Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2009/11 posted by hidden europe on

Major liturgical feasts like Palm Sunday are reminders of the calendrical divide that still splits Europe in two. The Iron Curtain may have gone (twenty years ago this autumn, according to those commentators who see the breaching of the Berlin Wall as the defining moment), and yet still there are considerable differences between the two halves of Europe. Yes, in the west it is Palm Sunday today, and Easter Sunday next week.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

In villages and towns across many Roman Catholic parts of Europe, today is marked by processions in which palms, or local substitutes such as willow, play a prominent role.

Some of the best Palm Sunday theatre in Europe takes place in Spain and Poland. In some Polish villages, families construct elaborate fake palms before Mass. Some of these towering structures are many metres high. In the current issue of hidden europe, we report on the Procesión del Domingo de Ramos which takes place today in Elche near Alicante in Spain. It includes cameos of New Testament figures and scenes, all made from woven palm fronds grown locally in Europe's largest area of palm groves, the so-called Palmeral de Elche. Curious that such a lavish display of Catholic piety takes place within a cultural landscape that was created by Moorish agriculturalists.

Easter and Passover dates

Major liturgical feasts like Palm Sunday are reminders of the calendrical divide that still splits Europe in two. The Iron Curtain may have gone (twenty years ago this autumn, according to those commentators who see the breaching of the Berlin Wall as the defining moment), and yet still there are considerable differences between the two halves of Europe. Yes, in the west it is Palm Sunday today, and Easter Sunday next week. Yet in Orthodox Europe, and in most of the Eastern-rite Catholic churches, Easter (or Pascha) falls one week later in 2009, so Palm Sunday is similarly deferred by seven days.

Easter's calendrical fluctuation, with the exact date of Easter falling anywhere in the four or five weeks after the spring equinox, has always been disconcerting to secular authorities. In the late nineteen twenties, the British Government even introduced legislation to standardise the date of Easter, but, although approved by parliament, it has never been signed into law. No doubt, churches would oppose any governmental interference in their old calendrical traditions. It just happens that in 2010 and 2011, the dates of western and eastern Easter coincide. That happens only on about one year in ten, so two successive years of Christian calendrical unity are very rare indeed.

Meanwhile, there is more to faith in Europe than Christianity. And sunset this coming Wednesday marks the start of Passover, which in Jewish homes across Europe (and more widely of course) is immediately preceded by bedikat chametz - the ritual search for fragments of flour, yeast and grain products that do not form part of the passover diet. Interesting that at this time of year, millions of Europeans with no faith at all engage in a frenzy of spring cleaning, wholly unaware that they are emulating an ancient Jewish tradition.

And, as you will have read in our last newsletter, we have been doing a bit of spring cleaning of our own. Our hidden europe back issue sale continues, extended by a day or two beyond what we originally envisaged. So just till next Friday evening, ie. 10th April. We'll be back with another hidden europe e-brief later this month, but meanwhile whether you celebrate Pesach, Easter or Pascha (or none of them), we hope that the week or two ahead are rewarding for you. Chag sameach.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.