Easter is celebrated in many countries around the world. Originally, it was a Christian celebration of Jesus Christ’s resurrection and thus full of Christian symbols and traditions. Over the years though, various customs, stories and symbols have been established in many countries that have been associated with the Easter festivities. For example, if someone asks a child in the United States to draw a picture of what they think of when they hear the word “Easter”, they’ll most likely start to draw Easter eggs and the Easter Bunny. But what would be the first thing to come to mind for a child in Italy or France? How do people in countries that celebrate Easter spend their holiday? Are there special Easter meals to enjoy? And most importantly: who actually delivers the Easter eggs?
Roast lamb and cake…
Something that nearly everyone can count on for Easter is the huge feast on Easter Sunday. You can begin as they do in Poland with a lavish breakfast, where the family gathers in a large group on Sunday morning or for an extravagant lunch in the afternoon. Traditionally, roast lamb is served in many countries such as England (roast lamb with mint sauce), Italy (“arrosto d’agnello”), Germany (“Lammbraten”) and France (“gigot d’agneau”).
An international classic that enjoys widespread popularity is a special Easter cake. There’s a unique recipe almost everywhere, which is only pulled out once a year and is prepared with lots of excitement. Often the dough is baked in the shape of an Easter lamb, but there are other variations, too. In Italy, they traditionally bake the “Colomba Pasquale”, which instead of having the shape of a lamb, looks like a dove (at least with a little bit of imagination).
In Spain, on the other hand, the Easter cake (“Mona de Pascua”) doesn’t come in the shape of an animal, but looks more like an Easter egg basket. In Austria, there is a delicious sweet roll called “Osterpinze” (literally “Easter pinca”) that is mostly made from leavened dough and doesn’t necessarily need an Easter egg in the middle for decoration.
And while we’re on the topic of decorating, in Russia, one modestly speaks of an Easter bread (“Kulitsch”). Behind the name hides a delicious small cake covered in icing, chocolate sprinkles or powdered sugar. It could also be that this specialty is described as an Easter “bread” because the second-favorite variation of the Russian Easter cake is something even more decadent: Paskha is a sort of pyramid-shaped cheesecake whose white outer layer of cheese is often ornamented with religious symbols.
…and lots of chocolate
But with roast lamb here and Easter cake there, we can’t leave out the most important thing of all – colored Easter eggs. Of course there are the dyed or painted hen’s eggs, but by far the most exciting ones (and not only for children) are those made of chocolate – and they come in all possible sizes and flavors. Especially in Italy, children get truly beautiful sweets. Some are even bigger than the Italian children themselves, are decorated with multi-colored sparkling paper and filled with lots of sweets and small presents. The question arises as to how the Easter Bunny (or another friendly messenger) should carry around such huge things, much less hide them.
Who delivers the Easter eggs?
In Italy, only the parents or grandparents have to ask themselves this question, since they are the ones the kids get their chocolate eggs from. In many other countries, though, Easter eggs and sweets are brought by the Easter Bunny and carefully hidden in an Easter basket – the children first have to find their gifts before they can enjoy them. Some of the countries with this tradition are the United States and England, Germany, Austria and Switzerland (where the Easter Bunny is called “Osterhase”), the Netherlands (where it’s called “paashaas”), and Denmark (“Påskehare”).
In Australia, where rabbits are considered pests, the small marsupial resembling a rabbit called the Bilby has increasingly taken on the role of Easter Bilby and now takes care of the Easter gifts. And in Norway, Easter eggs are still hidden, but our favorite rodent in the U.S. has the day off. Instead, he sends over his representative, the Easter Chick (“Påskekyllinger”).
An old tradition in Sweden is the so-called Easter Witch (“Påskkärring”). Swedish children dress up as witches or old ladies and go from house to house with pictures they’ve drawn in hopes of receiving some sweets in exchange for their hard work. The Easter Witch is also a tradition in Finland.
In France, there is a lovely Easter story told to children. Since no church bells ring in France from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, there’s a legend that says all the bells fly to Rome on Good Friday. There they are blessed and return on Easter Sunday loaded with chocolate eggs and other sweets. On their way back, they drop the treats over the cities and villages in France for the children to find.
How do you spend your Easter holidays? Are you planning a special Easter menu for your family and friends, or do you practice another Easter tradition? And who delivers your Easter eggs? We’d love to hear from you!