The celebration of Easter in the UK

Sunday 10th March, 2024

Easter hasn't always been about chocolate and chicks. It's well known for being a Christian festival, but why? What is it all about and where did it all start? Let's dive in.

Where does the name Easter come from?

There's some debate about where the name comes from. Some think Easter is derived from the Germanic goddess of fertility and spring, Eostre. There were pagan festivals before Easter during spring and it's feasible early Christians chose to celebrate Easter at this time, as a substitute for the pagan holiday. Others think it is more likely derived from Latin and Germanic words that mean dawn and east. It also coincides with the Jewish Passover which remembers the Israelite's freedom from Egypt. The second opinion fits better with the themes of spring, new life, and freedom but both may be true.

What is Easter all about?

Easter is the celebration of Jesus, a man who died and then believed to have been resurrected (came back to life) three days later. Christians believe Jesus died a perfect man, the son of God and took all the sins (bad things people do) upon himself and came back to life. His death paid the price for the sin offering every person who believes in Jesus a clean slate. Christians believe this holiday brings hope and reminds them of the cost of their forgiveness.

When is Easter?

Easter is celebrated at the end of Lent, which is six weeks of fasting and reflection on Jesus' life. Often people give something up for lent, for example, chocolate or social media. This sacrifice and self-discipline reflect the 40 days Jesus spent fasting and resisting temptation in the desert.

Easter is celebrated over 4 days, with the most important day being Sunday. It begins with Maundy Thursday the day Jesus was tried at court and sentenced to death.

Next, there is Good Friday the day Jesus died. It's odd to call such a sad day good but it's not about the death, but what the death represented which is new life for all who believe. Jesus was killed by crucifixion which was an excruciating way to go and if you'd rather avoid the details, I recommend skipping to the next paragraph. Crucifixion is a death penalty punishment where a person is hung on a cross, and nails are driven through their hands and feet. Often the reason for death is not bleeding out, or pain but suffocation due to a person no longer having the energy to push themselves up to breathe. It was brutal. Interesting fact: it is thought that Jesus died around 3 pm.

Holy Saturday is a day of quiet and reflection on the death of Jesus, the day before hope returned in the form of his resurrection.

Finally, Easter Sunday is the main event. The day that Jesus' friends found the tomb empty and witnessed Jesus alive again. It's the day where you will find churches celebrating, singing and remembering. It is a day of joy and thankfulness. Chocolate is eaten, eggs are hunted, and games are played.

Why do we celebrate Easter with eggs?

There is a natural connection between the season and eggs. Spring is the season of fertility, birth and new life. Eggs are ready to hatch with chicks. The fields are filled with lambs, piglets and calves. It is the time when the sun rises earlier, and the days are not as dark. All these things proclaim the hope that surrounds Easter.

Eggs used to be banned during Lent so eating a real egg was a treat after going without for so long. As far as chocolate eggs go, they started to appear around the early 19th Century. Fry's was the first to make a hollow chocolate egg in the UK in 1873. Cadbury's quickly followed, marketing them and creating the chocolate easter egg we all know and love.

From a Christian perspective, the hollow eggs are used as a metaphor for Jesus no longer being in the tomb.

Easter traditions in the UK

People have been using eggs as decorations for spring for a long time before Easter was ever celebrated. Paganism even encouraged the burial of eggs under houses to ward off evil spirits. However, these days eggs have become a symbol of Easter and it's hard to think about Easter without thinking of eggs. Today they are usually decorated with paint or food colouring, but historically have been dyed using a variety of things, one of them being onion skins! Other artists have been known to engrave patterns on eggshells using special tools. In 1290, Edward I requested 450 eggs decorated with gold leaf to place around his household.

The tradition of the egg hunt and Easter bunny comes from Germany and was thought to be brought to the UK by Queen Victoria's mother who organised egg hunts for her children. In this country, children often look forward to an egg hunt in a garden, park or even their house.

Then there is also egg rolling which is pretty much what it sounds like. Eggs are rolled down hills in a race to see who can get their egg the furthest without breaking. There are still annual competitions in Lancashire. The egg rolling symbolises Jesus' tombstone being rolled away.

Easter food in the UK

Chocolate is of course what everyone remembers about Easter but there are a few other traditional foods here in the UK. Hot cross buns are a sweet, spiced bread mixed with currants, and featuring a white cross on the top representing the cross Jesus died on. These are also made in a variety of special edition flavours such as chocolate and caramel or chocolate orange. Honestly, it's just an excuse to make things more chocolatey than they already are.

Simnel cake is a fruitcake decorated with 11 marzipan balls to represent the 11 disciples, presumably leaving Judas, the 12th disciple off due to his betrayal of Jesus. I must confess, even as a British person, I hadn't ever heard of this cake, but I guess you learn something new every day.

Finally, there is the classic roast lamb which is often the meat of choice for Easter roasts. This goes back to the sacrificial lamb from the Old Testament and the belief that Jesus is the embodiment of this sacrifice.

Final Thoughts

Through this post, it's hard to avoid the fact that even the simplest traditions somehow still connect back to the story of Jesus. There is so much symbolism and history within the food and activities. No matter how you celebrate and what you believe, I truly hope you have a wonderful Easter weekend.

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