Easter is the most important celebration of the Christian year. However, this time of year is and has been celebrated by many different cultures and religions for a long time. Do you know where the word Easter comes from? It dates as far back as the Anglo-Saxon Goddess named Eostre other names are Astarte or Oster. The festival of Eostre was always held approximately at the time of the Spring Equinox. Early Christian missionaries in Europe adopted the name and merged the timing and the symbolism – New Life – into the Christian celebration of Easter.
What unites all of the Springtime festivities in many cultures, as you might guess, is celebratory food.
We didn’t have specific Easter traditions in our house, such as egg rolling or dyeing eggs. How to dye eggs. I do remember going to Church with my best friend on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Getting up at the crack of Dawn on Easter Sunday
The first church service is held so early on Easter Sunday morning as it is said that this was the time of day when Mary went to Jesus’ tomb and found it empty. Christ had risen from the dead. The Church pays tribute to this momentous occasion, the most important event of the Christian year, by holding a service at about 6 O’clock in the morning. Many families have the tradition of an Easter breakfast, which is served after visiting the early morning church service. This usually consists of some type of sweet bread made with yeast and fruit amongst other things, but every country has it’s own special foods. We quite often make a brunch of it.
Apparently, this early service tradition dates back to the first service which was held in Germany by the Moravian Church in 1732. What is the Moravian Church?
Eggselence at Easter
So, eggs are one of the main themes of Easter. The symbolism of eggs being a sign of fertility and new life did not just start in Christian times but much earlier. Both the Greeks and the Egyptians made use of eggs during their religious ceremonies and hung them in pagan places of worship in connection with springtime festivals. These were held to welcome the sun’s rising from its long winter sleep. The sun’s return from the darkness was seen as an annual miracle, and the egg was the symbol of new life. Martha Zimmerman writes about this in her book. Celebrating the Christian Year.
At home everybody gave everybody chocolate Easter eggs, which came in all shapes and sizes and elaborations. But we didn’t search for them. I remember staying at my uncle’s house over the Easter period with my mother. I had seven cousins there who were much older than me. One of them received the most ginormous egg I have ever laid eyes on from her boyfriend. He was obviously really showing off. It was about the size of a Fiat 500 car. The chocolate was at least 5 centimetres thick. My cousin smashed it with a hammer and gave me a piece about as big as my hand. I used to like the small cream-filled chocolate eggs, though I couldn’t eat them now – far too sweet.
Of course you coudn’t send any children on an Easter egg hunt today without the prospect of finding chocolates and sweets. Giving eachother chocolates and other sweets during Easter became popular in Europe during the middle of the 19th century. It was then that companies developed methods for mass producing sweets and started to produce elaborate eggs with ornate decorations.
Eating lamb is not only part of many people’s Easter Sunday meals, but it is also part of those who celebrate Passover which takes place around Easter time. 2021 it starts today 28th March. What is Passover?
In the Christian theology, the lamb is a symbol of Jesus sacrificing himself as the “Lamb of God.” Lamb is also associated with Springtime when lambs would also have been the first fresh meat available after winter.
It wasn`t until I came to live in Germany in 1981 at the age of eighteen that I started to experience such an array of Easter traditions. In Spring, trees are pruned and bear branches of fruit trees would be arranged in a vase and decorated with colourful eggs. Some of them painted by the children of the house, others perhaps bought.
Decorating and designing Easter eggs is a vibrant craft here. Not far away in a place called Erpfingen there is an Easter Egg Museum. Usually during the weeks before Easter, many crafters from all over Europe gather there and present their egg works of art. Some of them are incredibly intricate. A couple of years ago I took a course in calligraphy and decorated a few eggs with lettering. In order to obtain the empty shell to work with, you make a small hole at each end and blow into the egg at one end and the yolk and white plop out of the other end over a bowl.
How easter eggs became works of art
Christian missionaries started to make use of eggs to illustrate Christ’s new birth. They came across this idea having watched people hunting for eggs in the Spring. They would dye the eggs according to the meaning of the colours to the Church. Red was for the blood of Christ, yellow for resurrection and blue for love. They would sometimes paint elaborate scenes from the Bible on the eggs and hide them somewhere. A child who found such an egg would then come back to the community and tell the story depicted on the egg.
I remember my mother making an elaborate tree out of branches decorated with eggshells hanging on them to take to school once. I don’t know where she got this tradition from. We only did it this one time. So it is a special memory. Her love of crafting and being creative is something that connected us. Moravian village girls apparently used to carry a tree decorated with eggshells and flowers and take them from house to house for good fortune.
Why do we search for eggs at Easter and collect them in baskets?
Well in a way eggs have always be seen as a kind of riches. Isn’t it joyous to collect the eggs hens have laid? If the hens are not confined, they lay their eggs in unexpected places and they become treasure to be found.
The Easter basket tradition may have been started by farmers in Middle Eastern cultures. At Easter they would bring seedlings in a basket to be blessed. They hoped they would be blessed with an abundant harvest.
One a penny, two a penny….
Hot cross buns. They are traditionally eaten on Good Friday which marks the end of Lent – the period of fasting. Today not many use these forty days before Easter for fasting from food, but perhaps other things they consider to be indulgent or not really necessary. I have media fasted twice and ended up reading about twelve to thirteen books during Lent.
Little Cheaters of God – an Easter trick
Legend has it that it was a 12th Century monk who introduced the cross to the bun. However, Queen Elisabeth I deciced that these sumpuous treats needed to be reserved for very special occasions, such as Good Friday, Christmas and burials. But people started to make the buns at home in order to work aroung this law. The spicy buns were so popular. Needless to say the law was rescinded.
There is a similar story in Southern Germany in Swabia. Here, tradtionally “Maultaschen”, literally mouthbags which are like a large ravioli, are eaten on Good Friday. On this day you weren’t allowed to eat meat. Some crafty monks wrapped meat and herbs and vegetables in a kind of pasta dough, so that God couldn’t see the meat. That is why is they are also known as “Herrgottsbescheißerle” in so many words this means “little cheaters of God.”
When the British colonized Jamaica in the 1650s, they brought their traditions with them as they did everywhere. This is how the Jamaican Easter loaf came about which is kind of like a hot cross bun as a loaf but better. It tastes really good with cheese. The Jamaican Easter Loaf
An Easter Bonnet
There was one other sort of tradtion I remember of Easter. I was taken out to choose a new dress.
These days, allsorts of gifts are given at Easter. It seems to be getting more and more like Christmas in a commercial sense. A frequent Easter present, which does make sense if you are going to need one anyway, is a bike as Springtime is when the season starts.
Having a new dress to wear definately had to do with my mother’s passion for new clothes. But she wasn’t alone because apparently early Christians wore new clothes for Easter. My mother would quite often buy a hat and a colourful outfit. She disliked the drab colours of winter having grown up on the Andaman Islands enjoying a warm climate and an abundance of colour.
The custom of showing off new clothes at Easter really took off in Amerika and lead to the Easter Parade. The film “The Easter Parade” was one of MGM’s most sucessful musicals of the forties staring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire. See video-clip below.
From a foody point of view Easter celebrates the end of the ascetic period of Lent. During which we are not supposed to eat meat or anything considered a luxury such as alcohol and all things sweet. With the arrival of Easter Sunday we can indulge in sumptuous food and enjoy it to the full – normally with friends and family.
is called Green Thursday in Germany which is why green food is often eaten on this day. One example is a Spinach Pudding. Perhaps that doesn’t sound luxurious to you. Well the luxury doesn’t really begin until Easter Sunday but I still suggest you try it out. Spinach is now in season and tastes particularly good. Recipe for Spinach Pudding. Otherwise recipes with wild garlic are also a good option.
Maundy is dereived from Latin meaning “command” an refers to Jesus saying to the disciples at The Last Supper: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Good Friday – The saddest day of Easter
On this day Jesus carried his cross to Cavary and was crucified. The mood can be subdued on this day so simple meals are eaten such as fish or “little cheaters of God”.
is a day of preparation for the great festival on Sunday. Traditionally a lot of baking takes place on this day. One custom that I introduced to my micro cosmos in Germany was making a Simnel cake. My mother-in-law was very partial to it and asked me to make one every year. It is slightly similar in taste to the German Stollen.
Sadly my mother in law died a couple of years ago, as before that we always spent Easter with her. In Northern Germany where she lived, they keep up the tradtion of the Easter fire. This is a pagan ritual meant to ward off winter and its bad spirits. Really, these days it is a bit like bonfire night in the UK.
And then the big day – Easter Sunday, – Easter breakfast, roast lamb or ham, delicious cakes and of course eggs in every shape or form to remind us of New Beginnings, New Life, a feeling we really need to have.
There are many traditions and foods you can adopt for your own Easter Festival you don’t need to put all of your eggs in one basket!
History Com Editors, H. C. E. (2009, 27. Oktober). Easter Symbols and Traditions. Abgerufen am 30. März 2021, von https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/easter-symbols
Zimmerman, M. (1993). Celebrating the Christian Year. Minnesota, USA: Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group.