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 traditional food. However, Easter in Britain has its beginnings long before the arrival of Christianity. Many theologians believe Easter itself is named after the Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn and spring – Eostre.
In Britain, Easter occurs at a different time each year. It is observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. This means that the festival can occur on any Sunday between March 22 and April 25. Not only is Easter the end of the winter, it is also the end of Lent, traditionally a time of fasting in the Christian calendar. It is, therefore, often a time of fun and celebration.
The Friday before Easter Sunday and the Monday after are a bank holiday in the UK. Over Easter, schools in the UK close for two weeks, just enough time to digest all the chocolate. On the Friday before Easter, Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It is a day of mourning in church and special Good Friday services are held where Christians meditate on Jesus’s suffering and death on the cross, and what this means for their faith. Calling it ‘Good Friday’ may seem a bit bizarre, but some people think that it was once called God’s Friday or Holy Friday.
Many of the symbols and traditions of Easter are connected with renewal, birth, good luck and fertility.
The Cross
As it is a Christian festival, one of the main symbols is a cross, often on a hill. When Jesus was crucified, the cross became a symbol of suffering. Then with the resurrection, Christians saw it as a symbol of victory over death. In A.D. 325, Constantine issued a decree at the Council of Nicaea, that the Cross would be the official symbol of Christianity.

Palm branches

The week of Easter begins on Palm Sunday. In Roman times, it was customary to welcome royalty by waving palm branches and when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on what is now known as Palm Sunday, people welcomed him with palm branches carpeting the streets and waving them. Today, on Palm Sunday, Christians carry palm branches in parades, and make them into crosses and garlands to decorate the Church.



Easter eggs

Easter eggs are a very old tradition going back to a time before Christianity. Eggs are a symbol of spring and new life. Exchanging and eating Easter eggs is a popular custom in many countries. In the UK, before they were replaced by chocolate Easter eggs, real eggs were used. The eggs were hard-boiled and dyed in various colors and patterns. The traditionally bright colours represented spring and light. An older, more traditional game is one in which real eggs are rolled against one another or down a hill. The owner of the egg that stayed uncracked the longest won. Nowadays people give each other Easter eggs made of chocolate, usually hollow and filled with sweets. In Britain, children hunt for (chocolate) Easter eggs hidden about the home or garden by the Easter bunny.


Rabbits, due to their fecund nature, have always been a symbol of fertility. The Easter bunny 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 its 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 and 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.

Hot cross buns

Hot cross buns, now eaten throughout the Easter season, were first baked in England to be served on Good Friday. These small, slightly sweet yeast buns contain raisins or currants and sometimes chopped candied fruit. Before baking, a cross is slashed in the top of the bun. After baking, a confectioners’ sugar icing is used to fill the cross.



Adapted from Hone’s Every Day Book