Easter Dinner: The Origins
Of Our Traditional Dinner
Easter is almost here! It's time to pull out your trusty cookbooks and look up your family's favorite recipes for Easter dinner. Did you ever wonder why we eat the foods we do on Easter? Everybody knows the story of the Pilgrims and the Indians and why we eat turkey on Thanksgiving. But what are the origins of the traditional Easter dinner?
Is It Ham, Or Lamb?
Thanksgiving has its turkey and Easter has ham--or is it lamb? Depends on where you live. For most Americans, it's ham. Historically, this was a matter of availability. In the days before refrigeration, it made sense to get meat in the fall, when the cool temperatures would help keep it from going bad after the butchering was done. The pork that wasn't eaten immediately was salted and cured for eating later. The curing process took all winter, and the first hams were ready to eat right around Easter. It wasn't long before ham for Easter was part of the American tradition.
In other parts of the world, especially Europe, lamb is commonly served on Easter. The symbolism here is obvious. Jesus is referred to as the "Lamb of God" in Christian liturgies. Also, in ancient times, lamb was one of the first fresh meats available after the long winter. Check out this website, which offers recipes for both ham and lamb, along with historical notes.
Wouldn't Be Easter Without Eggs
Eggs usually show up on the table as deviled eggs, although colored hard-boiled eggs are not unheard of as dinner fare. The egg has been a symbol of rebirth or new life since pagan times. Early Christians adopted this symbolism and added the idea that the hard shell represented the tomb of Jesus and the breaking of the shell was His emergence from the tomb. Christians in Mesopotamia are said to be the first to color eggs, turning them bright red in memory of Christ's blood. In the 13th century, King Edward I of England had 450 eggs colored and decorated with gold leaf to give as Easter gifts to his court.
One A Penny, Two A Penny, Hot Cross Buns
This bread accompaniment to the Easter dinner is another element borrowed from the pagans. It probably began as a tribute to Eostre, the Saxon goddess of light, after whom it is said that Easter is named. Even the cross on the bun was not the cross of Jesus but a Celtic symbol representing the intersection of heaven and earth, the divine and the human, which Christians believe also applies to Jesus.