The Skill Sharer’s Guide to Easter in Europe
With so many varied Easter traditions around the world, it’s the perfect time to get into skills sharing. If you’re travelling, exchange your native language or another skill for a free place to stay. If you’re at home, spend the Easter holiday learning something new from a traveller with a different culture, cuisine or language to share. Whether you prefer to spend your Easter Sunday devouring chocolate, attending a church service, dressing up, or simply curling up on the couch with some Netflix, a cambio over the Easter break has got you sorted!
The Church-Goer: Spain or Italy
The lowdown: There’s nothing like experiencing a traditional Easter procession that has been going on for centuries virtually unchanged, and you can still witness some of these in cities in Spain and Italy, where the Easter events are not confined to within the church walls but take place on the streets and involve the entire city.
Holy Week – the week prior to Easter Sunday that begins on Palm Sunday – is a huge event for Catholics in Spain, and I’d recommend picking one city and basing yourself there, as each place tends to have its’ own particular traditions. In Seville, floats containing wooden sculptures – known as ‘pasos’ – are carried through the city streets by as many as twenty ‘costaleros’ who carry the ornately decorated structures on their shoulders. Surrounding the pasos are members of the processions who carry giant crosses and dress as penitents in long robes and pointy hoods with different colours and styles to denote the particular brotherhood they belong to. The processions begin from the home church of each brotherhood and end at the Cathedral of Seville, and it can take many hours for some processions to complete their journey. If you have a window with a view you can witness the processions from above, or mingle with the local crowds lining the streets.
Image Credit: Sandra Vallaure
Many Italian cities also host religious processions and huge outdoor events to celebrate Easter. If you’re a Catholic, then you cannot miss visiting the world’s largest cathedral, Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, to listen to Easter Mass given by none other than the Pope himself. However, space is limited due to the number of people who attend, and you usually need to reserve tickets months in advance. So if you’re unlucky in scoring some then my recommendation is to head to Florence instead where they have an arguably just as spectacular options: witnessing the ‘Scoppio del Carro‘ (explosion of the cart).
Oxen pull a massive and beautifully-decorated cart through the city streets all the way to the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (the fourth largest cathedral in the world) in the centre. After Mass takes place, a rocket is fired into the cart and ignites fireworks! It’s a truly spectacular display that literally puts some spark into the religious processions.
Image Credit: Monica Kelly
The skill exchange: Even for the fierce atheist, these religious processions will put on a spectacular show to make you marvel. By experiencing a homestay in Seville or Florence during Holy Week you’ll not only experience some truly spectacular religious processions but the warm hospitality of a local family. In exchange for the bed and meals, share your native language or another skill with your hosts.
At home during Holy Week? Consider inviting a guest from Spain or Italy to share this special time of year with you. Get them to help you with your flamenco dancing or brush up on your Italian and attend a local Mass together afterwards.
The Chocolate Lover: Germany
The lowdown: If chocolate is your religion, then you might prefer to travel to a place where your love of sweet treats is shared by your homestay host. As symbols of spring and fertility, eggs and rabbits are considered symbols of the Easter holiday in many parts of the world. In Germany you can make your way to a local Easter market (Ostermarkt) where you can buy chocolate eggs and other handmade treats. Think cute little stalls selling all kinds of hand-crafted goods, delectable baked treats and delicious aromas. It’s like the world-famous Christmas markets only with slightly warmer weather. Try staying in a smaller town or village outside of the urban hubs of Berlin or Munich and you’ll have more of an authentic experience without all the tourist hoardes.
Image Credit: Charles Hutchins
The skill exchange: Travellers, if you’re close to Germany over the Easter break, do a homestay with one of our German hosts so you can experience a local Easter market for yourself. If you’re staying at home this Easter season, why not invite a German traveller into your home to occupy your kids over the Easter break? Your guest can teach them a new skill such as baking or Easter crafts while you sit back and relax.
The Costume Queen: Sweden and Denmark
The lowdown: Sweden and its neighbour Denmark have largely done away with the religious traditions of Easter and prefer to celebrate in a more secular way. Their Easter traditions offer a fascinating insight into Scandinavian culture and the influence of pagan traditions on this Christian holiday. Swedish and Danish children use old clothes to dress up as ‘påskkärringar’ (Easter witches), brush their cheeks with red paint and visit local houses carrying baskets to collect treats. In other words, the Swedes and the Danes get to celebrate Halloween twice a year! Sometimes the parents and relatives get in on the costume fun and dress up as well, and there are often parades and concerts in town squares that the whole family can attend. Once you’ve got your witch costume on, don’t forget to wish everyone ‘glad påsk/god påsk’ (Happy Easter)!
Image Credit: Bengt Nyman
The skill exchange: Travellers, use your makeup and costume design skills to help your host family prepare for the local celebrations. For those staying at home, invite a guest with some skills in arts and crafts, hair and makeup or costume design to help your own family prepare for the Easter celebrations.
The Netflix Binge-Watcher: Norway
The lowdown: Nordic neighbour Norway celebrates Easter in a very different way: by reading and watching crime thrillers! Norwegians stock up on the latest Scandinavian noir thrillers by authors such as Jo Nesbø, Henning Mankell, and Camilla Läckberg. Or they might catch up on episodes of The Bridge, The Killing (starring Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman from season 4 of the popular Netflix political drama House of Cards), Wallander or Borgen. With literally everything shutting down for a week over Easter, the savvy Norwegians have it sorted – everyone basically gets an entire week to stuff themselves with chocolate and binge on crime thrillers (which let’s face it, we all wish we could do ALL of the time).
Image Credit: J Brew
The skill exchange: You don’t need many skills to be able to sit down and enjoy some good crime drama with someone, but perhaps that’s exactly the point: this is something you can enjoy with people of any background. Why not simply share your company and a good yarn with your host over a cup of coffee. Or host a weary traveller yourself and invite them in for a restful recovery with a good book and some quality drama to help them rest their tired feet after all their gallivanting. In return, they can share a bit of their culture with you, or perhaps some sports – after all that chocolate and lethargy on the couch, you’ll probably be in need of some physical exercise!
So whether you’d prefer to contemplate the religious significance of the Easter holiday, see it as an excuse to devour copious amounts of Cadbury, or want to indulge your inner detective, there’s something for everyone on an Easter cambio in Europe. Experiencing local traditions on a homestay is a great way to immerse yourself in another culture and connect with local people, just as opening your doors to a traveller will teach you a lot about their way of life. Why not spend this Easter break making new friends and doing something meaningful.
About the Author: Clarissa Hirst is GoCambio’s Content Manager. A born-and-bred Australian, Clarissa currently calls Sweden home. She’s travelled to over 40 countries, loves learning foreign languages, and her passion is inspiring others to learn about and explore the world around them. She hopes to one day speak fluent Russian and ride the Trans-Siberian railway. Connect with Clarissa on Twitter.