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 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.
Think 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.
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
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.)
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
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
Rich 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.
This is an old recipe so it’s in Imperial measures. I have given metric equivalents.
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)
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
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.
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.
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!)
Roll 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.
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.
I 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?
A 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.
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.
Jana won. As she thoroughly deserved to do.
I beamed for a week. And Easter scares me no more.
Happy Easter to Everyone from the Libertà Hive
Joanna, Sarah, Liz, Sophie