By Natasha Silva
Chocolate, that’s what Easter is all about right?! Not entirely. Most people know that Easter is the oldest Christian holiday. It celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after His crucifixion. However, did you know that much of Easter symbolism was born from pagan tradition? In fact, the majority of food symbolisms in particular, including eggs and hot cross buns, have roots in pagan history. In truth, the modern manner in which we celebrate Easter today is one big mash-up of Christian, cult and pagan beliefs.
However you may view Easter, it’s one of the many holidays that bring with it a host of traditional holiday foods. Chocolate, hot cross buns, and roast lunches are just a few of the delicious foods that people look forward to over the Easter holidays. Perhaps you should be more mindful about the food that you eat over Easter in order to appreciate its true meaning. In order to do so, you would have to know what these meanings are.
It’s not only chocolate eggs that make an appearance over Easter. Hard boiled eggs are commonly devoured during Easter lunches and dinners too. Whether chocolate or natural, eggs are prevalent over Easter because they signify new life and new beginnings.
Ancient Persians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans exchanged eggs amongst themselves in celebration of spring. Again, they were used here as symbolism of rebirth, since the earth tends to come alive again in spring after its winter hibernation. Keep in mind here that the northern hemisphere, and western Christian world, experience spring and Easter in conjunction.
Medieval European Christians were forbidden from eating eggs, as well as other meat and dairy products during Lent. Lent is the 40 day fasting period prior to Easter during which Christians take time to spiritually reflect on the life and death of Jesus Christ. Because of this egg fasting over Lent, eggs became massively popular during Easter as they were collected, cooked and kept up until after the Lent period. These eggs were traditionally decorated with suitable religious symbols. Today, eggs are still painted and decorated.
The name “Easter” is derived from the name of the European pagan goddess of spring, Eostre. Eostre was considered as the goddess of all things bright and growing, and was the Mother Goddess of the Northern European Saxons.
Modern hot cross buns are thought to be derived from the wheat cakes and breads that were baked in honour of Eostre, during the Easter period. The Christians adopted these bready wheat cakes and placed the symbol of the cross on top of them. This is another example of Christianity merging with paganism in order to make Christianity an easy transition for pagans.
Hot cross buns, like many other Easter breads today, are made to signify the transformation and resurrection of dough to bread during the baking process, which emulates the resurrection of Christ. The crosses on hot cross buns serve to remind about the crucifixion.
Like Christmas, Easter is another holiday that begs for a large roast lunch or roast dinner shared with the family. And who would complain? The type of roast that adorns your dining room table may be solely based on what meat you like to eat. You will find that the majority of Easter roasts are either of the pork or lamb variety.
Traditionally, the Easter roast was lamb. This was adopted from the Jewish Passover Seder lamb meal. This lamb meal was a result of a sacrificial lamb offering. Christians took on the lamb as a symbol for Jesus Christ, Lamb of God. The roast lamb on the table was seen as a tribute to this.
Perhaps more commonly found now is the roast pork dinner. There is speculation that the Christians chose to adopt the pork roast as an insult to the Jews. However, the Easter roast pork has deeper, older ties to paganism. When Christianity more widely spread to pagan areas of Europe, the Christians adopted pork as the Easter dish because the pagans viewed pigs as a symbol of luck.
Easter is known as the chocolate holiday! In fact, more chocolates are made and sold for Easter than any other holiday, including Valentine’s Day and Christmas. Even those who have no religious beliefs, look forward to Easter simply as an excuse to over indulge in this dark, sweet and sensuous treat. But, what does chocolate have to do with the Easter holiday? The answer is nothing at all!
In ancient times, real hardboiled, decorated eggs were swapped during Easter. As time progressed, people began to realize that artificial eggs made from different materials made for more convenient and appetizing Easter gifts. It was only a matter of time before chocolate eggs were tried and tested.
The first chocolate eggs were manufactured in the early 19th century in Germany and France. These eggs were solid and made from a paste of roasted cacao beans. As a result, they were quite bitter and overwhelming. The rest of Europe soon followed suit but chose to hollow the chocolate eggs out. With the modernization of chocolate making a manufacturing, came the mass popularization of chocolate Easter eggs. By the 1960’s chocolate Easter eggs were a worldwide norm.
5. International Easter Candy
There’s no doubt about it, chocolate is by far the most popular Easter candy all over the world. However, in a few countries, some other candies give chocolate a good run for its money.
In the U.S.A, chick-shaped marshmallows known as Peeps, similar to our marshmallow mice, or chocolate coated marshmallow eggs, sell more than actual bunny-shaped chocolates! Jellybeans are also massively popular in the U.S.A over the Easter period, selling far more during Easter than during any other time of the year.
The Swedish Sockerbit is a hollow paper mache egg, filled with a large variety of candy such as liquorice, sour gummy sweets, and marshmallows. These can be homemade or found in stores, and are gifted as Easter presents.
Besides the mountains of chocolate and roast that you get to devour over the Easter holidays, there is definitely a lot more to this special time of the year. If ever you find yourself missing the Easter holidays out of season, know that Cadbury’s Crème Egg is available all year round, and is thought to be the world’s most popular egg-shaped chocolate. If you have a desire to experience Easter a little differently, begin eating your chocolate bunny from anywhere other than its ears. 76% of people eat the ears of their chocolate bunnies first!
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Image A: Amber Norris Photography, n.d., Easter Peeps, viewed on 16 April 2014, from http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/easter-peeps-royalty-free-image/168536892#