Shani Bishop explores Easter traditions around the world.
Text: Shani Bishop
It's easy to think Easter is celebrated similarly around the Christian, English-speaking world. However, I know how different it can be from researching this article and my travels.
When I visited Greece for work just before Easter, I was amazed at the intricate chocolate eggs and animals sold at patisseries. As Greece is a Catholic country, traditions are still important in everyday life. For example, during the Holy Week, the churches' chandeliers and icon screens are dressed in black and purple ribbons, enhancing the atmosphere of mourning for the coming crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ.
On Maundy Thursday, Greek home ovens get very busy as traditional tsoureki (a fragrant Easter brioche) is baked, along with lamprokouloura (Easter cookies). Eggs are immersed in red dye – the red colour symbolising the joy of nature's rebirth and the spiritual regeneration that comes with the Resurrection of Jesus.
On Good Friday, a canopy representing the tomb of Christ is festooned with flowers, and after the evening service, there is a procession. On Saturday, there is a festive dinner serving a traditional soup, and before midnight people gather in church holding white candles, which they light with the "Holy Light" offered by the priest. The Resurrection of Christ is celebrated at Midnight with drums and fireworks lighting the skies as the church bells peal out and the hymn 'Christos Anesti' (Christ is Risen) is chanted by everybody. Then people return home to gather around the festive table; they each hold a red egg and crack it with the person next to them, exclaiming at the same time Christos Anesti. The winner is the one whose egg has remained intact! On Easter Sunday, lamb is served, the atmosphere is festive, and people listen and dance to folk music.
Families in the UK gather for church and a traditional lunch at Easter. Easter eggs are given to children, but these days the choices for adults are so good it would be sad not to have one too! This year's innovation is chocolate orange Easter eggs and a Twirl and orange Smarties. Usually, lamb is served, and there's an egg hunt for the children. Many stately houses and parks organise Easter egg hunts, and sometimes there are traditional events like egg rolling down the hills.
The Japanese love adopting traditions from other countries, Easter, like Halloween, gets bigger yearly. Easter in Japan includes a wide range of Easter chocolate, special events and celebrations aimed at Western visitors. A few years ago, J-pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu released an Easter-themed pop song called 'Easta', which featured dancing eggs! The video is surreal and as far removed from Christianity as possible! Definitely worth seeing.
Many traditions in the US are similar to the UK; eating hot cross buns (the cross signifies the crucifixion) and simnel cake (a fruit cake with 11 balls of marzipan on top representing the disciples minus Judas). However, the vast Easter parades and bunnies at shopping malls make this event much bigger. Egg Rolling was first introduced to Americans by Dolly Madison, the wife of the fourth President, who organised an egg roll in Washington, DC. She had been told that Egyptian children used to roll eggs down the Pyramids, so she invited children to roll eggs down Capitol Hill. The event has grown, and today Easter Monday is the only date in the year that tourists can wander on the White House Lawn.
Gækkebreve, påskefrokost, and påskeferie! Many Easter traditions in Denmark give people a chance to celebrate the arrival of spring. The holiday is one to spend with family and hygge in the warmer weather (if winter is not hanging around).
Gækkebreve, or snowdrop letters, are poems meant to tease the reader and are a widespread tradition throughout Denmark. Following Easter, children will cut paper in intricate shapes and write poems on their decorated papers. School children will send them to their friends and family, and grandparents will often send their grandchildren gækkebreve as well. There are traditional poems that are often used in gækkebreve. The letters are always anonymous but signed with dots corresponding to the number of letters in the sender's name. If the recipient of the letter fails to guess who the sender is before Easter, they owe them a chocolate Easter egg, but if they guess correctly, the sender owes the recipient an Easter egg. Initially, the name came from two factors, the saying at gække, which means to mislead, and the tradition of placing a snowdrop in the letter.
Easter eggs and the Easter bunny
Easter eggs (påskeæg) are everywhere in Denmark around Easter. People decorate their houses with beautifully painted Easter eggs, and chocolate Easter eggs are sold everywhere in stores. The påskehare (Easter bunny) will often bring Danish children a giant chocolate Easter egg on Easter day, or in more recent years, a hollow decorated Easter egg filled with candy. However, throughout the month leading up to Easter, children will receive chocolate Easter eggs from friends and family, so the tradition is not limited to the Easter bunny. In some families, the Easter bunny will hide a bunch of chocolate Easter eggs in the garden for children to find.
So, if you plan to roll an egg down a hill, hide Easter eggs, or spend time with family and friends, have a great Easter!