April 7, 2012

Easter Traditions, Then and Now

I remember once sitting in the living room with my parents sometime over the Easter weekend while we listened to the entire recording of Handel's Messiah. I'm not sure if that was a yearly tradition or not, but it left an impression on me. Now I like to turn on CBC Radio while I am cooking breakfast on Easter morning and tune in to The Messiah with all the other people listening across the country. It's a good, unifying feeling of joy and celebration while maple flavoured bacon sizzles in the pan and the scrambled eggs cook up light and fluffy. We have bacon and eggs every Easter morning, and my family looks forward to the meal, but it is the beautiful braided Easter bread that is the crowning glory of the white clothed breakfast table.

Every year, For as long as I can remember, my mother has made her family-favourite Easter bread. My mom is an excellent bread maker and I have good memories of sitting in the kitchen watching her knead the dough - thump thump thump - as she turned the dough over and over with her capable hands on the yellow formica topped kitchen table. She generally made a large batch of sweet dough and after decorating the braided bread with white icing and brightly coloured jelly beans, would deliver a few loaves to close friends. We still had plenty left over for Easter breakfast, though, and it was always a big treat sliced and slathered with sweet and slightly salty butter. 

When my boys were little I asked my mom for her Easter bread recipe. She gave me the original booklet from which she had first learned the method; the booklet had probably come free of charge with a bag of Robin Hood flour. Every year since, I have made Mom's Easter bread, and it has become an essential part of the Easter celebrations in our house. I make two loaves and they are both gobbled up in as many days. Easter bread is not terribly filling and being white bread, it becomes stale fairly quickly. Fortunately, it never lasts long enough in our house for staleness to be a worry.

The first rising (I love punching down the dough)

Ian insited on putting his copy of Ben Hur in this photo
of the braided dough ready for baking

Golden baked loaves. They smell sooo heavenly.

Iced and decorated for Easter morning

I made our Easter bread today, and this evening, our youngest is decorating eggs. When I was growing up, Holy Saturday was the day for egg decorating. I, the youngest would do my best not to smudge the colours on my eggs, while my sisters, especially my sister Pauline created objet d'art with theirs. A local shop also sponsored an Easter colouring contest each year, and Pauline often won First Prize. I could only gaze in wonder at what she could accomplish with a set of pencil crayons. We had a beatiful collection of eggs which decorated the sideboard or the table for the Easter season.  My girls have made some beautiful creations over the years, and my eldest brought home one she had made by tying a piece of patterned silk around an egg before boiling it for several minutes in vinegar water in her cooking class this week. The pattern transferred itself onto the egg throughout the process which made for a very pretty result.

The egg on the left was boiled tied in patterned silk, while the
other was decorated with felt tipped pen by my youngest daughter

On Saturday night, our family would attend the Easter Vigil at our Cathedral. With the lights dimmed and the scent of incense sitting heavily in the air, I would generally fall asleep on my dad and sometimes he even carried me all the way home. Easter morning, we children rose and sought out our stash of chocolate and jelly beans. We always had a large, flat Peter Rabbit, and my brother and I would attack the ears first. We even had a type of Easter treasure hunt once. We had clues that we had to follow in order to reach the hiding spot of our cache of treats.

As a family now, we attend whichever Easter mass works for us because my husband is usually very busy during any holiday period at the hotel where he is employed. He even used to dress up as the Easter Bunny on Easter morning and hand out chocolate eggs to all the children staying at the hotel for the holiday. This year we opted to go to mass early Sunday morning, when our eldest girl will be singing in the choir. For several years I hid plastic eggs filled with little chocolate eggs and other candies in our downstairs for my own children. Each of our four kids was assigned a colour of plastic egg. They had to find only their colour. Eventually, they got too old for that (or my skills at hiding just could not keep up to their skill at finding) and for the past few years I have simply filled a basket or similar container with brightly coloured Easter grass to make a nest for their treats. I make one for their dad, too, so he doesn't feel left out.

We always get together with friends for an Easter supper, generally of baked ham, scallopped potatoes, salads and of course, luscious desserts and wine. This year, with the weather being so beautiful we will shake things up a bit. We are going out to our friends' farm where we will gather with some other families and go for a long walk followed by an Easter Tea (which our host says will be supper disguised as something easier). We often shared our Easter supper with friends when I was growing up, too, if I remember correctly. Easter was always the most important celebration in the year and many of the traditions I grew up with I have carried on with my own children. Taking the rich and meaningful moments of our childhoods and adapting them to our own families is what tradition is all about. And barring that, we make our own.

A joyful and very happy Easter to all!


  1. Right back at you.

    I don't have many memories of the Sunday. But for the longest time I was a bedecked in soutane/cassock and surplice. This meant learning a whole new set of responses and actions. The former being important for the Easter call and answer are only for Easter. So you as attendants lead the answer, meaning you had to say it loud enough for the entire congregation to hear and learn it. You prayed you'd get the job of cross carrier not the thurible. Frankly, it does nothing to aid religious contemplation in the alter-boy when his mental conversation is liberally peppered with a litany directed at a lump of charcoal.
    Stress is the abiding memory, then nothing for the chocolate would have shut down all faculties.
    I slow cooked a leg of lamb yesterday. A bit flavourless if I calling it. But one could draw it apart with a spoon. I prefer cold lamb to hot.

    + May the Blessings of Almighty God be on you and yours this Resurrection Day. In the Name of the Father Son and Holy Ghost. Amen. +

    1. Your Easter recollections sound rigorous. I don't think any altar boys here ever said anything out loud - ever, although a friend of mine fainted regularly whenever there was incense involved. I'm glad there was a little chocolate for you :) I wonder if mass in Ireland would be so much different than it is here even now...?

      Lamb is delicious, but maybe you need a good sauce for yours?

      All those Blessings back at you, friend!

    2. I mixed Thai green paste into Cos-Cos along with sunflower seed. I was quite good in fact.

  2. Happy Easter to you and yours Rebecca!

    Nice post, I fely I'd been there with you for all those years of bread making.

    And isn't slathered a brilliant word to describe that generosity of spreading.........

    1. Slathered is a brilliant word! A very Happy Easter to you, however you celebrate it :)

    2. Yeah, you should see what my hound does with that word.


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