Good Friday On the Friday before Easter, Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It is a day of mourning in church and special Good Friday services are held where Christians meditate on Jesus’s suffering and death on the cross, and what this means for their faith. Calling it ‘Good Friday’ may seem a bit bizarre, but some people think that it was once called God’s Friday or Holy Friday.
Symbols of Easter
Many of the symbols and traditions of Easter are connected with renewal, birth, good luck and fertility.
Of course as it is a Christian festival one of the main symbols is a cross, often on a hill. When Jesus was crucified, the cross became a symbol of suffering. Then with the resurrection, Christians saw it as a symbol of victory over death. In A.D. 325, Constantine issued a decree at the Council of Nicaea, that the Cross would be the official symbol of Christianity.
The week of Easter begins on Palm Sunday. Why Palm Sunday? Well, in Roman times it was customary to welcome royalty by waving palm branches, a bit like a ticker-tape parade. So, when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on what is now known as Palm Sunday, people welcomed him with palm branches carpeting the streets and waving them. Today, on Palm Sunday, Christians carry palm branches in parades, and make them into crosses and garlands to decorate the Church.
Easter eggs are a very old tradition going to a time before Christianity. Eggs after all are a symbol of spring and new life. Exchanging and eating Easter eggs is a popular custom in many countries. In the UK before they were replaced by chocolate Easter eggs real eggs were used, in most cases, chicken eggs. The eggs were hard-boiled and dyed in various colors and patterns. The traditionally bright colours represented spring and light. Sadly, nowadays if you gave a child in Britain a hard-boiled egg on Easter Sunday, you would probably end up wearing it! An older more traditional game is one in which real eggs are rolled against one another or down a hill. The owner of the egg that stayed uncracked the longest won. Even today in the north of England, for example as at Preston in Lancashire, they still carry out the custom of egg rolling. Hard boiled eggs are rolled down slopes to see whose egg goes furthest. In other places another game is played. You hold an egg in the palm of the hand and bang against your opponent’s egg. The loser is the one whose egg breaks first. Nowadays people give each other Easter eggs made of chocolate, usually hollow and filled with sweets. On TV you will see adverts for Cadbury’s Creme Eggs, a very sweet confectionery. The catchphrase for the adverts is “How do you eat yours?” And Britain children hunt for (chocolate) Easter eggs hidden about the home or garden by the Easter bunny.
The Easter Bunny
Rabbits, due to their fecund nature, have always been a symbol of fertility.The Easter bunny (rabbit) however may actually be an Easter hare. The hare was allegedly a companion of the ancient Moon goddess and of Eostre. Strangely the bunny as an Easter symbol seems to have it’s origins in Germany, where it was first mentioned in German writings in the 16th Century. The first edible Easter bunnies appeared in Germany during the early 1800s, they were made of pastry and sugar. In the UK children believe that if they are good the “Easter Bunny ” will leave (chocolate) eggs for them. Sadly hare hunting (hare coursing) used to be a common pastime at Easter. But this might please some of the more fundamentalist Christians, who consider the fluffy fellow to be unchristian.
Morris dancing is a traditional English form of folk dance which is also performed in other English-speaking countries such as the USA and Australia. The roots of morris dancing seem to be very old, probably dating back to the Middle Ages. In the dance men dress up in costumes with hats and ribbons and bells around their ankles. They dance through the streets and one man often carries an inflated pigs bladder on the end of a stick. He will run up to young women in the street and hit them over the head with the pigs bladder, this is supposed to be lucky (men)!
Dressing Up For Easter
Easter was once a traditional day for getting married, that may be why people often dress up for Easter. Women would make and wear special Easter bonnets – decorated with flowers and ribbons. Even today in Battersea in London there is a special Easter Parade, where hand-made bonnets are shown off.
Hot Cross Buns
Hot cross buns, now eaten throughout the Easter season, were first baked in England to be served on Good Friday. These small, lightly sweet yeast buns contain raisins or currants and sometimes chopped candied fruit. Before baking, a cross is slashed in the top of the bun. After baking, a confectioners’ sugar icing is used to fill the cross.
An old rhyme was often sung by children awaiting their sugary treat:
“Hot cross buns,
hot cross buns,
one a penny, two a penny,
hot cross buns.
If you do not like them,
give them to your sons,
one a penny, two a penny,
hot cross buns.”
A traditional way of breaking the Lenten fast is to eat some simnel cake. These are raised cakes, with a crust made of fine flour and water, coloured yellow with saffron, and filled with a very rich plum-cake, with plenty of candied lemon peel, and dried fruits.
An old Shropshire tale has it that long ago there lived an honest old couple, Simon and Nelly, and it was their custom to gather their children around them at Easter. Nelly had some leftover unleavened dough from Lent, and Simon reminded her there was some plum pudding still left over from Christmas. They could make some treats for the visiting family.
Nell put the leftovers together, and Sim insisted the cake should be boiled, while she was just as certain that it should be baked. They had a fight and came to blows, but compromised by doing both. They cooked the cake over a fire made from furniture broken in the scuffle, and some eggs, similarly broken, were used to baste it. The delicacy was named after this cantankerous couple. Or, so it is said.