In the Christian world Easter is a major religious festival starting on Good Friday commemorating the Crucifixion and finishing on Easter Sunday celebrating the resurrection. It is also a massive weekend within the hospitality industry. In some countries, the United Kingdom included, it is a four-day weekend with a holiday on the friday and monday. In some Catholic countries there is a full week of parades and festivals leading upto the Easter weekend, known in Spain as La Semana Santa. This year Easter falls on the weekend of 2nd to 4th April – the date varies each year depending on the first full moon after the spring equinox on March 21st.
For bars and restaurants it is often the first time following a long winter to really hear the register ring! Certainly here in Europe we look forward to the longer, warmer days and the opportunity to get out. This year, however, like last year the majority of catering establishments are going to have to rely on a takeaway service.
There are many food traditions associated with the Easter holiday. In Britain we eat a buttered toasted teacake known as a Hot Cross Bun to signify the Crucifixion. The cross on the top of the bun is made using flour paste and, upposedly, the spices in the bun are to represent the spices used in embalming Christ. The origins of the Hot Cross Bun are somewhat mixed with the obvious claim that they were first introduced by an English monk in the 12th century, but there is also a version that explores their pagan origins. Cross Buns were baked to celebrate the spring festival and the goddess Eostre. The four quarters of the cross represent the phases of the moon.
One of the dishes you are most likely to see on European plates on Easter Sunday is roast lamb and there is à historical reason for this. Going back to the Jewish festival of Passover a lamb is traditionally sacrificed and the blood smeared on the door so that God would “Pass Over” and not take the family’s first born son. In Christianity the lamb has always signified sacrifice -think “sacrificial lamb” or “like a lamb to the slaughter” – and there is symbolism that Christ represented the lamb.
It is seen as coincidence that in Europe Spring Lamb is just becoming available at the time of Easter. In fact most lamb born in Spring would not be available until after Easter and the land consumed during the holiday was most likely born in December.
One further food based tradition around Easter is the giving of Easter Eggs, these days normally chocolate eggs but not always so in the past. The chocolate is the easy part. Many people will give up some form of luxury for the period of Lent before Easter. Following “Mardi Gras”, when you use up the luxury ingredients in your store cupboard, Lent is a time
of abstinence and ends on Easter Sunday, hence the luxury of chocolate.
But why eggs? Like many Christian traditions the giving of eggs is rooted in Pagan festivals. Eggs are an ancient symbol of new life and have long been associated with Spring celebrations. In Christianity, Easter eggs are representative of Christ emerging from the tomb and of resurrection. Many nations still paint and decorate hard boiled eggs around the Easter holiday either as a Spring tradition or in the belief of a religious practice.
You may also ask about the Easter Bunny which has absolutely nothing to with the religious side of Easter but is again a Pagan symbol of Spring and the rebirth of the planet and new life. Let’s be honest, rabbits are well known for their rapid reproduction especially as the warmer weather sets in.
Have a very Happy Easter, eat well and support your local restaurant!