Church services, religious fervor, colorful street processions, bunnies, painted eggs and a festive family meal. These are some of the traditional things one expects at Easter. However, each city or region around the world has its own Easter traditions, celebrations and events that are either unique or a little different from others.
Let’s look at some destinations around the world and their Easter styles.
New Yorkers love nothing better than a party and a parade – the bigger the better! And Easter has been always been a good reason for New York to put on a show. Easter Sunday sees many thousands of people come out on to the streets to watch or participate in the Easter Parade and the Easter Bonnet Festival. Participants dress up as bunnies, others in completely wacky hats and bonnets while others don outlandish costumes. The music, the colour and the confetti turn the famous Fifth Avenue into one big carnival. A host of other activities such as egg rolling take place.
Easter is also a good time to visit Times Square, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, the Bronx Zoo and the other iconic and world famous landmarks. Other tourist must-sees are the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art and Rockefeller Centre.
You should also check out the several popular cultural tours that take you around to the locations where famous film and TV serials were shot.
The Greek Islands
Greece observes the Orthodox brand of Christianity, which follows the Julian calendar. Easter here occurs later than that of the other churches. Colorful processions wind through the streets during the Holy Week culminating in the churches packed with people attending midnight service on Holy Saturday. Easter Sunday is a day of feasting on traditional mayeritsa (soup) and koukouretsi (a lamb dish). Special lavishly decorated candles (labatha) are gifted to children. Other essentials are decorated eggs, sweets, Easter bread and a variety of meats cooked in an oven or on an open spit. Ouzo, local wines and other drinks flow freely.
The Greek mainland and its surrounding isles are the probably the oldest tourist destinations in the world. Its astounding beauty is apparent from the moment you set eyes on the place. Thousands of islands fringed by gorgeous white sandy beaches; pristine blue waters; rugged majestic mountains; dazzling white painted houses with many-hued rooftops; olive groves; idyllic villages and their bougainvillea lined streets sprawling across hillsides and spilling down to the sea will capture your heart and never let go.
Legendary names like Crete, Corfu, Rhodes, Lesbos, Mykonos and Athens speak of a magnificent past and promise a wonderful present. Reminders like the Acropolis, the Parthenon and the Temple of Zeus are still evident everywhere you go.
Alghero’s Catalan influences come to the fore during Easter. The prayers and devotional songs are in Catalan. Red is the predominant color of this period. Red cloths drape the street lights and also the farols carried by the faithful and religious brotherhoods. The wonderful town centre is the main location for the Holy Week ceremonies as is the Cathedral. An interesting feature is the observance of silence during the processions. The rituals hark back to the 1600s when Spain ruled the island.
Sardinia is the second largest Mediterranean island and the beautiful town of Alghero its prime jewel. Ruled by the Spanish for over 300 years, a Catalan dialect is still predominantly spoken here. The old quarter is called Little Barcelona (Barcelonetta). A number of lovely white sandy beaches, like the San Giovanni Beach, spread themselves out just below the city walls. Alghero is a town of many winding alleys and narrow streets. It also has some excellent Gothic architectural attractions in the form of the Alghero Cathedral and the Palazzo d’Albis. Close by are Capo Caccia and its fabulous limestone cliffs and underwater caves containing beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. The foremost cave is Nereo’s Grotto.
Easter in Seville is also known as Semana Santa. Hundreds of yellow-cloaked and pointed hooded ‘Nazarenos’ (penitents) slowly tread the streets in solemn processions. Elaborately decorated floats with wooden statues of Jesus and Mary, dating back hundreds of years, accompanied by loud, noisy brass bands and faithful carrying aromatic and smoky candles are all part of a colourful and raucous pageantry you will never see elsewhere. This time also marks the beginning of spring, so celebrations take place in the bars, cafes and farms all across the region.
Seville is a prime showpiece encapsulating Spain at its very best. Seville is famous for its colour, flair and vibrancy. Located on the banks of the pretty Guadalquivir River, the city was where Christopher Columbus launched his voyages. The Romans, Moors/Arabs and Christians have left wonderful vestiges of their legacy. Seville has merged them all into a magnificent uniqueness that can be seen in The Old Town, the Jewish Quarter, Santa Cruz, El Arenal and the Basalica de la Macarena.
During the Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday, Jerusalem is packed with thousands of local and foreign Christians. Pilgrims retrace the steps Christ took on the way to his crucifixion. Known as the Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering) it winds through narrow passageways from Lion’s Gate to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The solemn yet joyous services at the Holy Sepulchre on Easter Sunday are especially important as Christians believe that this is the place where Jesus was buried and later resurrected. The faithful also gather for an Easter sunrise service at the Garden Tomb.
The Old City of Jerusalem is only 0.9 square kilometres in size but it attracts all the tourist attention. Much of human history, culture, religion and conflicts have their roots in this tiny area. The Old City is demarcated by the walls that Suleiman the Magnificent built in 1538. Since 1981 the Old City is a World Heritage Site and is also on the World Heritage in Danger list. Old Jerusalem is literally divided into four quarters – Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim.
The spiritual and administrative centre of the Roman Catholic Church, Rome hosts a number of traditional and religious events. For two weeks there are processions and church services (some candlelit/torch lit) to mark the most important event in the Christian calendar. The Good Friday processions are particularly poignant as actors enact the Passion of Christ leading up to Christ’s crucifixion.
The Pope is involved in many of the services. On Easter morning he celebrates open air mass in St Peter’s Square. After the mass he delivers the blessing known as the “Urbi et Orbi – to the City and to the World” from the balcony on the façade of Saint Peter’s.
The Eternal City or Rome is literally bursting at the seams with artistic and historic attractions. As befitting the capital of an empire that was the largest and most powerful in the ancient world it is also one of the world’s most historic cities. Landmarks from its ancient era are the Colosseum, the Pantheon, Castel St Angelo and Baths of Caracalla. Other remarkable architectural sites are the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona and the Spanish Steps. The Vatican attractions are St Peter’s Basilica and the fabulous artistic treasures in the Vatican Museums. Among its many gardens the Villa Borghese and Villa Pamphili are outstanding.
The Holy Week and Easter is carried out literally by many Christians in parts of Indonesia. Young men take great pride and honour in the imitating the agony and passion of Christ. They allow themselves to be tied to a cross and haul it while enacting the Stations of the Cross. During this period they carry statues through the streets of Larantuka on the lovely island of Flores and even other places.
The normally placid Larantuka comes alive as thousands of tourists from Indonesia and around the world arrive to view or participate in ‘Semana Santa’ celebrations. These customs were brought here by the Portugese missionaries in the 16th century. Centuries old statues of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary are presented to worshippers after which they carefully stored away for the rest of the year.
Indonesia, the largest archipelago in the world, is made up 13,466 tropical islands. Most of them are ringed by amazing white sand beaches. It is as wide as the US and populated by more than 200 ethnic groups. Its best known islands are Sumatra, Java, Bali, Kalimantan (Borneo), Sulawesi and the Spice Islands.
It has an incredible variety of landscapes ranging from rainforests and savannah grasslands to the snow peaks of West Papua. The fauna and birds reflect this diversity with such creatures as the giant Komodo Lizard, the Orang Utan, the Java Rhino, the Sulawesi Anoa (dwarf buffalos), the colourful and talkative cockatoos, the bird of paradise and much more. The waters around the islands are richly populated by an amazing variety of brilliantly coloured tropical fish and coral.
The UK and London
Easter celebrations in the UK are subdued and generally confined to family gatherings. Chocolates eggs are hidden for kids to hunt and find. In Preston, Lancashire an ancient traditional game of rolling real eggs down a hill is still played. Traditional folk dancers – Morris dancers – perform in village squares adding colour and music to the quaint charm of the English village. Churches are generally bedecked with flowers and other decorations for Easter Sunday celebrations. Hot cross buns, Simnel cakes and marzipans are hot ticket items during the Easter period. Trafalgar Square in London goes mad with live music and other entertainment items, which thousands attend.
The UK is one of the most visited countries in the world with millions of visitors turning up every year to experience its many historical locations and cultural offerings. It is a country rich in tradition, iconic and world famous buildings, pretty picture postcard villages, charming towns, ancient mysterious Stonehenge and massive castles. It has great variety of natural beauty ranging from rugged coastlines, green patchwork fields, rolling hills, moors, ancient woodlands, fairy-tale rivers and canals.
Easter in the Land Down Under is a very laid back affair. The festival comes when it is autumn in the Southern Hemisphere and starting to cool down. It is a great time for the kids as there are Easter egg hunts, chocolate bilbies, fireworks and holidays. Sydney has the Royal Easter Show where the best farm and agricultural produce vie for attention with parades. The Show is fueled by plenty of beer and wine. Byron Bay has a music show, the Bluesfest, while Freemantle puts on the Freemantle Street Arts Festival featuring some of the best street art, music and outdoor theatre in the world. If none of this does it for you there is always the beach.
Australia is one of the world’s greatest holiday destinations. It’s a country that can turn your vacation into an everyday adventure. From the outback to the great cities; from tropical forests to the Great Barrier Reef; from picturesque green rolling hills to snow capped mountains – Australia has it all. The Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House will compete with drives down the Great Ocean Road and into Yarra Valley for your attention and time. Hot air ballooning or trekking up to Ayers Rock/Uluru or a heart-stopping ride in a boat down the Tully River are experiences you will treasure forever.
This might come as some surprise but Dubai has an Easter tradition – of sorts. The city of malls utilizes them to organize Easter displays. Hotels too, join in on the act. Giant Easter egg hunts and egg decorating, fake indoor snow slopes decked out with Easter decorations are staple activities. Elaborate lunch buffets are put on for Easter by five star hotels.
Dubai is an ultra-modern, glitzy, city soaring up into the sky. It is a designer city purpose built to cater to the needs and pleasures of a fast-moving, modern world. Gleaming spires like the Burj Khalifa dedicated to commerce gaze down upon sedate dhows and narrow picturesque streets of the old Bastakiya district and its tall wind-towers, souks, minarets and the timelessness Creek. Dubai offers only the best in entertainment, career opportunities, accommodation, food, business and shopping.
Now that we have given our list of the top 10 Easter travel destinations, start planning that much needed and well deserved break you have been dreaming of. The only question that remains is which travel destination you prefer? A religious and traditional European Easter experience or a relaxed beach paradise with a festival!
isango! wishes all the readers Happy Easter!