Easter is a time to invite family and friends for Sunday lunch, and the most traditional dish is a lamb roast. Common decorations are dyed or painted eggs, little yellow chicks, bunnies and spring flowers, such as daffodils, white lilies, and tulips. The colors yellow or gold are usually associated with Easter, as these are the colours the Church of England uses for the Easter Sunday celebrations.
Why Is it Called Easter?
No one knows for sure where the English name Easter comes from. The most common explanation is that it is derived from the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre. She was associated with spring and fertility and was celebrated around the vernal equinox. This theory was first introduced in the late-seventh-century by Bede (“The Venerable”), a historian from Anglo-Saxon England. In most other languages, the name is derived from the Hebrew word Pesach, the Jewish holiday Passover.
Many Christians worldwide celebrate Easter with special church services, music, candlelight, flowers and the ringing of church bells. Easter processions are held in some countries such as the Philippines and Spain. Many Christians view Easter as the greatest feast of the Church year. It is a day of joy and celebration to commemorate that Jesus Christ is risen, according to Christian belief.
Many towns and villages in Italy have sacred dramas about the episodes of the Easter story – these are held in the piazzas on Easter Day. Pastries called corona di nove are baked in the form of a crown. Other traditional foods include capretto (lamb) and agnello (kid/goat). Easter in Poland is celebrated with family meals that include ham, sausages, salads, babka (a Polish cake) and mazurka, or sweet cakes filled with nuts, fruit and honey.
Although Easter maintains great religious significance, many children in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United States, think of it as a time to get new spring clothes, to decorate eggs and to participate in Easter egg hunts where eggs are hidden by the Easter Bunny. Some children receive Easter baskets full of candy, snacks, and presents around this time of the year.
Easter Sunday, also called Resurrection Sunday, is a Christian observance celebrating the resurrection of Christ.
Hot Cross Buns
The ancient Greeks may have marked cakes with a cross.
One theory is that the Hot Cross Bun originates from St Albans, where Brother Thomas Rocliffe, a 14th Century monk at St Albans Abbey, developed a similar recipe called an ‘Alban Bun’ and distributed the bun to the local poor on Good Friday, starting in 1361.
The name ‘simnel’ probably comes from the ancient Roman ‘simila’, meaning ‘fine flour’ (as does ‘semolina’). Simple, everyday cakes of ‘simnel bread’ have been known in England at least since the 13th Century, and are always described as being boiled as well as baked. We don’t know quite what they tasted like, but we do know that, around the time of Queen Elizabeth I, fancy simnel cakes came to be associated with springtime.
In most modern versions marzipan or almond paste is used as a filling for the cake with a layer laid in the middle of the mix before the cake is cooked, and it is also used as decoration on the top.
Conventionally eleven, or occasionally twelve, marzipan balls are used to decorate the cake, with a story that the balls represent the twelve apostles, minus Judas. However, this style of decoration, together with its story, did not become the norm until the 1970s, and the older, Victorian tradition of decorating the cakes with preserved fruits and flowers was the dominant form in recipes throughout the twentieth century.
The first chocolate Easter eggs were made in Europe in the early 19th Century with France and Germany taking the lead. A type of eating chocolate had been invented a few years earlier but it could not be successfully moulded. Some early eggs were solid while the production of the first hollow chocolate eggs must have been rather painstaking as the moulds were lined with paste chocolate one at a time!
John Cadbury made his first ‘French eating Chocolate’ in 1842 but it was not until 1875 that the first Cadbury Easter Eggs were made. Progress in the chocolate Easter egg market was very slow until a method was found of making the chocolate flow into the moulds.
The modern chocolate Easter egg with its smoothness, shape and flavour owes its progression to the two greatest developments in the history of chocolate – the invention of a press for separating cocoa butter from the cocoa bean by the Dutch inventor Van Houten in 1828 and the introduction of a pure cocoa by Cadbury Brothers in 1866. The Cadbury process made large quantities of cocoa butter available and this was the secret of making moulded chocolate or indeed, any fine eating chocolate.
The earliest Cadbury chocolate eggs were made of ‘dark’ chocolate with a plain smooth surface and were filled with dragees. The earliest ‘decorated eggs’ were plain shells enhanced by chocolate piping and marzipan flowers.
Cadbury Creme Egg is the most popular and over 500 million are made every year. About two thirds are enjoyed in the UK, which means 3.5 Cadbury Creme Eggs for every person!
A popular symbol of the Easter festival, the white lily is held as the traditional Easter Flower and represents love and hope. The single flower stem originating from a bulb represents the resurrection of Christ three days after his apparent death by crucifixion.
The Easter Bunny
The Easter Bunny is a folkloric figure and symbol of Easter, depicted as a rabbit bringing Easter eggs. Originating among German Lutherans, the ‘Easter Hare’ originally played the role of a judge, evaluating whether children were good or disobedient in behaviour at the start of the season of Eastertide.
Legend has it that the Easter Bunny lays, decorates and hides eggs as they are also a symbol of new life.
It doesn’t do all the work alone though. In Switzerland, Easter eggs are delivered by a cuckoo, and by a fox in parts of Germany.