The spring holiday of Easter is the holiest day on the Christian calendar. Easter commemorates the day Christ rose from the dead after his crucifixion, symbolizing the spiritual resurrection of all Christians.
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Easter marks the end of Lent, a forty-day period of penitence and fasting. The holiday falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring, which occurs in March or April.
While known as "Easter" in English and "Ostern" in German, most languages actually name the holiday using some form of the Greek word Πάσχα (pascha), which itself comes from the Hebrew pesach, or Passover. Slavic languages often call it the "Great Day" or "Great Night."
The week preceding Easter Sunday is known as Holy Week. Several days during the week have special importance:
- Palm Sunday: commemorates Jesus' entry into Jerusalem.
- Maundy Thursday: the day of Christ's Last Supper with his disciples.
- Good Friday: the day Jesus was crucified and died.
- Holy Saturday: when Christ's body lay in the tomb.
- Easter Sunday: the day of the Resurrection.
Easter Eggs and the Easter Bunny
Eggs are ancient symbols of fertility and rebirth, and colored eggs are a big part of Easter celebrations around the world. A popular color for colored eggs is deep red, symbolizing the blood of Christ. Many Orthodox countries have a strong tradition of elaborately hand-painted eggs.
Though it seems like a commercial invention, the Easter bunny has actually been around for about 400 years and probably started in the Alsace region of France. Rabbits and hares, as we all know, are prolific breeders and fit in with the Easter themes of rebirth and fertility.
Traditional Easter Foods Around the World
While not usually as elaborate as Christmas dinners, the Easter meal is a big part of most Easter festivals.
Common Easter Dishes
The main course for many Easter dinners in Europe is roast lamb. Ham is more common in the United States. Vegetables are usually appropriate to the season, things like peas, asparagus, spinach or artichokes. Torta pasqualina, a savory chard pie, is traditional in parts of Italy.
With the end of the Lenten fast, sweet breads rich with butter, milk and eggs are common on the Easter table. A few of the more well known are pane di Pasqua (Italy), Osterkranz (Germany, Austria), paasstol (Netherlands), kulich (Russia, Ukraine), babobka (Czech Republic), baba (Poland), tsoureki (Greece), potica (Slovenia), hot cross buns (England) and mämmi (Finland). Whole eggs are sometimes baked right into the loaves. In Slavic countries, kulich is paired with a sweet cheese dessert called paskha.
Easter Sweets, Easter Baskets and the Easter Egg Hunt
In the United States, before sunrise on Easter morning, the Easter Bunny brings gaily colored baskets filled with chocolates, jelly beans and marshmallow candies. He also hides colored Easter eggs around the house or garden for small children to find in their Easter egg hunt. In other countries, colored eggs are used for egg dancing, egg tapping or egg rolling contests.
(Greek roast lamb with potatoes)
A whole spit-roasted lamb is the classic Easter feast for most Greeks. But this recipe for roast leg of lamb with potatoes is popular too. It is just as tasty, yet simpler to prepare and more suitable for smaller gatherings. The variation with artichokes makes the dish a full meal. Read more »
(Italian asparagus gratin)
Roasting is an excellent way to prepare asparagus. This simple dish with a tasty Parmesan crust is a snap to throw together. Asparagi alla parmigiana is a springtime favorite in northern Italy. Read more »
(American Southern roasted ham)
Country hams are an old tradition in the American South. Fresh pork legs are salt-cured, sometimes smoked, and then dry aged for several months. Because the meat can be very salty, country hams must be soaked in water for a time to remove excess salt. Baked country ham is the perfect centerpiece for any family celebration. Leftovers are great for breakfast with red-eye gravy or served as a sandwich in buttermilk biscuits. Read more »
(American sugar-baked sweet potatoes)
Also called sweet potato casserole, candied sweet potatoes are a favorite dish in many American households at Thanksgiving and Easter, especially children. They are an extra treat when a layer of marshmallows is baked and browned on top. At Easter, chick- or rabbit-shaped and colored marshmallows called "Peeps" are sometimes used. Read more »
(Italian open-faced omelet)
A frittata (Italian plural: frittate) is an Italian egg dish, similar to a crustless French quiche, that is studded with a variety of flavorful, seasonal ingredients. Often referred to as an "open-faced omelet," frittatas are cut into wedges and served warm or at room temperature as part of a breakfast, brunch or light meal. Read more »
(German deviled, stuffed eggs appetizer)
Stuffed eggs are easy to throw together, and they make great finger food at family get-togethers, parties and celebrations. You can make them up ahead, giving you plenty of time to tend to other duties. They also make a simple yet elegant supper or brunch when paired with a side salad. Gefüllte Eier are also a tasty way to use up leftover Easter eggs. Read more »
(French scalloped potatoes)
Gratin dauphinois originated in the Dauphiné region of southeast of France near Grenoble. This dish of sliced potatoes baked in milk or cream is known in the United States as scalloped or au gratin potatoes. Read more »
(Swedish potato, onion and cream casserole)
The name of this creamy potato side dish is Swedish for "Jansson's temptation." It's not really clear just who Jansson was — either a 19th century opera singer, or a character in an early 20th century Swedish film. Either way, an entire nation was tempted in the end. Read more »
(Greek Easter butter cookies)
Swirling sweet biscuits have been a part of Greek cuisine for thousands of years. The ancient Minoans, who believed snakes possessed mystical powers, ate serpent-shaped cookies. These days koulourakia twists and braids are a traditional accompaniment to any Greek Orthodox Easter celebration. Read more »
(Eastern Orthodox sweet Easter bread)
Kulich (кулич) is a tall, cylindrical sweet bread that is served for Easter in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. It is traditionally paired with paskha, a sort of cheesecake. The two confections are taken to church on Easter Sunday to be blessed by the local priest. Then for the Easter meal, slices of kulich are spread with paskha and eaten. If you don't have a kulich mold, you will need a 2-pound coffee can for this recipe. Read more »
(Eastern Orthodox molded Easter cheesecake)
Paskha — also known as Пасха, paska, pasca and pascha — is a pyramid-shaped confection that is served for Easter in the Eastern Orthodox homes of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine and also in Poland and Lithuania. Similar in taste to a cheesecake without the crust, paskha is traditionally spread on slices of kulich, a sweet Easter bread. Read more »