May 4, 2012
Some videos inevitably made the rounds a few weeks back as Easter Monday approached and Slovak youth – instead of going out into the wild to braid willow chutes and socialize with male and female friends alike by visiting houses whip in hand – chose to get on Facebook and watch videos of other people doing exactly that.
Embedded below are some videos from šibačka. What I like about the videos is the way that they, in sum, show a few different aspects of the šibačka. With every few videos of šibačka that you come across on the internet, you are sure to see a new aspect that you might never considered to be part of the tradition.
Though some of these videos may offend, I figure it’s only fair to share some footage of what generally happens during šibačka. It can appear brutal or can also appear cute. The camera though tends to remove the viewer from the situation and makes it easier to criticize. Though there is much I like about the šibačka, I even cringed a little when the gal in this first video, who really appears to be happy to be the center of attention kept getting bucket after bucket dumped on her on an overcast day. A friend commented on this video in a compelling email that I thought I’d share here.
Just a couple days before Eastern this year I was thinking to myself how incredibly difficult it would be to properly explain this tradition to my friends abroad.
The tradition consists of splashing girls/young ladies with water and whipping with a willow tree wand/whip. During old times the wand was cut of fresh wood, nowadays a fancy stock whip is used. The meaning of the tradition is not to terrorize women, but just the opposite. The water has a purifying character that should ensure girls will be healthy, beautiful and stay young. Contact with willow tree wand is supposed to symbolically transmit its natural power to girls, so they are flexible, young, full of life and fertile.
What was shown in the video was the really old tradition that is nowadays practiced mostly by members of folklore groups in smaller villages. Guys, wearing traditional clothes are visiting girls from same group or real good friends. Everyone is aware of the tradition, part of which is the play-acting of the girl that makes the whole experience “vivid.”
This tradition, however, still does have its firm place in modern Slovakia. It is a time when fathers and sons leave in the morning to go visit close friends and families while mothers and daughters stay home to welcome other male friends and family members. Splashing water and whipping have a place, however it is definitely not so “brutal” as the very traditional scene shown in the video. Overall, it is tough to imagine that anyone would splash several buckets of water indoor apartment. Splashing and whipping is usually matter of seconds. Afterwards, guys are invited inside for a drink and refreshment while kids are rewarded with candies and pocket money. An important part of the tradition is that guys are also rewarded with the gift of a ribbon being tied to their whips and may also be given painted Easter eggs. During old times when a girl gifted a ribbon to a boy, it mean she took an interest in him, often in a romantic way. Nowadays ribbons are gifted away more loosely.
This tradition is greatly appreciated by kids, both boys and girls who, according to my experience, really do have fun.
I do not agree with this tradition being called humiliating. I know people who do not like it and therefore decide not to follow it. In the worst case scenario there is still the option of not opening the door. I can ensure everyone reading this that nobody will break inside somebody else’s residence and make them follow this tradition by force. Also please note, as I mentioned in the beginning, only good friends and family members visit each other nowadays, so it also cannot happen that random girl walking down the alley is attacked by “water thugs”.
I can imagine this tradition is hard to understand in its nature without experiencing it with close male and especially female friends, but trust me, it is not here to demonstrate male’s dominance over innocent women. I am sure many Slovaks could view American tradition of Halloween to be stressful and humiliating. They can call Halloween barbaric, disgusting and dishonoring and see nothing funny about scaring the hell out of innocent victims who may suffer heart attacks or to develop psychological issues. I do not view Halloween like this, I am just saying someone who does not know the whole tradition could view it like this.
With that much appreciated explanation from Maroš S., let’s move on to watch a few videos of footage from the šibačka.
This next video was sent to me last week by Fred G. with the following note attached “At the very beginning, there is a woman at an upstairs window. You might have to pause to catch it…what I think to be an adult woman (a mother?) at an upstairs window. The duration of that scene is but a second or two and I did not go back to look at it a second time. But it registered to me that this was indicative of adult (societal) approval of the tradition.”
This note especially caught my eye, because I realized that I was taking for granted this aspect of the tradition despite the fact that many readers of these pages have likely not participated in this traditions.
In Slovakia female beauty is held at a high standard and considered important. Female beauty is regularly pointed out with great pride by people of both genders, young and old with phrases like: “Slovak women are very pretty – aren’t they?”
When a person has a daughter or granddaughter he or she will regularly gush about her beauty, even with her in earshot. Along the same vein, having a daughter get visited during šibačka shows positive signs, but mainly that she’s popular and that she’s pretty.
And just like it might be fun to watch a daughter play basketball competitively or cheerlead, it might be fun to see how she handles herself in this trying situation – will she be firm, yet polite? Will she smile through the process? The parent will not always be there and this is a moment for the mother or father to see what a good daughter they’ve raised and to evaluate the fitness of the men who have paid their daughter a visit.
Like any properly raised Slovak, she will invite these guests in for refreshments – some appetizers, some cakes, some homemade alcohol, beer, or Kofola, some Easter eggs, and maybe she’ll even tie a bow on their whips or send them away with a gift that she made herself.
Of course the mother will watch, but will not want to appear too overbearing, so she will likely only watch for a second. She wants to see the daughter she raised behave as good as she raised her to be even though the circumstances may be surprising and out of her control. “Courage is grace under pressure,” Hemingway wrote. No guns are blazing during the šibačka, but this is one of these moments that tests a girl’s mettle.
This one’s entitled “Martina.” The guy with the big whip didn’t have to whip her so much. Is Martina having fun? I don’t know. This video too might make you cringe.
A Different Easter Celebration With Revelry
This one has nothing to do with šibačka other than being marked “Easter 2011” and being full of wholesome revelry. If you’re a native speaker of English, you’ll probably smile when the accordion player breaks into an English language Beatles rendition. The Beatles are appreciated Slovakia and one doesn’t have to go far to come across some kind of Beatles cover.
Any thoughts about these videos? YouTube is full of videos just like these. If you come across other šibačka videos (or stories of your own) that you think are of special value, please post a link in the comments section and write a note explaining the link a little bit.
Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time travelling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.
The lead photo comes from this Hungarian Roman Catholic website.