March 17, 2016

Traditions of Easter...Origins, Traditions and a Recipe to boot...

I'm sure by now you've seen every Easter recipe imaginable, from hams to lambs. While I'm going to give you a great recipe here today, (see below) I thought I would expound a bit on what Easter means around the world and its origins. The first thing that may surprise most is, much like Christmas was co-opted by the Christian church, Easter did not start out as a Christian holiday either. Nope, not christian at all. Here's something that will really blow your mind. It's a description of the Easter holiday:

"Spring is in the air! Flowers and bunnies decorate the home. Father helps the children paint beautiful designs on eggs dyed in various colors. These eggs, which will later be hidden and searched for, are placed into lovely, seasonal baskets. The wonderful aroma of the hot cross buns mother is baking in the oven waft through the house. Forty days of abstaining (lent) from special foods will finally end the next day. The whole family picks out their Sunday best to wear to the next morning’s sunrise worship service to celebrate the savior’s resurrection and the renewal of life. Everyone looks forward to a succulent ham with all the trimmings. It will be a thrilling day. After all, it is one of the most important religious holidays of the year." Sounds just like a perfect Easter, right? Wrong!

This is a description of an ancient Babylonian family, 2,000 years before Christ, honoring the resurrection of their god, Tammuz, (who's birth was celebrated Dec. 25th, with a yule log and a decorated pine tree) who was brought back from the underworld (resurrected) by his mother/wife, Ishtar (after whom the festival was named). As Ishtar was actually pronounced “Easter” in most Semitic dialects, it could be said that the event portrayed here is, in fact, Easter. “In Babylonia…the goddess of spring was called Ishtar. She was identified with the planet Venus, which, because, it rises before the Sun, or sets after it, appears to love the light (this means Venus loves the sun-god.) In Phoenecia, she became Astarte; in Greece, Eostre (related to the Greek word Eos: “dawn”), and in Germany, Ostara, (this comes from the German word Ost: “east,” which is the direction of dawn”)
The ancient Saxons celebrated the return of spring with an uproarious festival commemorating their goddess of offspring and of springtime, Eastre. When the second-century Christian missionaries encountered the tribes of the north and their pagan celebrations, they attempted to convert them to Christianity. But, did so, in a clandestine manner. You see, it would have been dangerous for the early Christian converts to celebrate their holy days with observances that did not coincide with celebrations that already existed. In order to save lives and make the transition to Christianity more palatable to the pagans they were trying to convert, the missionaries decided to spread their dogma slowly throughout the populations, by allowing them to continue to celebrate pagan feasts, while incrementally incorporating Christian themes.

Now I did not start this article to burst your bubble, or in this case, break your colored egg. I did however, in keeping with the whole purpose of this blog, want you to learn, be informed and factual. That said, let's look at how Easter is celebrated now around the world.

“In Germany and Austria little nests containing eggs, pastry and candy are placed in hidden spots, and the children believe that the Easter bunny, so popular in this country, too, had laid the eggs and brought the candy” and “The Easter bunny had its origin in pre-Christian fertility lore, The Easter bunny has never had religious symbolism bestowed on its festive usage…However, the bunny has acquired a cherished role in the celebration of Easter as the legendary producer of Easter eggs for children in many countries” (Francis X. Weiser, Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs, p. 235)

From (Egyptian Belief and Modern Thought, James Bonwick, pp. 211-212:) “Eggs were hung up in the Egyptian temples. Bunsen calls attention to the mundane egg, the emblem of generative life, proceeding from the mouth of the great god of Egypt. The mystic egg of Babylon, hatching the Venus Ishtar, fell from heaven to the Euphrates. Dyed eggs were sacred Easter offerings in Egypt, as they are still in China and Europe. Easter, or spring, was the season of birth, terrestrial and celestial.”

In Croatia and Slovenia, a basket of food is prepared and covered with a handmade cloth, and brought to the church to be blessed. A typical Easter basket includes bread, colored eggs, ham, horseradish, and a type of nut cake called "potica".

The most elaborate Easter egg traditions appear to have emerged in Eastern Europe. In Poland and Ukraine, eggs were often painted silver and gold. Pysanky (to design or write) eggs were created by carefully applying wax in patterns to an egg. The egg was then dyed, wax would be reapplied in spots to preserve that color, and the egg was boiled again in other shades. The result was a multi-color striped or patterned egg.

Easter cards arrived in Victorian England, when a stationer added a greeting to a drawing of a rabbit. According to American Greetings, Easter is now the fourth most popular holiday for sending cards, behind Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Mother's Day.

In Medieval Europe, churchgoers would take a walk after Easter Mass, led by a crucifix or the Easter candle. Today these walks endure as Easter Parades. People show off their spring finery, including lovely bonnets decorated for spring.

In Florence, Italy, the unique custom of the Scoppio del carro is observed in which a holy fire lit from stone shards from the Holy Sepulchre are used to light a fire during the singing of the Gloria of the Easter Sunday mass, which is used to ignite a rocket in the form of a dove, representing peace and the holy spirit, which following a wire in turn lights a cart containing pyrotechnics in the small square before the Cathedral

Easter Traditions Today
In America, and throughout the English-speaking world, many Easter traditions are similar with only minor differences. For example, Saturday is traditionally spent decorating Easter eggs. Then Sunday morning, usually before Mass and the children are dressed in their Easter finery, they hunt for the eggs and other treats such as chocolate eggs or rabbits and marshmallow chicks (Peeps), that, according to Mom and Dad, have been delivered by the Easter Bunny. Many families observe the religious aspects of Easter by attending Sunday Mass or services in the morning and then participating in a feast or party in the afternoon. Some families have a traditional Sunday roast of either lamb or ham. Easter breads such as Simnel cake, a fruit cake with eleven marzipan balls representing the eleven faithful apostles, or nut breads such as potica are traditionally served. Hot cross buns, spiced buns with a cross on top, are traditionally associated with Good Friday, but today are eaten well before and after.
Where ever you live and whatever your tradition, my hope is that you enjoy this Easter Sunday surrounded by those you love and who love you and that you reflect on what life is really all about, staying true to your beliefs, whatever they may be. As you have all figured out by now, I am an apostle of food, in all its wondrous forms, taste and presentations. To that end, I will leave you with an awesome recipe for your holiday:

This recipe and pic comes courtesy of  my friends at Ronco.com and Mr. Ron Popeil. Thanks! Now of course this was created with the use of one of Ron's Rotisserie ovens in mind, but you can easily cook this in a roasting pan as well. Or you can click on the link and buy one. *-)

Dijon~Garlic~Rosemary Rubbed Lamb Roast
Serves 6-8

Ingredients
1 clove garlic, cut into slivers
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 leg of lamb (4 1/2 - 5 pounds), boned and tied

Method
Combine the garlic, Dijon mustard, soy sauce, rosemary, ginger and olive oil in a small bowl. Add lamb and turn to coat with marinade. Cover and chill at least 6 hours or up to 1 day turning meat over several times.

*Note: If you do not have a rotisserie, preheat your oven to 375f.

Rotisserie: Rotate the lamb on the spit rods (rotisserie) for 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 135 to 140 degrees for medium on the thermometer, basting several times during the last 10 minutes. Oven: Place in a roasting pan, uncovered, and cook on 375f until the thermometer internal temperature reads 130 degrees for medium rare, 135 degrees, medium. Baste often (About 35-40 minutes, but remember; all ovens are unique so rather than time, use temperature as a guide to determine when the roast is done to your preference.)

I wish you all a very Happy Easter,

As always, Bon Appetit!

Lou

Image: africa graur razvan ionut, luigi diamanti Danilo Rizzutiscottchan  ultimateitaly.com  Jeroen van Oostrom 

en.wikipedia.org Clare Bloomfield 
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