Spring is here and summer is just around the corner. To help ease the transition from winter to spring and promote good health, one particular Czech tradition involving a swift whip is quite silly yet subordinate to none. The intent is harmless and the effect is allegedly healthful. The Czech tradition of the pomlázka is a pagan practice that involves the creation of a whip, playful whipping, and the enjoyment of food and beverages while house hopping to the homes of friends and loved ones.
Would you open your front door to 20 men armed with whips? Believe it or not, several men actually stopped their cars so the group of 20 men at the roadside could whip their wives and daughters traveling with them.
The belief is that the act promotes good health for the women, as an omen of youth and wellness. In the past the act was performed on livestock, men, women, and children alike. The symbolism warded off sickness for a prosperous springtime for all.
The festivities begin the day before Easter Monday (Pondělí Velikonoční), where the men travel to the nearest creek or river to collect pussy willow branches for the whips.
After the harvest and sometimes even driving through the creek (don’t worry, it was shallow!) the men return to camp to assemble the whips. The branches are first stripped of their leaves and multiple are bound with string and braided.
The next day everyone wakes up early to begin, as the festivities end promptly at noon. After a quick on-the-go breakfast everyone jumps into cars, whips in hand, and hits the road for the first victim, or lucky household. Nowadays you can purchase whips already made or decorate them right away, but the tradition is that each woman ties a colored ribbon on each whip after the playful whipping.
The men then receive shots of liquor, hard-boiled colored eggs, chocolate, and other treats. Becherovka (cinnamon-flavored liquor) or Slivovitz (plum brandy) are traditional Czech options, but often any liquor on hand will do. (I know what you’re thinking, the group is prepared, having a sober designated driver for each car.)
Some of the treats served are chlebíčky, traditional open-faced sandwiches served on a piece of bread with potato salad and various toppings including sliced hard-boiled eggs, pickles, and ham as pictured below.
Some families are very prepared for the pomlázka people, providing breakfast and more!
A special song is also sung during the act, and is as follows:
Hody hody doprovody!
dejte vejce malovaný!
Dejte aspoň bílý.
Slepička Vám snese jiný!
Here is a rough English translation:
Whip whip whip!
Give us colored eggs!
If you don’t have colored ones,
Give us at least white,
Your chicken will give you more!
View for yourself a clip of the action below.
The whipping doesn’t hurt at all……well, mostly not. It only stings for a second. I had the lucky advantage of traveling with the guys during the adventure, and was whipped on several occasions. Tradition stands that in order to have a drink a woman must be whipped. I couldn’t let them go thirsty! As Devo says, “Whip it good!”
This girl is smarter than I, a candid at the perfect moment.
Children start the tradition at a very young age, traveling from door to door, collecting eggs and candy. It’s somewhat a combination of an Easter egg hunt and Halloween celebrated in the U.S.
Little versus big, the tradition is celebrated by all.
Some boys never grow up. In regards to traditions, I think the Peter Pan syndrome is a good thing, forever young, always true to your upbringing, not forgetting where you came from and what your culture celebrates.
Whether we realize it or not, many holiday traditions today originate from pagan practices. The purpose is not to turn up your nose to any politically incorrect action, but rather to revel in the romanticism of it. The intent is good, the act is harmless, and it’s a means to keep tradition alive.