Easter : Just Chocolate and Fluffy Bunnies?

Easter bunnies and eggs

Image by annca from Pixabay

If we believe the torrent of adverts, Easter is just a foodie challenge, mostly directed at children (and their parents).

How much chocolate can you eat and in how many different shapes and sizes?

Monster chocolate rabbit anyone?

Easter Eggs

Straw-decorated Easter eggs, image by Jan KameníčekEaster traditions vary across the world, though a lot of them feature Easter eggs, like these beautifully straw-decorated eggs from the Czech Republic. Like jewels, aren’t they?

Not surprising that eggs feature, perhaps. Not only do eggs symbolise new life and rebirth, they were a forbidden food during Lent. There probably wouldn’t have been many about, early in the year. The old stock of eggs would have been gobbled up on Shrove Tuesday, in yummy pancakes.

Fabergé Coronation Egg by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia CommonsThink of those amazing Fabergé eggs, given as gifts to the women of the Romanov family after a Russian Orthodox Easter service. Of course, Easter would usually have been later there than in non-Orthodox countries — most years, the Orthodox Easter is later than the Western Christian Easter. In 2019, the dates differ by a week. But in 2025, the dates will be 31 March and 5 May. (Children in places like Cyprus may get Easter eggs twice over, if they have friends from both communities.
Good, eh?)

Here, in the Libertà hive, we’ve been doing a little research about Easter traditions. Hive members chose their own area to pursue. (And they do not have to come clean about their level of chocolate consumption, either…)

Joanna’s Pagan Éostre

vintage Easter rabbit and egg

By DarkWorkX from Pixabay

Ever wondered where the English word came from? (Easter is similar to Dutch ooster and German Ostern, both languages with similar roots to English. In Romance languages, by contrast, we have words such as the French Pâques, derived from the Latin word for the Jewish festival of Passover.)

Ostara (1884) by Johannes Gehrts. The goddess flies through the heavens surrounded by Roman-inspired putti, beams of light, and animals. Germanic people look up at the goddess from the realm below.

Pagan Goddess Ostara (Éostre)

Apparently the word Easter is not Christian at all, but derived from the name of a pagan goddess, Éostre.

The Venerable Bede said that April was the month in which the English celebrated festivals in honour of this pagan goddess. However, some scholars have suggested Bede made her up, since she’s not mentioned by anyone else.

Imagine: the Venerable Bede telling fibs? Whatever next?

This is a 19th century German representation of Ostara (possibly also Éostre). Note the birds and animals, the signs of Spring around, and the tiny humans looking up at the radiant goddess in awe.

The German Easter Hare

Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/suju-165106/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4038246">suju</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4038246">Pixabay</a>

Hare Image by suju from Pixabay

German Easter customs include an Osterhase, an Easter hare rather than a rabbit, though I rather think the animal in the goddess image above is actually a rabbit. Compare it with the amazingly relaxed hare shown left. What do you think?

Grimm (he of the Fairy Tales) thought — based on no evidence at all, apparently — that the hare was sacred to Ostara. Convenient if you’re trying to pull mythology together, I suppose…

Grimm was generally sold on Ostara and didn’t believe Bede was telling fibs about her.

Ostara, Eástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted by the resurrection-day of the Christian’s God… The heathen Easter had much in common with May-feast and the reception of spring, particularly in the matter of bonfires. Then, through long ages there seem to have lingered among the people Easter-games so-called, which the church itself had to tolerate : I allude especially to the custom of Easter eggs…

chocolate Easter eggs

So Easter eggs didn’t originally relate to Easter either? Sigh. I shall have to console myself with chocolate 🙂

Sarah’s Easter musings

In today’s world of hygiene and “best before” dates, you might wonder what happened to the eggs laid during Lent? Eggs are indeed little miracles of nature. They can be stored for a long time. Current thinking is up to a month, so the 40 days fasting might be pushing the boundaries, but it appears our ancestors thought eggs were the perfect food with which to break the Lenten fast. However, since poorer folk and villagers gave eggs as gifts to the Lord of the Manor at Easter time, I can’t help wondering if they gave away those that were close to their sell-by date!

hens leaving the hen house

Um, please pause production!

There are plenty of English superstitions, too, about eggs and Easter. One very early myth is that eggs laid on Good Friday turned into diamonds if they were kept for 100 years.

diamond ring on red glove

Eggs cooked on Good Friday and eaten at Easter promoted fertility and prevented sudden death. Also, if you were lucky enough to have a “double yolker”, you would soon become rich.

Egg games

Easter games: page egg play

Pace Egg Play

In Lancashire and West Yorkshire they still have pace egg plays.

The word “pace” comes from Paschal, Latin for Easter. The players dress up like mummers with medieval type costume, dancing horses and many feature St George.

Pace eggs were hard boiled eggs (hen, goose or duck) with a coloured shell. They were given as presents, or rolled in a race. (There is still egg rolling in Preston, Lancs.) The tradition of pace eggs had been dying out, but recently there has been a resurgence of decorated eggs, with lots of information on line about how to decorate your eggs.

two Georgian schoolboys

Longer holiday, lads?

In bygone times, Easter was primarily a religious festival, but the Georgians were always ready to celebrate.

The short lived Treaty of Amiens was signed between France and England during the Napoleonic Wars in March 1802. It was marked by the Prince of Wales asking that the pupils at Eton School should have their Easter holiday extended by another week.

And here is a good fact for all chocoholics: Fry’s sold the first English chocolate egg in 1873 and there are now over 80 million sold in the UK.

Liz’s Easter bread — rich, eggy and sweet

ingredients for Easter breadRich with tradition, symbolism, and luscious ngredients, Easter breads figure prominently in many cultures’ celebrations. From Russia to Spain, these yeast-risen breads are full of eggs, butter, sugar, fruits, nuts, and spices — a small reward following the period of Lent leading up to Easter Sunday.

Our family favourite is the Scandinavian Easter Ring — my daughter has vivid memories of making one when she was about nine years old. (We started them cooking early!)

We made one last weekend and here’s how we did it.

The Ingredients

This is an old recipe so it’s in Imperial measures. I have given metric equivalents.

Easter bread dough risingThe dough 

1 lb (450 gm) flour
large pinch of salt
7 fl oz (200 ml) of milk
1 oz (25 gm) yeast (we used quick yeast — a pack for a large loaf)
4 oz (100 gm) butter
4 oz (100 gm) caster sugar
2 eggs (beaten)

Easter bread filled ready for rollingThe filling

1 oz (25 gm) butter
2 ox (50 gm) caster sugar (actually we used muscavado for more flavour)
2 ox (50 gm) of dried fruit
1 tsp ground cinnamon

For decoration

Glacé icing (icing sugar and water mixed to a coating consistency)
Traditionally it has walnuts, and glace cherries with angelica leaves. We used sugar flowers, walnuts and small chocolate eggs.

The method

kneading Easter breadSift the flour with the salt into a mixing bowl. Warm the milk carefully to blood heat. Add the yeast and butter, stir until dissolved then mix in the sugar and beaten eggs.

Make a well in the centre of the flour, pour in the liquid and mix until smooth, first with a wooden spoon and then with your hand. When the dough comes away cleanly from the bowl, turn it onto a board and knead until elastic.

Place dough in a greased bowl (turn over in the bowl so that the dough is lightly greased all over), cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise in a warm place until it has doubled in bulk.

rolling up Easter breadKnock down the dough, pull sides to the centre, turn it over, cover and leave to rise for another 30 minutes.

Turn the dough onto a floured board and pull out into a rectangle approx 15 x 25 cm |(6 by 10 inches). It should be about 1 cm (½ inch) thick. Cover the surface with pats of butter, sprinkle with sugar, fruit and cinnamon. (Note my daughter’s rabbit Easter nails!)

Easter bread ring prior to bakingRoll up the dough tightly, lengthwise and seal by pinching the edges together. Curl in a ring and join the edges well. Snip the ring at 2.5 cm (1 inch) intervals, cutting 2/3 through the ring. Leave to prove for 20 minutes.

Bake until golden brown in a hot oven 200°C (400°F/Gas Mark 6) for about 25 minutes.

Pierce the roll with a thin skewer to test if the ring is done.

Decoration

Liz's gorgeous finished Easter bread

Liz’s finished Easter bread looks absolutely scrumptious

Mix a quantity of glacé icing and drizzle it on the tea ring while still warm and decorate to taste.

This will freeze either at the stage before the final rise and baking, or once baked. Or you could cut the roll into slices and bake individual breads.

Sadly, both my daughter and I are on a diet so we’re waiting until the big day before we hit the treats; but my son-in-law and the grandchildren said it was yummy!

Sophie’s Cracking Easter

When I was a child, Easter frightened me. The story was cruel. The hymns were dirges. Easter eggs were often nasty but you had to eat them or Upset Your Aunt/Uncle/Grandmother.

fallen tree across roadI hated having to smash a sweet little Easter bunny, though, and often refused to. So it melted or else acquired a patina of mould over time. My mother dusted round the sad creature, muttering grimly.

Even the weather veered from depressing to terrifying. Camellia buds were frozen to death by a fierce frost. Trees blew down in gales. And the sun shone brilliantly all the while, like a demon baring its teeth. Scary, right?

Red eggs for EasterA Russian neighbour set me straight. The Orthodox Church has no truck with sticky chocolate. Their congregations take real eggs, hard boil them and paint them RED. More than that: before you eat them, you have egg duels with your fellow breakfasters. Much more jolly

Sadly, I couldn’t convert my family.

late Greek Easter picnic in sunny gardenMost fortunately, when I grew up, I met my friend Jana and her husband.

Jana is Greek and retains a strong vein of seven-year-old joy. (She inspired a spoof Wooster story I once wrote.) She invited my partner and me for Greek Easter. It was later than the one in our diaries. The sunshine in their lovely garden was positively benign.

And yes all the Orthodox churches do the same thing, though the theological justification/legends sound a bit convenient, to me. The source of the whole egg-thing may even be pre-Christian New Year celebrations at the spring equinox in the countries of Mesopotamia.

smashing red Easter eggsSo, wow, my partner and I got to smash (and be smashed) while Easter breakfasting with very good friends.

Jana won. As she thoroughly deserved to do.

I beamed for a week. And Easter scares me no more.

Result!

Happy Easter to Everyone from the Libertà Hive

Joanna Maitland, author  Sarah Mallory, author  Liz Fielding, author  Sophie Weston, Author

Joanna, Sarah, Liz, Sophie

Puppy Love : Guest Blog by Jane Godman

Jane Godman, author, Libertà Award Winner

Jane Godman
Libertà Award Winner

Cover of Secret Baby, Second Chance by Jane Godman

Jane’s Prizewinning Book
Click image for Amazon

This month, we’re delighted to welcome a new guest, the winner of the Libertà Books Shorter Romantic Novel Award, Jane Godman. Jane writes thrillers and paranormals for Harlequin Mills & Boon and St Martin’s Press and self-publishes historical and gothic stories as well! Quite a range and certainly enough to keep her very busy.

Jane Godman is much travelled too. Born in Scotland, she’s lived in Germany, Wales, Malta, South Africa, and England. Jane says she still gets the urge to travel, but these days she prefers to head for a Spanish beach, or a European city that is steeped in history.

When she isn’t reading or writing romance, Jane likes cooking, spending time with her family, and enjoying the antics of her dogs, Gravy and Vera. For more about them, read on…

Puppy love — Vera’s Story

Jane Godman's Cairn terrier, Gravy

Gravy

He was unlike anyone she’d ever met before. A darkly handsome Highlander, with perfect features and melting brown eyes.

She wasn’t even going to try to pronounce his name, but it was intensely attractive to her.

Aloof and distant, he ignored her efforts to be friendly, turning away when she approached, and sometimes even leaving the room when she walked in. Continue reading

Perfecting the Practice of Procrastination

Procrastination? Oh look, there’s a squirrel!

a cute squirrel is an excuse for procrastination

Hi, Sarah here. If you think writing is easy, think again!

Yes, an author might have a burst of creativity, ideas may come thick and fast, but translating those scenes in one’s head into a publishable book can be tortuous. Sometimes anything seems a better option than actually putting words on the page.

Recently, Liz Fielding and I sat down to discuss the problem of procrastination. Then we were distracted!

So — yesterday we finally sat down to discuss it!

Procrastination is the thief of time

Liz:  Ah, the P word, Sarah. What can I say?  When the words are slow to come, there is always the lure of Pinterest… Continue reading

Spring gladdens the writer’s heart

It’s the end of March. The Vernal Equinox is past. We can properly talk about Spring.

spring sunshine, trees and snowviolets in springOf course, by the time this blog is published, it may be snowing again, but we don’t have a crystal ball here in the Libertà hive. So…

Instead, to gladden hearts and look forward to lighter, brighter days, we asked each hive member to give us a flavour of the things she most looks forward to with the coming of Spring. Violets rather than snow? Continue reading

In Praise of Books with Friends

Books with friends. Right ho, JeevesThis week I want to praise books with friends in them.

I confess, this is pure sentiment on my part. I’ve had an emotional time in which I have been hugely grateful for my friends. They sustain me. This week I’ve been on a writing retreat with several of them, and they were stars. When asked, they gave me constructive suggestions. If necessary, they took the piss out of me. We laughed lots.

And they all held out a hand when I needed that, too.

So I started thinking about friends in books. It is not a genre that bookshops recognise. But it’s a quality that always enhances a book and often endears it to the reader.

Blessed Bertie Wooster is not just a silly ass, but a chap who touches your heartstrings for exactly that reason. He sets out his stall in Right Ho, Jeeves. “Gussie and I, as I say, had rather lost touch, but all the same I was exercised about the poor fish, as I am about all my pals, close or distant, who find themselves treading upon Life’s banana skins.Ah yes. A chap one can rely on. Definitely hero material. I knew there had to be a reason why I’ve always loved him so much. Continue reading

Writing Retreats : Pleasures and Pitfalls

woman reading book in hammock against dark sky

Writing retreats do NOT include this. Sadly.

I’ve been on quite a few writing retreats. And as you read this blog, I’m probably off on another one. If you’re reading this blog after 20th March, though, you’re too late. I’m back 😉

This post is about writing retreats in general, and what I’m hoping to get out of this particular one. I’m also looking at some of the benefits of writing retreats and — sorry, but I won’t lie to you here — the pitfalls.

Writing retreats : what are they? what do writers do there?

Continue reading

Romantic Novel Awards 2019

This Monday saw the party for this year’s UK Romantic Novel Awards. It was fun, warm-hearted and full of interesting ideas from inspiring people. Made me feel quite sentimental — indeed, cautiously hopeful for the human race.

The Awards are in their 59th year — which makes them older than the Booker, the Costa and even the renowned RITA awards by the Romance Writers of America. Continue reading

The story began, but where? Liz Fielding puzzles

I began, but where? How? What was the inciting moment?

cover of Liz Fielding's Latest Book The Billionaire's Convenient Bride

Liz Fielding’s Latest Book
The Billionaire’s Convenient Bride

Every time I finish a story, I try to remember where it began, in this case to try and put my finger on the exact moment when The Billionaire’s Convenient Bride stopped being a mess of stuff in my head and began to be a story.

Sometimes it’s so clear.

I once saw a great house set high up in the woods as I was being driven to Cheltenham. I instantly pictured a woman standing on the doorstep. Angry, not wanting to be there. She had a wedding to arrange. The man who answered the door was expecting someone else so he wasn’t happy, either. And then there was the baby.

It took me a while to work out the why, the what happened next, but it eventually became The Bride, the Baby and the Best Man.

My new book began with Dora

Liz Fielding's new book began with Dora, the dachshund

I don’t usually add dogs to my books. That’s because, like babies and small children, you constantly have to remember where they are. Make sure they’re being taken care of.

This time, however, I found myself desperate for a dachshund. I have an entire Pinterest page devoted to them! I began buying stuff with dachshunds on them. Notebooks, socks, a Christmas sweater — they are, I discovered to my joy, everywhere. This is Dora. Continue reading

Pedantique-Ryter: Could Have or Could Of?

We could of had it all

exclamation mark in fireIf you do a web search for could of, you’ll find quite a few people searching for song lyrics. Examples of search terms include: exploding champagne as in "it could of been the champagne"It could of been the champagne

and “It could of been me.”

We could of had it all” was a search for a song by Adele, called Rolling in the Deep.

And the line in question was, of course,
We could HAVE had it all“.

What’s happening here?

Continue reading

Strongholds, Sea, Sand. And Swordmakers

Sarah opens up on the tortuous route of the author’s imagination…towards swordmakers

Inspiration

Every author needs it. Something that sparks the imagination and begins the tortuous route that leads to a full novel. It might take months, or even years, but we all have to start somewhere.

For every book.

This is the story of one such route to inspiration

It started with a castle. This castle to be exact. Dunstanburgh, standing proud on a windy, sea-battered promontory on the Northumberland coast.

Dunstanburgh Castle and rolling waves

Continue reading