Celebrating Easter

Zubin D’Souza

Easter is the most meaningful and symbolic of all Christian religious festivals. It is the cornerstone of their faith. It celebrates the triumph of life over death, of light over darkness. It is the festival that has a period of forty stays of fasting and abstinence; sees the death of Jesus Christ for the sins of the world on Good Friday and his resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday.

Easter also used to be associated with springtime. It occurred around the same time and the symbolism of the resurrection was seen played out in the flowers and fruits that started blossoming after being buried the entire winter. Spring, in other cultures also has a similar connotation as fertility and as Christianity spread, these symbolic images and traditions from other faiths began getting associated with Easter because people tend to hold on to their older beliefs even post conversions. That is why even till today, you may see the use of eggs (Easter eggs), rabbits (the Easter bunny) and flowers which are all symbols of fertility.

With the widespread use of Christianity across the globe, it was only logical that each culture should have some traditional foods made especially for the day.

Although some customs may serve lamb with reference to a traditional Passover dinner, most people opt for the symbolism in breads or cakes because Christ used to refer to himself as the ‘bread of life’.

The Ethiopians spend the entire Lent season abstaining from any meat or animal products. They normally eat vegetables or a cooked chickpea flour dish with injera which is a traditional pancake made from a fermented batter. On the day of Easter, they celebrate with tresega which is raw beef served with a spiced chilli paste. No symbolism here but mainly the entire country enjoying their favourite dish after a very long time of being denied the same.

The Germans celebrate Maundy Thurs as Grundonnerstag or Green Thursday and only eat green vegetables. Topping their list of favourites is a nice creamy chervil soup.

In the orthodox Christian communities of the Eastern Bloc countries like Bulgaria, Georgia, Slovenia, members prepare a Kulich which is a rich bread-like cake that is often baked in tall tins and topped with white icing and colourful flowers. These are carried to church to be blessed by the priests after the Easter service.

The most prevalent custom is the sale of hot cross buns. This takes place on Good Friday which is the day that commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and this is perceived to have originated from Great Britain. The traditional hot cross bun is a rich spiced bun which is almost cake-like in texture and is flecked with dried fruits especially raisins and the top is decorated with a cross (hence the name).

The Mexicans have an absolutely delicious spiced bread pudding that they call Capirotada. Traditionally, this bread and cheese dessert has got several ingredients that recall the suffering of Christ. The cinnamon used to sweeten the dish is said to resemble the wood of the cross while the cloves are reminders of the nails used. The bread itself gets a more symbolic meaning, alluding itself the the body of Christ.

In Russia, on Easter, they celebrate by serving the ‘Pashka’ which is a dessert laid out in the shape of a pyramid and made out of cheese. This is traditionally decorated with the letters ‘XB’ which stands for ‘Christos Voskres’ which means Christ has risen.

In Italy, innovation is rife and they prepare a cake called the Colomba di Pasqua which means the Easter dove and is shaped like (you guessed it right, a dove!). The cake itself resembles the rich panettone which is flecked with raisins and nuts and traditionally eaten around Christmas.

The Greeks eat Tsoureki which is a rich bread that resembles brioche in taste and texture and is plaited and shaped like a ring and is decorated with boiled eggs that have been dyed red to symbolise the blood that Christ shed for the sins of mankind.

The Spaniards have the Mona di Pasqua which is a large doughnut-shaped bread that is topped with a hardboiled egg. This may be eaten throughout the Holy Week which is the last week of the season of Lent and leads up to Easter.

Simnel cakes are made in several countries and consist of a rich cake topped with icing and eleven balls made out of icing to resemble the eleven disciples with the twelfth (Judas) missing.

The last tradition that I want to tell you about is the really nice Brazilian sweet called the Pacoca de Amendoim which is made from peanuts, palm sugar and cassava flour and is used to celebrate the end of the Lenten season.