When I first moved to this country in 1999, one of the holidays I found that was surprisingly similar in the U.S and U.K. was Easter. However, never before had I seen such an immense array of candy as in the stores here. The fluorescent yellow and pink colored Peeps Chicks, the eggs of every different color and taste, the smooth foil wrapped bunnies, the pastel colored shiny plastic eggs, and the wicker baskets. Growing up in the U.K., candy was most definitely associated with Easter, but the candy was mainly in the form of large, hollow, chocolate eggs, which were filled with various treats, usually of the Cadbury variety. Cadbury creme eggs, small foil-wrapped chocolate eggs filled with a yellow and white fondant were also popular.
At school, kids would brag about how many of the large eggs they received, a little like Halloween in the U.S. when kids compete as to how much candy they get while trick or treating. Needless to say, every kid had a stomach ache the day after Easter Sunday! Easter in the U.K. was a major holiday with two weeks off school and a four-day holiday for most workers.
Here, Easter egg hunts and coloring eggs seem to be the most popular traditions for children, along with the Easter bunny and Easter baskets. One of the traditions associated with Easter in the U.K is Easter bonnet parades. The tradition of wearing an Easter bonnet dates back to the 16th century and the wearing of a bonnet and new clothes at Easter represented spring and the promise of spiritual renewal and redemption in the Christian faith.
The bonnet itself is a hat decorated with colorful leaves and flowers. Chicks, eggs, and other items symbolic of the season can also be added. It is worn on the last day of the school semester before the Easter break (or Easter Sunday). I took part myself in an Easter Bonnet parade in my first year of elementary school. I remember my Mother toiling for hours making the cardboard hat and attaching a pale yellow ribbon to it along with flowers and egg shells. On the last day of the school term, I and the rest of the kids in my school formed long lines in the playground and paraded around in circles in our Easter bonnets while our parents took pictures from the sidelines. Usually, after the parade, a child is given a prize (usually candy) for the most creative Easter bonnet. Unfortunately, there were no prizes for my Easter bonnet that year!
As far as traditional food goes, hot cross buns are symbolic of Easter in the U.K. They are sweet, sticky, fruit buns decorated with a cross. The cross is usually made from shortcrust pasty or icing. Hot cross buns have a long history and date back to medieval times. The adorning of the bun with a cross was a visible sign that the bread was “blessed” and had the power to ward off evil spirits. It was also believed to keep the bread from becoming stale as quickly or going moldy. The buns are usually served split in half, toasted and slathered with melting butter. They go wonderfully well with a steaming hot cup of tea!
Along with the tradition of Easter bonnets, and hot cross buns were traditional Easter candy treats which we made at home. One of my favorites from my childhood were my Mum’s chocolate eggs in bird’s nests. Here is an easy recipe which children can help with too.
Chocolate eggs in bird’s nests
Half a box of either corn flakes or shredded wheat breakfast cereal
2-3 large bars of milk or dark chocolate
2 tbsp. of vegetable oil or butter (melted)
2 cups of candy covered mini-chocolate eggs
Paper cupcake cases
A muffin pan
Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a glass bowl.
Melt in the microwave (on 50% power) in one minute increments until warm and molten. Be careful not to let the chocolate burn. If chocolate is thick or lumpy, add the melted butter or oil and stir in well.
Place the corn flakes or shredded wheat in a large bowl and add in the melted chocolate. Mix well.
Using an ice cream scoop place the mixture into a lined muffin or cupcake pan, making a small depression in the center of each nest.
Place pan in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or until chocolate has set. Once set, place 3-4 of the mini eggs into the nests. Enjoy!
What are the Easter traditions in your family? I would be interested to hear about them. Happy Easter everyone!