One of the most beloved aspects about cultural or religious holidays is the food. From turkey and blood sausages at Christmas to stuffing and cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, the holidays often revolve around the meals we gather for with loved ones. But do you know why certain foods are favoured for certain holidays?
If you've always wondered why lamb is often served on Easter or Passover, and why those delicious-smelling hot cross buns surface mostly around this time of the year, we chatted with a few dietitians to get the low-down. So, if you might be breaking bread or hot cross buns, dietitians Novella Lui and Lauren McNeill give you a better sense of why these and other Easter edibles became a tradition.
The hot cross bun's historical run
Hot cross buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday to mark the end of Lent, which involves 40 days of fasting, said Lui.
A 12th-century monk introduced the cross to the bun in honour of Good Friday, according to Smithsonian mag. But near the end of the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I thought these wee buns needed to be reserved only for these special occasions: Good Friday, Christmas or for burials. The English believed the buns carried medicinal or magical properties, and Elizabeth didn't want those powers abused. To circumvent the law, more people began baking these "powerful" buns at home, increasing their popularity and making the law difficult to enforce. It was eventually rescinded.
When the British colonized Jamaica in the 1650s, they brought their traditions with them. The popular Jamaican Easter bun (which is really more of a loaf) is a variation of the hot-crossed bun, which is often enjoyed with cheese.
Eggsplainin' the significance
Eggs symbolize fertility and birth. Christians perceive the egg as a resurrection of Jesus, in which the egg itself symbolizes Jesus, who rose from the tomb, said Lui.
Mesopotamian Christians first adopted them as an Easter food, dying them red to represent Christ's blood. Eastern Europeans were among the first to elaborately decorate eggs, creating delicate wax relief designs on the shells to give to loved ones.
Cracking the history of decorated Easter eggs
Eggs that were laid during the week of Lent were saved as Holy Week eggs, which were decorated and also presented to children as gifts, said Lui.
Egg-shaped toys emerged in the 17 and 18 centuries, which were given to children, along with satin covered eggs and chocolates. Easter chocolate eggs were first made in the early 19 century in France and Germany. The emergence of hollow eggs like the ones we have today came as techniques for chocolate-making improved, said Lui and McNeill.
Lambmenting the past
Eating lamb is not only part of many people's Easter Sunday meals, but it is also part of those who celebrate Passover, which occurs around the same time as Easter.
The roots of why lamb is often served in Christian households at Easter stems from Judaism and early Passover observances before the birth of Christianity. During the biblical Exodus story, Egyptians endured a series of terrible plagues, including the death of all firstborn sons. Jewish Egyptians painted their doorposts with sacrificed lamb's blood so that God would "pass over" their homes while carrying out the punishment. Jews who then converted to Christianity carried on the tradition of eating lamb at Easter.
In Christian theology, lamb also symbolizes Jesus' self-sacrifice as the "Lamb of God." And historically, lamb also symbolizes the onset of spring when lambs would also have been the first fresh meat available after winter to slaughter, said Lui.
The tradition of eating Easter ham can be traced back to at least the sixth century in Germany, Bruce Kraig, founder of Culinary Historians of Chicago and author of "Man Bites Dog," told the Boston Globe.
Back in the day, pigs were one of the few meats available to eat in early spring in Europe, said Lui. "When Christianity spread northward, it merged with the pagan spring celebration of Eostre, the goddess of the rising dawn," with ham served during the feast, said Kraig. Early American settlers brought pigs from Northern Europe to America.
Borscht, a soup that can't be beet
White borscht, a traditional Polish soup with eggs, sausages and potatoes, is enjoyed on Easter Sunday morning.
This soup is traditionally made with items in a basket of food that Polish families used take to church to have blessed on Holy Saturday in the early 15th century, said Lui. These Easter baskets were filled with things that symbolized every part of life, and their blessing was considered a sign of blessing for a bountiful year ahead.
Soup'd up for Greek Easter
MayiritsaEaster soup, μαγειρίτσα in Greek (pronounced mah-yee-REET-sah), is also known as Easter Sunday soup, and is traditionally eaten by the Greek Orthodox, to break the fast from Lent.
As we know, lamb is often eaten at Easter, and making Mayiritsa soup helped ensure that all the parts of the lamb were used.
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With a file from Lisa Yeung.
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