Austria is, of course, a Catholic country, so you’d expect Easter to be a thing. Everything is closed on Easter Monday, for example. Schools are closed for two weeks. Strangers wish you a Happy Easter in the same way you might be wished Merry Christmas in the States (or Happy Holidays).
It’s pretty clear that the Viennese are also way into the whole pagan spring fertility festival as well. It is yet another way in which this city is actually quite Eastern European—shhhh, don’t tell!
Clue number one: the national obsession with decorating eggs. This was originally a pagan Slavic tradition, of course, and has been raised to the level of folk art all over the region. Here in Vienna, the markets sell piles of elaborately decorated eggs. Two years ago, I took a bunch of photos at the markets–they are here if you would like to enjoy them.
You might think I have a big collection of these eggs by now. You would be wrong. I do not pay $10 or more for an egg. Especially not one that will quickly become a cat toy. Nope.
And then there are the pussy willows. Yep, another pagan Slavic tradition from the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia (just across the river). When we lived in Prague, the tradition was for boys to spank girls with pussy willows on Easter Monday to make them more fertile. Read about it in hilarious detail here. An earthy tradition that has not quite made it to prim and proper Vienna, but pussy willows are still sold everywhere, decorated with eggs, and carried instead of palm leaves on Palm Sunday. (There may be a bit of spanking going on as well, but I haven’t personally witnessed it.)
Finally, the bunnies. They are omnipresent. I don’t think I need to explain why the bunny is a fertility symbol. Yesterday, I snapped a few of them while out walking.
Central Europe’s Easter culture (Austria included) has been influenced by eastern Catholic countries, the symbols of which may or may not have definitive pagan histories. Some scholars consider that the “Easter Egg” tradition comes from early Jewish traditions of serving eggs at funerals during Jesus’ life on Earth, which, over time and adaptation, became a symbol of the life and death of Christ. Thus, for many eastern Catholic cultures, the egg is the symbol of Jesus’ resurrection, and the decorations have ranged from red (the blood of Christ) to the brighter colors (new life).
The use of pussy willows, as well, may or may not be pagan in origin. In many colder climates, they are simply used for Palm Sunday because it is difficult to obtain palms. Flowers, olive branches, boxwood, and even artificial palms are also used.
And today at yoga, we did a bunny poise. A first for me. Then a crow and an eagle. I think they must have eaten the bunny.
Victoria H. Hess Tablets Encourage Brevity