Celebrating Easter in the UK

Easter eggs // Ostereier

One of the holiest festivals in the Christian calendar, Easter is celebrated around the world. Whilst the religious observations of the festival follow the Christian church, celebrations can vary between countries.

It is believed that Easter in the UK has its beginnings long before the arrival of Christianity. Many theologians believe Easter itself is named after the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre.

Easter occurs on a different date every year. In the UK, it is observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the first day of spring. In other words, it can occur on any Sunday between March 22nd and April 25th. In 2013, Easter Sunday will fall on March 31st.

Not only is Easter regarded as the end of winter, it is also the end of Lent, traditionally a time of fasting in the Christian calendar. It is therefore regarded as a time of fun and celebration. The Friday before Easter Sunday and the Monday after are bank holidays in the UK, and schools close for two weeks across this time. On Easter Sunday nearly all non-essential businesses and organisations are closed. Public transport systems may run on a different schedule from other Sundays, or not run services at all.

Celebrating Easter In The UK

People who usually attend church will attend special services on Easter Sunday – these tend to be longer and more elaborate than on other Sundays. In churches, it is generally a festive occasion, with an emphasis on the dawn of new life.

Some businesses and attractions hold Easter egg hunts. These tend to be competitions to see who can collect the most eggs. In some parts of the UK, people roll decorated hard boiled eggs down slopes. In other places, there is a game in which people roll hard boiled eggs against other peoples’ eggs. The winner is the person whose egg remains whole.

Additionally, many people celebrate Easter by decorating hard boiled eggs, giving cards and sharing chocolate eggs.

Why Easter eggs?

Easter eggs are a very old tradition dating back to a time before Christianity. They are a symbol of spring and new life. Exchanging and eating Easter eggs is a popular custom in many countries. Historically in the UK, chicken eggs were hard-boiled and dyed in various bright colours and patterns, representing spring and light. Nowadays UK kids tend to prefer to receive eggs of the chocolate variety though!

Why an Easter bunny?

Rabbits, for obvious reasons, have always been a symbol of fertility. However, the Easter bunny may actually be an Easter hare. The hare was allegedly a companion of the ancient Moon goddess, Eostre (from whom the name ‘Easter’ is thought to have originated). The bunny as an Easter symbol appears to have it’s origins in Germany, where it was first mentioned in German writings in the 16th Century. The first edible Easter bunnies, made of pastry and sugar, appeared in Germany during the early 1800’s. In the UK, children believe that if they are good the Easter Bunny will leave chocolate eggs for them.

Why Morris Dancing at Easter?

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 dance has been part of English heritage for at least 600 and may be much older. It may well have its roots in rites celebrating fertility and the coming of spring. Dancers would blacken their faces with soot so they would not be recognised by the local priest, and would resemble ‘Moors’. This gave rise to ‘Moorish Men’ or ‘Moorish dauncers’, and hence to ‘Morris’.

Why 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 sweetened 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. In many historically Christian countries, buns are traditionally eaten hot or toasted during Lent, with the cross standing as a symbol of the Crucifixion.

English folklore includes many superstitions surrounding hot cross buns. One of them says that buns baked and served on Good Friday will not spoil or mould during the subsequent year. Another encourages keeping such a bun for medicinal purposes. A piece of it given to someone who is ill is said to help them recover.

Traditionally, an old rhyme was sung by children awaiting their hot cross bun: “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.”

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