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Surprisingly, Easter eggs do not owe their origins to the Christian festival of Easter, which celebrates the crucifixion and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact, the festival of Easter itself also had nothing to do with Christianity either.
A closer look at the history of both Easter and Easter Eggs gifts reveals a much earlier association with pagan ritual and in particular, the pagan rites of spring, dating back into pre history.
Rites to celebrate the Spring Equinox are most obviously associated in our minds with the Druids and mysterious places like Stone Henge, in England, but in fact, most ancient races had similar spring festivals to celebrate the rebirth of the year.
The Egg, along with the Rabbit and chicks appear to have been associated with these rites and gift giving from the very earliest times, thought to be symbols of fertility and re-birth, .
It appears that the celebration of Easter is a classic example of the early Christian church adapting an existing pagan ritual to suit their own purposes. Although Britons had their spring festival of gift giving and the Roman conquest brought Roman festivals gifts to Britain, the story really starts with the arrival of the Saxons in England in about the fourth century AD.
The Saxons also had a spring festival called Eostre, named after the Saxon goddess of dawn and when they came to England, the festival came with the saxtons.
At the time of their arrival the indigenous British (the Celt's etc) were already mainly Christian and celebrated the Christian festivals and gave various gifts. As we know, the Anglo Saxons gradually became the dominant race in England and converted to Christianity.
They also started to celebrate the Christian festivals by giving boxes of gifts and the festival celebrating the death of Christ and the resurrection happened to coincided with Saxon festival of Eostre, so that's what the early Saxon church called the celebration, Eostre or Easter in modern English. A name which gradually spread throughout the Christian church.
The actual date that Easter falls on every year is formed by a fairly complex calculation related to the Spring Equinox. The actual formula is: The first Sunday after the first full moon following the Spring Equinox, this is Easter Sunday or Easter Day.
This formula was set by Egyptian astronomers in Alexandra in 235ad, and calculated using the same method as the Jews have traditionally used to calculate the feast of the Passover, which occurred at about the same time as the crucifixion.
Gift boxes or baskets full of Easter Eggs makes an ideal gift.
As well as adopting the festival of Eostre, the Egg, representing fertility and re-birth in pagan times, was also adopted as part of the Christian Easter festival and came to represent the 'resurrection' or re-birth of Christ after the crucifixion and (in some cases) a symbol of the 'rolling away' of the stone blocking the Sepulchre.
In England and Europe, the earliest Easter eggs were painted and decorated hen, duck or goose eggs often came in a basket, a practice still carried on in lots of countries today.
Coloring Easter eggs never gets old, whatever the age of your kids! They never get tired of showing you how creative they are. Join in on the fun and then take a picture of the finished product.
Easter egg hunts are also fun for the whole family. Take some good action pictures and get a picture of your kids with their Easter baskets.
In Medieval Europe, eggs were forbidden during Lent. Eggs laid during that time were often boiled or otherwise preserved. Eggs were thus a mainstay of Easter meals, and a prized Easter gift for children and servants.
In addition, eggs have been viewed as symbols of new life and fertility through the ages. It is believed that for this reason many ancient cultures, including the Ancient Egyptians, Persians, and Romans, used eggs during their spring festivals.
Many traditions and practices have formed around Easter eggs. The coloring of eggs is a established art, and eggs are often dyed, painted, and otherwise decorated. Eggs were also used in various holiday games: parents would hide eggs for children to find, and children would roll eggs down hills. These practices live on in Easter egg hunts and egg rolls. The most famous egg roll takes place on the White House lawn every year.
As time went by, artificial eggs were made and by the end of the 17th century, manufactured eggs were available for purchase at Easter, for giving as gifts and Easter presents to children.
Easter eggs continued to evolve through the 18th and into the 19th Century, with hollow cardboard Easter eggs filled with Easter gifts and sumptuously decorated, culminating with the fabulous Faberge Eggs. Encrusted with jewels, they were made for the Czar's of Russia by Carl Faberge. Surely these were the 'ultimate' in Easter Eggs, to buy even a small one now would make you poorer by a few millions of dollars.
It was at about this time (early 1800's) that the first chocolate Easter eggs appeared in Germany and France and soon spread to the rest of Europe and beyond.
The first chocolate eggs were solid soon followed by hollow eggs. Although making hollow eggs at that time was no mean feat, because the easily worked chocolate we use today didn't exist then, they had to use a paste made from ground roasted Cacao beans.
By the turn of the 19th Century, the discovery of the modern chocolate making process and improved mass manufacturing methods meant that the Chocolate Easter Egg was fast becoming the Easter Gift of choice in the Britian and parts of Europe, and by the 1940's it was well established worldwide.
History of Easter Gifts in Europe
In many parts of Europe, huge bonfires are lighted on hilltops and in churchyards on Easter Eve. They are sometimes called Judas fires, because effigies of Judas Iscariot are frequently burned in them. The Easter bonfires predate Christianity and were originally intended to celebrate the arrival of spring. The burning effigy once symbolized winter.
Today people often send gift baskets full of Eggs and gifts
Easter is celebrated by exchange of Easter Eggs and other nifty gifts. Gift range may vary from anything between money, clothes, chocolate or go on holidays together. Some people make Easter bonnets or baskets, which have things like daffodils in them or mini eggs. Children sometimes go to a local community centre to enter an Easter bonnet competition to see whose bonnet is the best and the winner gets an Easter egg.
The Easter bunny is very much a part of the Easter tradition in England. The shops are filled with thousands which people buy to give to each other. The Easter bunny hides the eggs in the houses and children on Easter Sunday search to find these treats.
Hot–cross buns are popular foods on Good Friday. These are sweet fruit buns with crosses on top. Some people still make these with yeast, but shops now sell dozens in the week before Easter, they can be put in gift boxes and baskets
The French call it Paques. The main celebration sets off on Good Friday with a solemn note. Church bells do not ring for three days starting from Good Friday till the Easter Sunday. This is a token of mourning for the crucified Christ.
Early on Easter morning the children rush into the garden to watch the bells "Fly back from Rome". As the small folk scan the sky for a glimpse of the returning bells their elders hide chocolate eggs.
Italians call it La Pasqua. The Easter is celebrated with a real big feast in this Mediterranean country. The Paschal feast is celebrated with Agnellino, Italy's special popular dish for the Easter. This is a roasted baby lamb. Children enjoy a rich bread made specially for the Easter. It is shaped like a crown and studded with coloured Easter egg candies.
The Germans call it Ostern, possibly by the name of the Anglo Saxon goddess of spring, Eostre. School children have about three weeks holiday at Easter. No one works on Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Easter Sunday. Many people eat fish on Good Friday and on Easter Saturday evening there is often a big Easter bonfire. This is very popular and lots of people gather to watch. These Easter fires are burnt as symbols of the end of the winter and any bad feelings.
On Easter Sunday families have nice breakfasts together. Parents then hide Easter baskets with sweets, eggs and small presents. Hand-painted eggs decorated with traditional designs are exchanged among friends. Earlier, it was customary in many regions for the village girls to present their suitors with a red egg. Many eat fish on Good Friday.
The Netherlands :
The Dutch call it Pasen or Pasen Zontag. Throughout the country Easter is celebrated as a great spring holiday. People lay tables for Easter dinner with charming decoration of coloured eggs and early flowers. Sweet bread stuffed with raisins and currant, is one of the favorite dishes of the Easter feast.
The Swedish call it Påskdagen. Throughout the country the egg, symbol of life and resurrection, is featured in all Easter food and Easter games. Every household has egg colouring parties. Egg rolling contests are the favourite Easter activity of younger boys and girls. Palm Sunday is observed with palm fronds. The Easter Eve is celebrated with bonfires. Shooting of fireworks lives on as the tradition.
History of Easter Gifts in Mexico
Easter celebration in Mexico is held as a combination of two separate big observances - Semana Santa and Pascua. The former means the whole of the Holy Week - Palm Sunday to Easter Saturday. And the Pascua is the observance for the period from the Resurrection Sunday to the following Saturday.
For most Mexicans, this two-week period is the time for a great vacation. People enjoy this time with the community of their choice. They often give gifts, send gift baskets, gift boxes.
Semana Santa celebrates the last days of the Christ's life. Pascua is the celebration of the Christ's Resurrection. It is also the release from the sacrifices of Lent.
In many communities, the full Passion Play is enacted from the Last Supper, the Betrayal, the Judgement, the Procession of the 12 Stations of the Cross, the Crucifixion and, finally, the Resurrection. In some communities, real crucifixion is included. The enactments are often nicely staged, costumed and acted, with participants preparing for their roles for nearly the full year leading up to Semana Santa.
Easter Gifts in Australia and New Zealand
Australia & New Zealand a wonderful country with people from different parts of the world. So, Easter is celebrated in a variety of ways.
The main day of celebration of families of Anglo-Irish backgrounds is Easter Sunday. Some people go to church services and have hot cross buns for breakfast. These are a sweet fruit bun, which may have a cross on top. Children exchange Easter eggs gifts, which are usually made of chocolate. Some are now made from sugar and have little toys inside. The chocolate eggs are available in an egg shape, from tiny little ones to giant ones. Some chocolate eggs are also in the shape of cheeky looking rabbits.
In recent years Easter bilbies have also been made. The bilby is a native animal in Australia. It is an endangered species. Chocolate manufacturers decided to make Easter bilbies and give some of their profits to help protect these animals from extinction. Children do not worry about the shape. They just love the chocolate! You can give gift baskets full of Easter eggs or gift boxes full chocolate eggs.
Many families arrange for an Easter hunt in their homes or gardens to see who can find the most eggs on Easter Sunday morning. They then share a roast meal with their relatives.
Easter Gifts in Africa
In Africa, Easter is celebrated as a main function of the Christian communities. In the Easter Vigil hundreds of people assemble in the church building.
In most parish churches the Easter Vigil is anticipated, because there are no lights, usually beginning at 3pm and finishing at dark, around 6pm.
The church is decorated by Vitenge and Kanga, clothes made up in the form of butterflies, flowers, banana trees etc.
Christian hymns are accompanied by the beating of drums and Kigelegele, the high-pitched sounds made by women.
After the Mass, traditional dances are held outside of the church. Then people return home to continue their celebrations with local food and drinks.
In some parishes the people remain around the church after Mass and sit in their small Christian communities to continue the celebration of eating and drinking, as ceremonial dances and entertainments continue around them.
In Africa, Easter has a social dimension as well as a spiritual one. At Easter families come together. They share special food with Christians and non-Christians indulging in boiled or roasted rice with meat or chicken.
Meat being very scarce and expensive in Africa, the laws of abstinence (not eating meat) does not hold good.
In South Africa some people give gift baskets and boxes full of Easter eggs
A HISTORY OF HOT CROSS BUNS
Hot Cross Buns were traditionally served during the Lenten Season, especially on Good Friday. Their origins, however, like the Easter holiday, are mixed with pagan traditions. To the ancient Aztecs and Incas, buns were considered the sacred food of the gods, while the Egyptians and Saxons offered them as sacrifices to their goddesses.
The cross represented the four quarters of the moon to certain ancient cultures, while others believed it was a sign that held supernatural power to prevent sickness. To the Romans, the cross represented the horns of a sacred ox.
The word "bun" is derived from the ancient word "boun," used to describe this revered animal. The Christian church adopted Hot Cross Buns during their early missionary efforts to pagan cultures. They re-interpreted the "cross" of icing which adorns the bun to signify the cross on which Jesus sacrificed His life.
Some historians date the origin of Hot Cross Buns back to the 12th century, when an Angelican monk was said to have placed the sign of the cross on the buns to honor Good Friday, known at that time as the "Day of the Cross." In 1361, a monk named Father Thomas Rocliffe, was recorded to have made small spiced cakes stamped with the sign of the cross, to be distributed to the poor visiting the monastery at St. Albans on Good Friday. According to the scholar Harrowed, the idea proved so popular that he made the buns every year, carefully keeping his bun recipe secret.
According to tradition, Hot Cross Buns were the only food allowed to be eaten by the faithful on Good Friday. Made from dough kneaded for consecrated bread used at Mass or Holy Communion, and thus representative of Christs body, Hot Cross Buns were also credited for miraculous healing and for protection.
Throughout the years, Hot Cross Buns baked on Good Friday were used in powdered form to treat all sorts of illnesses. In addition, many families hung the buns from their kitchen ceilings to protect their households from evil for the year to come. The tradition, however, suffered attack during the 16th century.
During Queen Elizabeth 1sts reign, when Roman Catholicism was banned, backward - lookers were reportedly tried for Popery for signing the cross on their Good Friday buns. The accused often claimed that it was necessary to mark a cross on the dough, to ensure that the buns would rise. However, the popularity of the buns prevailed, and the Queen resorted to passing a law which limited the bun's consumption to proper religious ceremonies, such as Christmas, Easter or funerals.
So go ahead and try your hand at making these traditional Hot Cross Buns for your Good Friday or Easter meal! Our recipe makes one dozen buns. Raisins or lemon peel can be added for extra flavour. The buns can be served with lemon curd or candied lemon peel.
Why not bake some Hot Cross Buns and put them in a gift basket, these will make ideal gifts.
TRADITIONAL HOT CROSS BUNS
3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon instant powdered milk
1/4 cup white sugar
3/8 teaspoon salt
1 egg white
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
3/4 cup currants
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons milk
1. Put warm water, butter, skim milk powder, 1/4 cup sugar, salt, egg, egg white, flour, and yeast in bread maker and start on dough program.
2. When 5 minutes of kneading are left, add currants and cinnamon. Leave until dough is double in size (about 1 hour).
3. Punch down on floured surface, cover, and let rest 10 minutes.
4. Shape into 12 balls and place in a greased 9 x 12 inch pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place till double, about 35-40 minutes.
5. Mix egg yolk and 2 tablespoons water. Brush on balls.
6. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 20 minutes. Remove from pan immediately and cool on wire rack.
7. To make crosses: mix together confectioners' sugar, vanilla, and milk. Brush an "X" on each cooled bun.
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