Have you ever wondered why we eat chocolate eggs, ham or hot cross buns this time of year? Read on to learn the history behind these traditional Easter foods…
In pre-Christian Germany, the hare symbolised the pagan goddess of spring and fertility. As Christianity spread, pagan traditions were blended with new ones, and the hare became an Easter Bunny who laid colourful eggs for well-behaved children on Easter Sunday. Eggs are a symbol of life and rebirth dating back millennia, and were adopted by early Christians as a symbol of the resurrection, with the shell representing the tomb and the emerging chick as a very cute Jesus. Eating eggs at Easter is also a result of Lent, when Christians would traditionally abstain from eggs as well as meat and dairy.
The chocolate Easter egg was invented in England in the 19th century. The Fry family in Bristol ran the largest chocolate factory in the world, and produced the first chocolate egg there in 1873. Cadbury’s hopped on board two years later, making their first chocolate eggs in 1875, and the rest is delicious chocolatey history.
Hot cross buns
Pagan Anglo-Saxons baked buns marked with crosses at the beginning of spring in honour of the goddess Eostre, likely the origin behind the name Easter. The cross represented the rebirth of the world after winter, the four quarters of the moon, the four seasons and the wheel of life. Christians saw the Crucifixion in the crosses and, as with many other pagan traditions, replaced their original meaning with a Christian one.
This common Easter roast is linked to Old Testament and Passover traditions of the sacrificial lamb. Christians eat lamb at Easter in memory of Jesus’ sacrifice as the “Lamb of God”.
While it hasn’t been associated with Easter as long as lamb, ham became a popular choice for seasonal reasons. Pigs were typically butchered in the autumn, and the meat was smoked and cured to preserve it through the winter. These hams would be ready for a celebratory feast in early spring before the first livestock of the year had been born.
Yes, pretzels. When we think of Easter, pretzels don’t usually spring to mind – but they used to be an Easter food, with the twisted shape resembling a once-popular prayer position of arms folded over the chest. Pretzels were once hidden on Easter morning just as eggs are hidden today, and Germans would eat pretzels and hard-boiled eggs for dinner on Good Friday, symbolising everlasting life and Easter’s rebirth.
Happy Easter, everyone!