How is Easter celebrated in the United Kingdom?

Easter in Britain had its beginnings long before the arrival of Christianity. Celebrations of spring’s renewal probably date back to prehistoric times, and supposedly the word Easter itself derives from the pagan festival of Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn. The hare was said to have been sacred to this goddess, and is supposedly the origin of today’s Easter bunnies, though rabbits, because of their fecund reputation, have always been symbols of fertility.

Easter Sunday is a moveable feast, falling anywhere between March 22 and April 25. Its date is calculated in a similar way to that of the Jewish festival of Passover.

The most important festival of the Christian church, Easter celebrates the Resurrection of Christ from the dead, and in Britain many people attend Easter services and receive Communion who are not churchgoers at other times. Joyous peals of bells are rung, and many churches are lavishly decorated with flowers in the spring colors of yellow, white and green. ‘Easter lilies’ are often displayed on the altar. Following a custom which has spread from Wales to the rest of Britain, family graves are sometimes also decked with flowers at Easter.

Easter bonnets decorated with spring flowers or ribbons originated with parishioners wearing a bright new item of clothing, or perhaps even a complete new outfit, to church on Easter Sunday. Elaborate bonnets and outfits are worn in Easter parades in Britain, including the famous one at Battersea Park in London. Easter Monday is a favorite day for
funfairs with rides and roundabouts, one of the oldest traditionally being held on London’s Hampstead Heath.

Coming as it did after the long fast of Lent, Easter was traditionally a season of feasting. The classic British Easter food is the Easter egg. As an apparently inanimate object which nevertheless contains the source of new life, the egg is an ancient and universal symbol of spring’s re-awakening. This symbol was adopted by Christians to signify the Resurrection, and some Christians also regard the egg as a symbol of the stone rolled away from the entrance to Christ’s sepulcher. In Britain today chocolate Easter Eggs, often filled with candies, are given to relatives and friends, and especially to children.

All over the United Kingdom hard-boiled eggs are painted, decorated or dyed, and then concealed around the garden for an Egg Hunt.

On Easter Monday Egg Rolling competitions take place in northern England and Scotland. Hard-boiled eggs are rolled down a slope, and the winner, depending upon local custom, is the one which rolls the furthest, survives the most rolls, or is successfully aimed between two pegs. The best-known event takes place at Avenham Park in Preston, Lancashire.

Hot Cross Buns, now eaten throughout the Easter season, were first baked in England to be served on Good Friday. These small, spicy buns contain raisins or currants and sometimes chopped candied fruit. Before baking, a cross is marked on the top of the bun.