Easter in the UK
Easter in the UK
In the UK Easter is one of the major Christian festivals of the year. It is full of customs, folklore and food. Whilst it is commonly seen as a Christian festival, with the death or Jesus, and his rising from the dead, it is believed that Easter itself has its beginnings long before Christianity arrived in the UK. Indeed, it is thought the name Easter actually comes from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn and spring, Eostre.
Unlike other festivals, such as Christmas, which has a fixed date, Easter can happen on different dates each year. It is observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the first day of spring in the Northern hemisphere (most of us check our calendars!). This means that Easter falls somewhere between March 22, and April 25. East marks the end of winter, and the end of Lent, which in the Christian calendar is a time of prayer and fasting. Therefore, Easter is a time of fun and celebration. The Friday before Easter Sunday is known as Good Friday, and the Monday following is Easter Monday. Both are public holidays, so people get a nice long weekend. Also, schools are often shut for 2 weeks round Easter as well, giving children plenty of time to run around and burn off all the chocolate that is eaten!
The Thursday before Easter is known as Maundy Thursday in the UK. It is believed this was the day of the Last Supper, where Jesus commanded his followers to “Love one another as I have loved you.” The word Maundy comes from the French “mande,” which translates roughly as “command,” or “mandate.”
In Britain, the Queen takes part in the Ceremony of the Royal Maundy, which dates back to Edward 1. This involves the Queen handing out “Maundy Money” to senior citizens. It is usually 1 man and 1 woman for each year of the Queens age, and they are usually chosen for having done service to their community. They receive ceremonial red and white purses which contain coins made especially for the occasion. The white purse contains one coin for each year of the monarch's reign. The red purse contains money in place of other gifts that used to be given to the poor.
Another common symbol of Easter is the Easter Egg, though it is likely this came from a time before Christianity. Eggs are widely seen as a symbol of fertility and new birth, which matches the arrival of spring and the new year. Traditionally eggs would be boiled, then painted, and given as gifts. However today, most eggs that are given are made of chocolate! However, eggs are not just eaten. They are still painted and decorated by kids and given as gifts or hunted in big Easter Egg hunts.
Also, for fun, eggs are also not just decorated and eaten, but thrown down hills at Easter as well, in some parts of the UK, such as in Preston, Lancashire, children will attempt to “roll” an egg down the hill, with the first egg down the hill being crowned the winner! Not surprisingly, not many eggs actually survive the journey intact, so often it is the egg that made it the furthest without cracking that is eventually crowned.
Rabbits are also a common symbol for Easter and have always been a symbol of fertility. The Easter bunny (rabbit) however may actually be an Easter hare. The hare was allegedly a companion of the ancient Moon goddess and of Eostre. Strangely the bunny as an Easter symbol seems to have it's origins in Germany, where it was first mentioned in German writings in the 16th Century. The first edible Easter bunnies appeared in Germany during the early 1800s, they were made of pastry and sugar. In the UK children believe that if they are good the "Easter Bunny " will leave (chocolate) eggs for them.
There are many local customs as well over the Easter period. Some are still alive and well, others have begun to fade away. For example, in the North East of England in the city of Durham, it was common on Good Friday for boys to run around the city after 4pm and demand girls pay for their shoes! If the girl didn’t pay a couple of pence, then the boys would steal 1 shoe, leaving the victim struggling to walk home! This may sound harsh, but girls got their revenge on Easter Monday, by doing the exact same thing to boys, and demanding more money. If the boys had work boots on which proved difficult to take off, then the girls would simply take another item of clothing, such as the poor boys hat.
Easter in Manchester and the North West of England
In the North West of England, around Manchester, there are still areas that hold Pace-Egg plays. These outdoor plays generally revolve the re-telling of the story of St George. With a lot of liberties taken with the story, ending up very far from the accepted “real” story! Indeed, more often than not, they end up as a comedy! These plays are notorious for being not just outdoors but wandering all over the town. They are not fixed in one location, with the players taking advantage of local shops and scenery to help with the play!
If you are in England during the time of Easter, then make sure you have time to enjoy the local events as there will be many, and make sure you are not full, as there is a lot of food to enjoy! Especially chocolate!