March 27, 2013

Easter Traditions Then and Now

I remember once sitting in the living room with my parents some time 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!

I decided to re-post this from April 7 of last year, as much of it still holds true for our Easter celebrations this year. Again the weather promises to be beautiful and warm, and again we will be going to our friends' farm for a walk and an Easter tea, but on the Monday this time. Three of our kids will be working Sunday afternoon after the early mass, two here at the bistro, and our eldest back at his job in a music store in Vancouver (although he will be here Friday night and Saturday for a little visit). "The numbers are dwindling," my friend said last night, "The numbers are dwindling." Even on the Monday we will be with only two of our kids as our second eldest is making a visit to his grandparents for the week. One tradition we will all partake in together, however, and that is the eating of the Easter bread, but I'll be making it a day early so that can happen. 

Here is an extra photo from a little side road I took the other day. A little valley within our Valley: 

And I found some of these just opening up:

Happy Spring!


  1. oh wow...first those eggs are awesome!!!! and that easter bread sounds yummy as well...when i saw it decorated with icing and jelly cool...def easter flair...we are staying home this year...we usually go to my parents house but i have a huge grad school paper due sunday at midnite...

    1. We can enjoy those eggs again this year, as we kept them.
      Best of luck with that grad school paper! That's a cruel deadline :)

  2. Great traditions! I was wondering why you'd cooked the bread already and how you were going to keep it fresh, then I saw it was a re-post. It looks so yummy! And Ben Hur is a festive touch :)

    Great eggs too! Patterned silk, who knew?!

    1. Yes, it has been a full week, and not much time for writing blog posts. I remembered this one and thought I'd share it again.

  3. What a lovely description of your Easter traditions. I made a plaited bread for Christmas this year. Today I just made a cottage loaf and some chocolate nests from Shredded Wheat to amuse the 'children'. I'd love to decorate eggs but we can't find white ones and brown ones are too dark to show patterns nicely. I'm glad you are having nice weather. The sun came out today but it is still bitterly cold.

    1. Thanks, Lucille :) My friend makes those chocolate nests, too, and puts little candied eggs in them. My Polish friend gathers onion skins and boils her eggs with them, turning them a deep lovely brown, then she scratches drawings into the layer of brown. They are lovely! I wonder if there are directions on the 'net for this...
      Maybe the weather in your region will produce an Easter miracle - but I'm glad you had the sun for a bit today in any case.
      Happy Easter to you and yours!

  4. Nice.

    The bread recipe seems very similar to a Swiss bread we love called 'sopf'although thats not iced. G's aunt taught me to make it in her farmhouse kitchen a few years ago and we had a great time laughing at my male attempts at plaiting!

    Thanks for reminding me.
    Have a great Easter!

    1. It's also known as Challah bread, which is a Jewish Passover delicacy, I believe. It seems that most cultures have a version of it - whatever it takes to enjoy it and call it our own 'traditional bread', eh?
      Once I was away and V tried to do our youngest's hair - the results were hilarious :)
      Happy Easter to you and yours as well!

  5. HI! I hope your Easter was WONDERFUL Rebecca! WE enjoyed delicious baked bread (ours is cinnamon w/ white icing) as well...special foods are such a GREAT part of hoiday tradition! The Jelly Bean candy makes it look so festive in your photos!

    The painted eggs are SO pretty!

  6. My kids and I baked bread the day before Easter too. For the very first time. But is wasn't fancy. Just as idea we picked up at the library.

    Those eggs are awesome.

    I hope you had a wonderful Easter.


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!