The Holy Thursday is actually called Green Thursday or Zelený čtvrtek. And the traditions on this day are connected to food!
Let’s start with the Bible. Holy Thursday was the day of Jesus’ Last Supper and it’s the main event the Christians remember. Our ancestors usually started this day with a morning prayer in the garden before sunrise accompanied by a bath in dew or water. It was believed this cleansing bath would protect them against impetigo and scabies. The women cleaned the house and they repelled the insects by pounding the pestle and mortar and shaking the keys. People brought eggs to the church and had them blessed. Another thing that was blessed on this day were the oils.
Remember the jidáše pastry made on Ugly Wednesday? They were for breakfast with honey which was supposed to protect people against stings and snake bites. After sunset the house owner sprinkled Holy Water all over the house to protect it against the witches. The evening mass was the last time the church bells rang for a short while, the next time would be on White Saturday. This was called as “the bells are flying to Rome”. During the last ringing of the bells people shook the trees in their gardens to ensure good harvest or shook some coins in their hand to ensure riches.
It was a start of a mourning period (because of what happened to Jesus after the Last Supper) and so the whole household was supposed to be quiet. Weight were lifted from the clocks so they wouldn’t make any noise and in Valachia the shepherds even took off the bells from the sheep’s necks. However, there was some noise. The noise of wooden rattles that people used to summon their neighbors to the mass. That is why you’ll often see children running around with the rattles to this day.
Why is it called Green in Czech though? Just like with Grey Tuesday and Blue Monday, one theory speaks of a German origin of the name. According to this theory, the German name was Greinendonnerstag which means “wailing Thursday” but gradually people twisted it to Grünner Donnerstag, Green Thursday.
A more popular theory, however, says that the name green came from the color of the vegetables the old Christians ate on this day, following the custom of the Jews. And so, even nowadays Czech people eat green food on the Thursday before Easter. Most families cook spinach that can be prepared in many ways, with boiled egg and potatoes, pork and potato dumplings… the meal often includes also peas, green bean sprouts or salad. Back to the spinach – some people actually prepare it from nettles that are just starting to sprout which makes it the ideal time to cook with them.
And since the Czech Republic is famous for its beer production as well as consumption, of course this tradition includes beer! Many breweries serve green beer on this day!
And to end the article on Green Thursday, let me translate for you a bit from one of the most famous Czech books ever – Babička (The Grandmother) by Božena Němcová:
“On Green Thursday the children knew that there would be nothing else for breakfast but jidášky. There were no bees in Staré bělidlo, however, father always sent them honey. Father was a beekeeper and he had a lot of beehives. He promised Mrs. Prošková that when he gets a good swarm they would get one, too, because he overheard the grandmother say that there’s nothing she’d like to have more than a beehive because one is happy when one sees the bees coming in and out of the hive and work hard all day.”