We may think of bunnies and chocolate eggs when it comes to Easter but it is, after all, a major Christian holiday - more important than Christmas. It’s also the first public holiday of the year since New Year’s Eve, with both Good Friday and Easter Monday being bank holidays in this country – and signals the start of spring. What should you expect to eat, wear and do to celebrate it both properly and traditionally - and where did all those traditions come from, anyway?
- Fish is traditional for Good Friday, as are hot cross buns (rich, spiced tea cakes).
- Easter Sunday lunch is the most traditional meal of the weekend - and lamb the favourite meat to serve. (You should serve white wine with fish and red wine with lamb.)
- Boiled eggs are traditional for breakfast.
- A Simnel cake could be served for tea - this is a fruit cake with a layer of marzipan, decorated with 11 marzipan balls representing the Apostles.
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- Consider setting an Easter egg hunt in the garden for any children who come to your home to celebrate Easter. All you need to do is hide a few bags of miniature chocolate eggs and bunnies outside, then give out baskets or paper bags to the kids (and any grown-up kids who want to join in). Or get creative and put together a treasure map.
- Decorate the table and bring spring into your home - add flowers, miniature eggs at the place settings and a showstopping centrepiece. These days you can readily buy Easter garlands, bunting and plenty of other fun decorations, so why not dress the whole house too? Do keep it simple, though - being over-indulgent is not in keeping with the tone of Easter.
- Easter is the ultimate time for a sweet tooth so a dessert table is a great end to your special meal.
- Don't forget your manners - familiarise yourself with what's expected with our guides, table manners - a simple courtesy and nine tips to dine in style.
- If you are visiting friends and family for Easter, take chocolate or spring flowers, such as tulips or daffodils as a gift. If you know they will be too busy to prepare the flowers, perhaps consider a potted plant instead. For traditional hosts, take an Easter card too.
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British Easter traditions
- The word Easter comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for April, Eostre-monath (the month of openings). It was previously known as Pascha, a word taken from the Jewish festival of Passover. But many of the traditions are pagan and relate to the goddess Eostre, such as the Easter bunny.
- The first eggs given for Easter were decorated birds' eggs, saved from Holy Week when eggs could not be eaten. As chocolate became more popular, a sweet version began to appear in the 19th century.
- Pace eggs are traditional in northern England - hard-boiled eggs with decorated shells. Public performances of Pace egg plays can also be seen in the region.
Egg rolling (a downhill egg race) takes place on Easter Monday in various places across the country.
- Egg jarping is like a game of conkers (normally played with horse chestnuts), but with hardboiled eggs, that takes place on Easter Sunday, popular in the north east of England.
- On Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Good Friday, the Queen hands out purses of coins to elderly people who have given Christian service to their community. She gives two purses, one white, which contains British money, and one red, which contains 'Maundy coins' to match the Queen's age.
Easter bonnets and how to dress
- The idea of an Easter bonnet comes from having a new hat to wear to church at Easter; it was traditional to have new clothes to match the new season at a time of renewed spirituality.
- We may not buy a new wardrobe any more, but it is still a lovely weekend to dress up, particularly if you are attending any church services.
- If you do wear a hat, remember to take it off when indoors, except in church.
- There are no formal rules about what to wear but it's the beginning of spring, so men could consider polo shirts and smart shorts and women floral dresses or skirts.
- However, do remember your modesty if attending church and keep knees and shoulders covered.
- It's a great time of year to bring out the pastel shades - lemon, lavender and pink.
- It can be chilly, so bring jackets and jumpers or cardigans.
Happy Easter from the team here at the British School of Etiquette – and remember, whatever you do, it's all about manners.