The Edible History of Easter

What does a bunny, a goddess, an egg and a cross all have in common?

Pretty much nothing, except that they are all in some way related to Easter!

Easter is right around the corner (it’s on Sunday, in case the onslaught of chocolate bunnies/eggs/Elsa’s on the grocery store shelves have not already woken you up to that fact), and while some may just enjoy the holiday for the extra day off, for others it is a pretty big deal.  In fact, Easter, which is the culmination of Lent + the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the most important day of the year for Christians.

When did Easter begin?

The first-ever recorded celebration was in the 2nd century, but most historians are pretty convinced that this springtime celly goes back much further.  One popular theory is that early Christians adopted yet another pagan festival, Eostre, to celebrate the Goddess of Spring and fertility of whom the holiday is named after.  The story goes that the Goddess consorted with a rabbit, which served as inspiration for the Easter bunny.  Not shockingly, there is little evidence to actually support this theory, so it has been relegated to the category of myth.  What kind of evidence does one look for to support a claim like that anyways?

So where did the bunny come from then?

Excellent question.  Have you ever heard the expression “to multiply like rabbits”? Unlike the Eostre theory, this one has plenty of proof and it shows up to poop all over your lawn in the spring and eat your veggie garden.  Multiplying at an alarmingly rapid rate is basically a rabbit’s best defense against extinction, since they’re not exactly at the top of the food chain.

Because of this, bunnies have long been a symbol of fertility and new life, both which coincide nicely with the themes of Easter.  The popularity of the Easter Bunny grew in Protestant Europe in the 17th century and was brought to America by German immigrants about a century later.

Rabbits aren’t the only animal associated with Easter.  In Switzerland, a cuckoo bird delivers the Easter eggs to children and depending where you are in Germany, your house may instead be visited by a fox, a chick, a rooster or a stork.

Which came first- the bunny or the egg?

And what does an egg have to do with a bunny?  Bunnies don’t lay eggs!

You’re right- and while the two are often depicted together, they actually have nothing in common other than that they’re both symbols of Easter that represent new life and fertility.  Which came first?  Well, we don’t really know, but we do know that Christians adopted the egg as an Easter symbol around the 13th century.  In this case the yolk surrounded by a white shell is meant to represent Christ’s emergence from the tomb, and traditionally the eggs were painted red to represent Christ’s blood shed on the cross.

There is also a practical purpose behind eggs at Easter.  You’ll remember that Easter signifies the end of Lent, which is 40 days of excluding eggs, meat and dairy from the diet so it makes sense that eggs would be a welcome treat come Easter Sunday.  They probably also had a whole lot of unused eggs lying around, so there would’ve been plenty of extras available to be painted and used as decoration.

When did chocolate get involved in the situation?

This tradition is an addition to another Easter custom, the Easter basket.  The giving of these baskets has pagan roots, beginning in many ancient Middle Eastern cultures.  The spring equinox, which is when day and night are the same length, was a symbol to ancient farmers that winter was coming to an end and it was time to plant their seedlings for the upcoming growing season.  It was customary for ancient farmers to fill baskets with seeds and other signs of spring to honour the Gods and pray for successful agricultural yields.

Fast forward a few thousand years, when early Christians adopted the use of baskets to bring food to the church to have it blessed before consuming the large Easter meal that signified the end of Lent.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that European chocolatiers began making chocolate eggs to help fill up the baskets.  Why?  Because chocolate is amazing and makes everything better.

At least that’s our theory.

What other foods are Easter traditions other than chocolate?

This depends on where you live, but probably the most widely followed food tradition is the classic Easter Ham.  In colonial times, animals were slaughtered in November.  They ate a certain amount of it fresh, but of course there would’ve been way to much to eat all at once, and the whole point of it was to have food to carry them through the winter months.  Without freezing or refrigeration, they turned to curation to preserve their meat.  This process took several months, which meant the meat was ready right around the same time as Easter- how convenient!

Lamb is also a common Easter main, which dates back even earlier than Easter to the first Passover meal eaten by the Jewish people.  They ate a sacrificial lamb in hopes that an angel of God would pass over their home and bring no harm to them.

Here are a few more common Easter dishes from around the world:

Russia: Pashka – a pyramid-shaped cheese ball decorated with the symbols XB, which stands for Христосъ Воскресe, the typical Easter greeting meaning “Christ is Risen!”.

Italy: Colomba di Pasqua – this is a cake stuffed with the candied peels of various fruits and shaped like a dove.

Greece: Tsoureki – a brioche-like bread that is decorated with eggs that have been died red to represent the blood of Christ.

Eastern Europe (Slovenia and Croatia): Pinka – basically a giant hot cross bun.

Spain: Mona de Pascua – a cake served during Semana Santa, or Holy Week, that looks like a large donut topped with hardboiled eggs.

UK: Hot Cross Buns – the cross of icing is meant to represent the cross upon which Jesus was crucified.  Another traditional dish is Simnel cake, which is a fruit cake topped with 11 or twelve marzipan balls to represent the Apostles (we’re guessing you choose 11 or 12 based on your feelings about Judas…?)

Mexico: Capirotada – spiced bread pudding filled with raisins, cinnamon, cloves and cheese.  Each ingredient is a reminder of Jesus’s suffering, where the cloves represent the nails on the cross, the cinnamon stick represents the cross and the bread is for the body of Christ.

Orthodox Christian Countries (Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia): Kulich –  cakes that are baked in tall tins and decorated with white icing, sprinkles and flowers.  The cakes must be blessed by the priest following the Easter service.

Germany: Chervil soup – Maundy Thursday, also known as Gründonnerstag, or “Green Thursday”, is when the German people traditionally eat green food, like this pretty tasty looking green soup.  The day is the Thursday before Easter and is meant to commemorate the last supper.

Brazil: Paçoca de Amendoim – made of peanuts, sugar and cassava flour.

Finland: Mämmi – made of water, rye flour, and powdered malted rye seasoned with dark molasses, salt and dried orange zest.

Denmark: Påskeøl – Easter beer that is usually a 5-6% lager.

 

We hope you enjoy a delicious Easter!  Don’t forget to check out our video and recipe post to learn how to make Hot Cross Buns!

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