Published 3rd April 2010
Determined by the lunar calendar, Easter was originally an early spring feast day of pagan celebration of renewal and rebirth. The word Easter is believed to have evolved from Eastre, the name of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of fertility and springtime.
The Greeks and Egyptians ate small cakes or buns in honour of the respective goddesses that they worshipped. Buns marked with a cross were eaten by the Saxons to honour their goddess Eastre - it is thought the bun represented the moon and the cross the moon's quarters. To Christians, the cross symbolises the crucifixion.
However Easter was originally called Pascha a Hebrew word for Passover, a Jewish festival that happens at this time of year. When Pharaoh freed the Hebrews, it is said that they left in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread to rise. So for the duration of Passover, Jewish people do not eat leavened bread, and celebrate with “The Festival of the Unleavened Bread".
A meal of lamb symbolises the lamb sacrificed before the commencement of Jewish Passover. The 40 days before Easter is the period of Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday. For many Christians, this is a period of fasting and repentance in preparation for Easter, culminating in a feast of seasonal and symbolic foods. In the late 17th century, a rich fruit cake called simnel cake was baked for the fourth Sunday of Lent. The cake was decorated with 11 marzipan balls representing the 12 apostles minus Judas, who betrayed Christ.
Eggs have been a symbol of fertility and new beginnings since ancient times, but were adopted by Christians to represent Christ’s resurrection. The Easter bunny is derived from another traditional symbol as rabbit is also known for its fertility, it symbolises new life.