to their homes, the baskets were set aside for the noon meal at which time each member of the household would receive a portion of each of the blessed foods with a prayer to have the family free of  illness and disease during the upcoming year. Two masses were well attended by the people dressed in their village folkdresses.  In the afternoon a litany was prayed which also had a large attendance of people dressed in their village folkdress attire. Other than these church services, the people celebrated the remainder of this day with their families.

Bright and early on Easter Monday the young men went to the homes of marriageable maidens, often times even pulling them out of their beds, and poured water on them so they would be refreshed. They also "whipped" them lightly  with a switch to ward off any illness or harm to them for the coming year.  The maidens' mother was in the yard to host the young men briefly and to scurry them off  to complete the rounds to the other homes in order that they finish in time for holy mass. Again there were two masses held during the morning hours and a litany service in the afternoon.  Unlike the attendance at mass on Easter, the size of the congregation on this day was much smaller.

After the litany the children up to age 10 would ceremoniously "whip" their baptismal parents, uncles and aunts while saying the following poem:

"Whip, fish, greasy fish, from the horsewhip, piece of kolace, So demands the school cadet, that they give three eggs, One white, two red and the debt to the child will be paid."

(It must be stated in Slovak to appreciate the rhyme and meaning of the poem.)

The children with their small whips, whipped the members of the household, women upon their skirts and men upon their trousers.  The baptismal parents gave their godchildren 3 decorated eggs and honey cakes.  The wealthier families gave purchased chocolate eggs and a crown or two.

Children over 10 years of age also went out on the streets after the litany.  Each boy and girl had a decorated whip braided about 15 inches long.  The boys whipped the girls on their skirts to bring them skills and vigor and a little upon their feet to ward off any lameness.  The girls mainly used their whips in a more defensive posture but did whip the boys in return as they willed.

This activity with the whips ended at the sound of the evening church bell after which the school children went home to be ready for school the next day. The older boys and girls remained on the streets until dark and then they went home.  The entire village now remained quiet thus ending the Easter season in Drahovce.  The people were now able to return to their usual festivities and weddings in the months that followed.

Note: If you haven't already read my story about Christmas In Drahovce, stop by.

Richard & Johanna Mihalek - E-mail: Valhalla@cheqnet.net
Northern Wisconsin

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