By Lia Blanchard
Easter dinner is steeped in tradition, and even secular celebrations often follow precedents set by religious observances. Local cuisine and culture and the celebration of the breaking of the Lenten fast, in addition to the availability of early spring bounty all influence the variety of dishes that have become custom around the world at this time of year, and reflect traditions from various religious and non-religious customs.
Let’s take a look at some of the different foods traditionally eaten on Easter… and get some recipes, too!
Lamb: Jewish Passover seder has included roasted lamb for centuries, symbolizing the sacrificial lamb whose blood was used to mark the doors to be “passed over” by the Angel of Death. As some converted to Christianity, the springtime lamb meal became part of Easter dinner, particularly appropriate because Jesus – whose resurrection is celebrated on Easter – was often referred to as the “lamb of God”.
Ham: In the USA and some parts of Europe, Easter dinner is often a ham. Many pre-Christian Europeans believed that pork was a symbol of good luck. Later, in the USA, pork from the fall slaughter that hadn’t been eaten when Lent – and its prohibition of pork – began was cured for preservation. The first hams were finishing the curing process and ready for consumption right around the time that Easter arrived.
Breads traditionally symbolize fertility and later the body of Christ, so its place at the Easter table makes a lot of sense. With the exception of pretzels, most of Easter breads are sweet, a carryover from the time when sweets were prohibited during Lent.
Hot Cross Buns: Early Europeans were known to put a cross shape on bread, possibly symbolizing the sun or perhaps the quarters of the moon. Later, after a failed attempt to ban the sweet bread, the Christian church started blessing the breads and allowing them to be eaten – but only during Christmas, Easter, or at funerals. While these restrictions are no longer observed, hot cross buns are still common in England at Easter time.
Other sweet breads: Bread recipes vary from region to region. Click the link for a recipe.
- Kulich: A cylindrical bread from Eastern Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
- Babka: A Polish bread similar in appearance to the kulich. See more Eastern European Easter bread recipes here.
- Colomba Pasquale: A dove-shaped sweet bread from Italy.
- Tsoureki: Greek dessert bread, usually braided and served with colored hard-boiled eggs.
- More Easter bread recipes from around the world.
Pretzels: The recipe for pretzels does not contain eggs, milk, butter, or lard – ingredients that were forbidden or avoided during Lent. This made the treats, originally created by monks as a special treat for students, particularly suited for being eaten at this time of year. The shape is said to be arms folded in prayer, each hand on the opposite shoulder.
And of course, eggs. In addition to being an obvious symbol of rebirth and renewal, eggs were forbidden during Lent, so it’s only natural that they feature prominently in the meal that breaks the 40-day restriction. Often dyed with cheerfully bright colors, eggs are still a huge part of Easter today.
What are your Easter dinner traditions?