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Easter - 8 April 2012
This Easter (8 April, if you haven't yet marked your diary), you might celebrate by going to a parade, eating a big family dinner or taking the kids to fill their baskets at a local egg hunt. You might even save a few chocolate eggs to savour yourself...
But if you lived in Britain a few centuries ago, your holiday would be quite a bit different.
Easter is commonly known as a Christian holiday, marking the end of Lent and celebrating Jesus' resurrection after being crucified and buried. But the celebrating is actually more than 2,000 years old, predating the religion.
The original festivities honoured Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn and spring, and the first holidays celebrated new life, fertility and the earth's escape from the harsh holds of winter.
That's how eggs came in. Pagans thought eggs had special powers, and the ancient Romans believed they were miniature symbols of the universe. Just like a young chick breaks through its hard shell, the planet blooms into full colour each spring.
Eggs feature in a number of unusual ceremonies today, like the ones at Preston in Lancashire. Easter celebrants hold egg rolling competitions each year in which they roll hard boiled eggs down a hill to see whose can travel furthest. In a game played in other regions, two competitors hold eggs in their palms, then hit their eggs against one another. The player whose egg cracks first loses.
As popular as the bunnies are in today's celebrations, they ended up being the losers in ancient holidays. Hares represented Eostre and an ancient moon goddess, but they were hunted for sport on Easter weekend. Luckily for today's children, you won't find anything so violent at this year's egg hunts.
Today, Easter is often celebrated with food. Hams are common on Easter Sunday in the UK, along with roast lamb, which is also the traditional main course for Jewish Passover. For Easter breakfast, many families eat boiled eggs before exchanging gifts and cards. Those with a sweet tooth might enjoy a cup of tea and simnel cake, originally given to women on Mothering Sunday.
Hot cross buns are the typical fare on Good Friday (the day when Jesus was crucified). The Widow's Son pub in Bromley-by-Bow displays a collection of hot cross buns in honour of a widow who baked one of the treats for her son who died at sea. A sailor adds one new bun to the stock each year.
Dance troupes liven up Easter celebrations by performing Morris dances, routines that probably originated in the Middle Ages.
Whatever you do this holiday, you'll have plenty of options to entertain yourself in London. Check LondonNet's complete listing of events and activities to find the perfect thing for your celebration this year. Whether you're interested in fine dining, egg hunts or a wild night of clubbing, we'll show you where to go.
- Jill Hilbrenner