On Sunday I attended an excellent performance of Bach's St John Passion at St Giles Cathedral, the choir in extra fine form. It was sung in the original German. Fortunately the programme included a translation. With Easter approaching, I got to thinking about its traditional food and the symbolism. If you were brought up in the Christian tradition, much of it is fairly obvious, but I did learn one or two things. Perhaps you will too.
Why? The most obvious association is Agnus Dei, The Lamb of God, so prevalent in Christian prayer. From sacrificial lamb, I suppose. I had forgotten, however, that the Crucifixion took place just as final preparations were being made for the Jewish festival of the Passover. That's why Pilate allowed Nicodemus to take Christ's body away, as opposed to it being left on the cross. And the traditional Passover meal? Lamb.
Why not? Because we should be supporting Scottish farmers. Here the lambing season just starts around Easter time. While some lambs are born down south in time to be ready for Easter, it is likely you'll be buying New Zealand stuff. Feast on Scottish lamb in August.
Why? I read some waffle about symbols of birth and spring. Well, when I were a lad, by sending them down a hill (where mine never rolled but got caught up in a tuft of grass or a gorse bush, so you got fed up and chucked it the rest of the way) you were rolling away the stone from Jesus's tomb. I was never sure why you painted them. I now read that red was the traditional colour, for the blood of Christ.
Why Not? Because when they broke you ended up with bits of grass and dirt in your egg. And no one ever brought any salt.
Why? Because, around 1875, an entrepreneurial confectioner by the name of Cadbury started to make them. At first he used plain chocolate. A few years later Cadbury's Dairy Milk was invented, and they took off. And, being a bit of a pleb, I quite like Cadbury's Dairy Milk. (Yes, I know it's not proper chocolate. Don't write in.)
Why Not? Calories? Oh, sod it, it's only once a year. Because you usually eat too much and end up feeling sick? Yep, that's a better reason.
Why? It's a rich fruit cake, topped with marzipan, and 11 marzipan balls, representing the apostles minus Judas. It's traditionally served for tea on Easter Sunday.
Why Not? Because marzipan is disgusting. If it was just on the top you could cut it off and throw it away; however, Simnel cake also has a layer of the stuff in the middle. Bleugh!
Chocolate Easter Bunny
Why? Very big in the USA, this derives from the German Easter Hare. The hare featured prominently in pagan ceremonies in spring, and the church tried to stamp these out. By 1600, the hare started to bring eggs to children. Perhaps bunnies were cuter and fluffier, so they took over.
Why not? As you're already feeling sick after your surfeit of Dairy Milk, don't you think you've had enough?
Hot Cross Buns
Why? The symbol of the cross is pretty obvious, but there is more. John's Gospel describes Jesus's body being embalmed in about a hundredweight of spice, and that's probably why spice is included in the recipe for the buns. Fortunately we use mixed spice, not the inedible combo of myrrh and aloe which John describes.
Why Not? Why not, indeed? That's just given me an idea for another column coming soon.
In virtually all European languages, the word for Easter is a derivation of the word for Passover. Thus we have the Latin Pascha, the French Pâques and the Italian Pasqua. Further afield you can have påske (Denmark and Norway), påsk (Sweden), or páskar (Iceland). So why do we have Easter? Laughably simple. The Venerable Bede tells us that in eighth century England, the month of April was called Eosturmonath, or Eostre Month, after the goddess Eostre. So ye ken noo.
PS 1 Thanks to Wendy Barrrie, who suggested hogget or mutton instead of lamb.
PS 2 I do appreciate that not everyone shares my dislike of marzipan. If you would like to make your own, the lovely Janet Hood has posted a recipe in the Comments section.