Easter Traditions…Historical Meaning and Significance Explained

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Chocolate Easter eggs are a traditional gift this time of year (Photo: Adobe)

Seasonal spotlight on the most eccentric customs, from chocolate to hot rolls, from Simnel cake to Good Friday fish dish, from egg painting, to hunting, rolling and jarping.

Every year, many of us observe “traditions” associated with Easter.

But do we really understand how and why these traditions came into existence and the meanings behind them? Steve Cain Explain.

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Chocolate Easter Eggs

Chocolate Easter eggs are a traditional gift this time of year (Photo: Adobe)

Eggs are the symbol of new life and rebirth.

In medieval times, eating eggs was forbidden during Lent (the six-week period leading up to Easter), so on Easter Sunday, scoffing at an egg was an absolute treat.

This was especially the case for poorer people who could not afford luxuries like meat.

Churches received eggs from parishioners as Good Friday offerings, and sometimes the lord of the manor received an egg from the villagers.

There are also superstitions regarding eggs.

If a hen laid an egg on Good Friday and it was kept for a century, it was believed that the egg would turn into diamonds.

An egg with a double yolk was considered a sign of future prosperity.

It was also believed that if an egg cooked on Good Friday was not eaten until Easter Sunday, it would improve a person’s fertility and also prevent an unforeseen death.

Instead of offering real chicken, duck or goose eggs at Easter, we now feature chocolate eggs, of which around 80 million are purchased in the UK each year.

On average, each child in Britain will receive up to eight Easter eggs.

The first chocolate Easter eggs appeared in France and Germany in the 19th century.

In 1873, the first hollow chocolate Easter egg, as we know it today, was produced by JS Fry & Sons and Cadbury.

Hot buns

Hot Cross Buns have deep religious significance at Easter (Picture: Adobe)

Hot cross buns are more than sweet and spicy buns marking the end of Lent.

According to superstitions dating back to medieval times, a hot bun hung from the kitchen ceiling on

Good Friday was believed to ward off evil spirits, bring luck to the household, and ensure a safe cooking space.

In other words, prevent kitchen fires and ensure that breads are cooked perfectly.

The bun is believed to remain fresh and mold-free until replaced the following year.

It was even said that the hot cross buns protected boats from sinking!

They are thought to originate from the 14th-century Anglican monk Thomas Rocliffe, who baked them for distribution to the poor and needy on Good Friday.

They grew in popularity and were enjoyed all year round until Queen Elizabeth I passed a law decreeing that spiced rolls could only be eaten on Good Friday, Christmas, or at funerals.

The spices in the bread dough are said to represent the spices used to embalm Jesus before he was buried (and rose, as were the buns themselves).

The shape of the cross, of course, also represents Catholic imagery of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Good Friday fish dish

Fish

Fish is traditionally eaten on Good Friday (Photo: Adobe)

Fish is traditionally eaten on Good Friday, due to the doctrine set forth by the Vatican.

The medieval church decreed that meat – especially the meat of warm-blooded land animals – should not be eaten, which meant eating fish instead.

Meat was considered a delicacy in ancient cultures and was commonly associated with celebrations and feasts. Christians believe that Christ, who was crucified on Good Friday, sacrificed his flesh for our sins.

Therefore, those who follow the religion have abstained from eating meat on Good Friday for centuries.

Cake in the oven

Although usually associated with Easter, Simnel Cake was originally eaten on Mother’s Sunday.

He provided a tasty treat halfway through the Lenten fast.

Topped with eleven symbolic marzipan balls – which represent the eleven true apostles of Jesus Christ – the

Simnel cake is lighter than the rich, boozy fruitcake enjoyed at Christmas.

But it’s made with similar ingredients, including raisins, sultanas, and lemon zest.

The Tudors added saffron to their Simnel cakes, but this is rarely done today.

Simnel cake was losing popularity but, thanks to celebrity chefs such as Mary Berry, Nigella Lawson and

Prue Leith demonstrating all their recipes on television, she is experiencing something of a revival.

Easter hats

Fish is traditionally eaten on Good Friday (Photo: Adobe)

Popularized in Irving Berlin’s song Easter Parade, the Easter bonnet is now the focal point of Easter competitions and parades.

The origins of the tradition of wearing a shiny, frilly beanie can be traced back to when people wore their new “Sunday Best” clothes to church on Easter.

The shiny, flamboyant hats were a joyous expression of new beginnings after the gloom of winter and the Lenten fast.

egg painting

The tradition of painting eggs at Easter dates back to the 13th century.

The egg had become a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, so people painted and decorated eggs to mark the end of the fasting period of Lent and ate them at Easter in celebration.

egg hunts

This custom is believed to have originated in 16th century Germany when, traditionally, men hid eggs for women and children to find. It was a nod to the story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, in which the empty tomb was discovered by women.

Unusual customs and traditions

throw eggs: A game not unlike conkers in which two players tap the pointed ends of their hard-boiled eggs together until the shell of one of them cracks.

hop egg: The eggs are laid on the ground and the teams take turns to dance among them, the goal being to do as little damage as possible.

morris dance: A type of English folk dance that often takes place at Easter parades or village fetes.

Dance troupes were traditionally all-male (although there are now female groups as well), dressed in white, with bells on their trousers, and a stick or handkerchief held aloft in their hands.

Egg rolling: Kids roll highly decorated hard-boiled eggs down grassy hills to see which one goes the farthest.

This tradition is most commonly seen in Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland.

Annual competitions are still held at Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Penshaw Hill in Sunderland, the Castle Moat in Penrith and across Lancashire.

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