Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Happy Holy Thursday

Today is Holy Thursday, aka Green Thursday (Zelený čtvrtek) in the Czech Republic.  It's a day of fasting where Catholics did not eat any animal products of any kind and only consumed one meal of vegetables.  Can you guess what kind of vegetables?  Yep, green ones, such as spinach or cabbage were eaten on this day so that one would stay healthy for the entire year.

 What's in a name?
Zelený čtvrtek (Green Thursday) was perhaps derived from the green mass chausable that was used on this day and which is still used today.  The bells "departing for Rome" were heard for the last time in church on Green Thursday.  They would then fall silent until Holy Saturday.  A superstition existed (of course it did... Czechs are such a superstitious bunch) that when a bell was rung for the last time on Green Thursday, one was supposed to jingle money so that one would hold on to it. 

 Another Green Thursday custom includes the boys' game of Chasing Judas and the baking of twisted spiral buns representing serpents, the symbol of betrayal.  

In some villages there are processions led by a captive Judas in a straw suit, which is ceremonially burnt at the end of the day.  When sprinkled into a clean jug of water, the ashes of Judas were believed to have special powers including the abilities to guard against fire and protect the health of livestock for the coming year.

In the evening of Green Thursday, village boys used to equip themselves with a wooden rattle (řehtačka), which was specially made for the purpose.  They formed a group and walked through the village, rattling their rattles vigorously so that the noise could be heard from afar.  
The meaning of the rattling may have been to chase away Judas.  The same procedure would repeat on Good Friday (Velký pátek).  The last rattling day was White Saturday (Bílá sobota), when the boys didn't just walk through the village, but stopped at every house in the morning and rattled until they were given money.