This week's Mailbox looks at the Easter holidays and answers questions from Sanjit Bungabi, Susanne Brighton, and Pavel Hrdina.

Some listeners, mainly from Pakistan and Jordan, have made a very important point similar to this one raised by Sanjit Bungabi from Pakistan:

"Your Easter holiday is near and I wish you happy holidays and a prosperous 2004. But please allow me to tell you that many listeners are not Christians and do not celebrate this holiday. Please keep us in mind."

This is something we discuss quite frequently here at Radio Prague. It must be said that unlike other country's that have similar traditions such as Poland, Slovakia, and even Hungary, the Czech Republic is anything but religious. Its two biggest holidays - Christmas and Easter - are both founded on the Christian faith but many of the holiday customs are not Christian. At around the same time as Easter but before the birth of Christ, people in the Czech lands held similar celebrations to welcome the spring. But keeping in mind that some of these days are just ordinary days for many, we've tried in past programmes to simply give you a good idea of what goes on in the country during such holidays.

Susanne Brighton has written us a special Easter e-mail from Germany wishing us all a happy holiday and those who do not celebrate it lots of peace, love, and happiness. Ms Brighton writes:

"I visited your website and came across your Easter pages. You have a recipe of the Czech version of hot cross buns. I am not very good at baking but will definitely try to make them. It's at times like these when I wish that Radio Prague and other stations in central and Eastern Europe offered cooking shows."

Ms Brighton, I have good news for you. You are actually not the only listener who has asked about recipes for traditional Czech holiday dishes. A good part of our special Easter programme on Monday will be baking and cooking Czech dishes. The hot cross bun you mention is called "Mazanec" in Czech and it's actually much bigger than the usual buns we know. It is sweet and absolutely delicious with coffee, tea or hot chocolate...and it's easy to make.

And staying with Easter traditions, Pavel Hrdina listens to us somewhere in Canada and writes:

"For some reason, I cannot open the page on your website that explains how to make the 'pomlazka', or Easter whip. I believe most Czechs do not make it themselves anymore. They just buy it in the shop. But many of us Czech-Canadians do not have that 'luxury'. Can you give me a short description of how we Czechs abroad can make a good and strong 'pomlazka'? I tried last year but it broke and did not have that flexibility I remember from my younger days in Moravia. It is on Easter when I think of my childhood in then-Czechoslovakia the most!"

The Easter holiday in the Czech Republic has much more to do with tradition than religion and brings back wonderful memories to many. But I will not go into what Czechs do at Easter, as that will be part of Radio Prague's special on Easter Monday. To answer your question, Mr Hrdina, you are right in saying that people no longer sit down and take time off to make their whips (it is tradition to whip people, now mainly women, on Easter Monday to bring them good luck, health, and rid them of all the bad things that happened in the past year; Farmers used to say it brought wealth by ensuring a good harvest). Czech "pomlazka's" should be made of willow twigs or rods. The most common are made of eight rods. The reason why your whip was not flexible enough, Mr Hrdina, is probably because you did not soak the rods beforehand. The part of the whip you hold on to is made of the thicker ends that are tied together tightly. Then, all that is left is to braid the eight twigs by crossing them inwards individually from the left and from the right. The top of the whip should be decorated with colourful ribbons.


...and we've come to our competitions. The question for the month of April - and it's truly a very easy one - is

"On May first, the Czech Republic becomes an EU member. What other big event will Czechs celebrate as part of the Year of Czech Music? "

Send your answers to the Radio Prague English Section, 120 99 Prague 2, the Czech Republic or by e-mail to english@radio.cz. They should get to us by April 30.

... and of course, there's the annual competition where all you have to do to enter is send us a few lines on what Czech music means to you. The main prize is one week in the Czech capital. There will also be a number of attractive runner-up prizes. Please get your answers to us by June 15.