Easter is one of the most important festivities for Christians.
Easter is a holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. As per the new testament, this occurred on the third day after his crucifixion by the Romans.
Nowadays, it is Good Friday when Christians commemorate Jesus’s crucifixion and death and on Sunday when Easter is celebrated. Easter Day falls always on a Sunday, but the date is not fixed. The reason for this is that Egyptians had a calendar based on the movement of the sun (a calendar passed on through Christians and Romans) and Jewish had one based on the phases of the moon, hence Easter aims to harmonise both calendars. As a general rule, Easter falls on the first Sunday, following the first full moon after 21 March.
However, to make it a bit more complex, not all Christians celebrate Easter at the same time. Orthodox churches still use the Julian Calendar, which was officially replaced later by the Gregorian one. This means that Orthodox countries celebrate Easter about 1 or 2 weeks later. Countries with a large Orthodox population, mostly located in Eastern Europe are Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, etc.
There are few special years where both Eastern and Western calendars match. This is exactly what will happen in 2017! Everyone will celebrate on Sunday, April 16, which makes the event unique.
Although celebrations in Europe are similar, each country has a special tradition. Below are our top 5 choices.
The week of Easter begins on Palm Sunday, which is the previous Sunday to Easter. In Roman times, royalty was welcomed by waving palm branches. When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on what is now known as Palm Sunday, people welcomed him with palm branches carpeting the streets and waving them. Today, on Palm Sunday, Christians carry palm branches in parades and also churches are decorated with them.
On Easter Sunday, people exchange chocolate eggs and other fine gifts. Some time ago, real chicken eggs were used. These were boiled and then painted in different colours and then exchanged. Of course, having now the chocolate eggs makes it a bit more interesting and tempting.
The Easter Bunny is a famous character in England. However, the first edible Easter bunnies appeared in Germany during the early 1800s, and they were made of pastry and sugar. Nowadays they are sold as chocolate bunnies. In the UK children believe that if they are good the “Easter Bunny ” will leave (chocolate) eggs for them.
Traditionally, women could wear flowery bonnets on Easter Day. Although it is not used anymore, even today in Battersea in London there is a special Easter Parade, where hand-made bonnets are shown off and some people still offer these as a gift.
A typical treat in England during Easter is the hot-cross bun, a lightly sweet yeast pastry containing raisins or currants. Before baking, a cross is slashed at the top of the bun. After baking, a confectioners sugar icing is used to fill the cross.
Another special treat is the Simnel Cake, traditionally eaten in old times for the Lenten Fast. It is a light fruit cake, with two layers of almond paste or marzipan, one in the middle and one on top. This cake is usually decorated with 11 marzipan balls that represent the 12 apostles minus Judas.
The following tours are recommended for the Easter season in England
- From London: Half-Day Stonehenge Tour with Admission Ticket
- London: Oxford, Stratford, Cotswolds, and Warwick Day Trip
- Shakespeare’s Stratford & Cotswolds
- From London: Glastonbury and Cheddar Gorge Guided Day Trip
The most special tradition is the solemn act of the churches from Good Friday. On this day, all the bells in France remain still and silent in remembrance of Jesus’ passing. On the morning of Easter Sunday, the bells ring out once more to rejoice in Jesus’ resurrection and the French tend to greet each other with warm hugs to start the celebration.
Easter Chocolate Eggs are as important in France as in many Western countries. There are many stories about why eggs are so important at Easter.
A story says Mary Magdalene was bringing cooked eggs to share with the other women at the tomb of Jesus, and the eggs in her basket turned brilliant red when she saw the risen Christ. Early Christians of Mesopotamia stained eggs red in memory of the blood of Christ shed at his crucifixion. As The Christian Church adopted the custom, the eggs became a symbol of the resurrection.
In France, chocolate bells are also important and can be found in all shops representing this tradition.
Children love hunting eggs on Sunday mornings. The game kicks off once the church bells ring and they will not only hunt eggs but chocolate bunnies, hens, roosters, chicks and bells of course.
The typical Easter meal in France is L’Agneau Pascal, which means Easter Lamb. Other countries as Greece also have it as the main meal.
But why lamb in Easter? The story says the Lamb is a symbol of Jesus in the Bible as he was called ‘the Lamb of God’. This is because Lambs were and are still used in the Jewish faith as a sacrifice for people’s sins and wrongdoings. Christians believe that Jesus was killed and sacrificed for everyone.
The lamb also symbolises new life, as it happens in the Spring time for Europeans.
Italy (La Pasqua)
In Italy, as you may imagine, Easter is a big celebration.
The two weeks leading up to Easter Sunday are the busiest times of the year in Italy, especially in Rome, as pilgrims travel to the capital for Holy Week.
On Palm Sunday, palm leaves and olive branches are placed outside houses and on Easter cakes, while the Pope addresses the crowds in St Peter’s Square in Rome.
On Good Friday, several processions take place in towns across Italy on the Friday and Saturday before Easter.
According to the bible, after the death of Christ, the great consolation of his Mother was to travel the path of the cross sprinkled with the blood of her Son. Nowadays this is known as Via Crucis and people recreate this moment by carrying the statue of the Virgin Mary and Jesus to commemorate the crucifixion. In some towns, there are live performances of the Virgin and Jesus instead of Statues. The most famous is the one in Rome in front of the Roman Colosseum.
Before Easter, many people do not eat meat and drink wine. The Torta Pasqualina is very famous for this period. This is an Easter pie that takes on a quiche form and is made with puff pastry dough, stuffed with cheese and Swiss chard or spinach.
Italy’s special popular dish for Easter Sunday is also lamb or Agnello.
Children enjoy a rich bread made especially for Easter. It is shaped like a crown and studded with coloured egg candies.
The typical cake is the Colomba di Pasqua or “Easter Dove” in English, this is a traditional Easter cake often made with candied peel and almonds.
Germans love decorating their houses at Easter. Clay bunnies, crocuses and branches hung with painted eggs are the most common decorations. It is an old tradition to dye and paint eggs which are spread around the house and the garden.
For Germans, Easter not only means a religious celebration but also the spring season kick-off and they will wear colourful costumes to celebrate depending on the region. Many Germans also do what is called a ‘spring cleaning’ before Easter to renew energies and clean dust from the cold winter.
Opposite to Italians, bunnies are important for Germany during Easter as traditionally they were symbols of fertility and new birth and used for celebrations of the coming of spring. So it is normal to see them everywhere in the shops and houses.
The most important tradition in Germany is on Saturday evening when there are Easter bonfires across the country to welcome the sun and spring. This was an old pagan ritual, and now it turned into a social event that may then continue in a pub with a beer in hand.
On Sunday, Germans gather all together in the morning to have big breakfasts. After the meal, they also play egg hunting where they use colourful hard-boiled eggs, and other chocolate treats. A common custom is to exchange these nice painted eggs between friends and family.
It is also very popular in this country to have a main dinner either on Sunday or Monday evening. Lamb and chicken are popular choices, as it also means the end of Lent for some catholic regions.
Palm Sunday is usually really important for Polish. They also have a tedious technique to decorate and paint the eggs – called Pisanki’s – which results in a beautiful colourful design. But the most distinctive Easter custom for Polish is the blessing of the Easter baskets on Holy Saturday.
These baskets are prepared by families, containing a sampling of Easter foods: a piece of sausage or ham, eggs, salt and pepper, bread, a piece of cake and an Easter Lamb made of sugar.
On Easter Sunday many people attend the resurrection mass early at 6 am. Then families will gather together to have a filling breakfast mainly dominated by cold dishes, including the ham and sausage from the baskets. Before eating, people share the blessed decorated eggs from the day before with the family members, exchanging good wishes at the same time.
But the real queen of the day is the Polish Easter cake: the Babka, a slightly sweet yeast bread with raisins and sometimes candied citron in it. The top is glazed with a thin icing that is flavoured with lemon juice and hardens as it dries.
The last festive day is on ‘Wet’ Monday when Polish do a peculiar celebration. As the name indicates, this tradition requires that boys throw water at women on the streets!
They will do anything to achieve their will, waiting for girls with water buckets in the parks, squares, outside churches, etc. So girls be careful in Poland on this day!
Wherever in Europe you are, these are traditions that aim for one thing which is gathering people together and in peace. Trip Insiders wishes you a happy and peaceful Easter!