Celebrating British Easter Traditions
What British Easter Traditions are Celebrated?
Have you ever wondered what British people do to celebrate Easter?
If you are planning on visiting the UK at Easter there are lots of events planned that will give you a taste of a quintessentially British Easter.
Easter occurs some time between the 22nd of March and the 25th April, which means that it takes place in spring, and the holiday, with it's four day weekend, is a welcome break at the end of a long dark winter.
Top of the list for most people at Easter are chocolate Easter eggs, followed by Hot Cross Buns.
But probably the most important thing for most people is the fact that Easter is the only time when bank holidays are placed either side of a weekend, and people like to take advantage of this long weekend break.
Whether you are visiting Great Britain or are lucky enough to live there, I have included lots of ideas for activities to do over the Easter holidays.
What Makes A British Easter?
So, is a British Easter just about chocolate, buns and a break from work?
Religion still plays an important part of Easter for a percentage of UK families, but not in the way it did generations ago.
Maundy Thursday sees the Queen giving specially minted Maundy money to well deserving people.
Good Friday is often celebrated with walks. As a child we walked from the village church to a nearby hillside monument and this is a tradition that is still enacted today all over the country.
Many families will gather on Easter Sunday and have a family lunch, similar in style to a Christmas lunch, but maybe with roast lamb instead of turkey
Easter Monday will often see markets and fairs and it is the traditional time for holiday venues and National Trust venues to reopen after the winter, and lots of people book holidays around this time or go for day trips.
At Easter people used to wear new outfits and fancy hats. Many children still make Easter Bonnets, and there are Easter bonnet parades that you can visit.
Spring flowers such as daffodils are associated with Easter time and it is also a time when people start to think about their garden, and visiting the local garden centre or do-it-yourself shop is a popular past time.
Shrove Tuesday, better known as Pancake Day, starts the traditional count down to Easter in the UK, and is celebrated by eating pancakes
Shrove Tuesday is the last day before Lent begins, and traditionally people would make pancakes with their eggs and flour before fasting during Lent.
In twenty first century Britain many people still give something up for Lent, but it is usually something like chocolate or coffee. The tradition of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday remains very popular, however these days it is popular to buy ready made pancakes or a packet mix.
This recipe is so easy that it is no more difficult than using a packet mix, and so much healthier.
Traditionally, the pancakes would be tossed once one side had cooked, but it is more practical (if a lot less fun) to use a pan slice to turn them over.
*Note* If you have never had an English pancake before, they tend to be bigger and thinner than an American pancake - probably more like a crepe.
- Prep time: 10 min
- Cook time: 20 min
- Ready in: 30 min
- Yields: 8
- FOR THE PANCAKE BATTER MIX:
- 110 g (4oz) of plain flour
- A pinch of salt
- 2 eggs
- 200 ml (7fl oz) milk mixed with 75ml (3 floz) water
- 50 g (2oz) butter or cooking oil
- TO SERVE:
- Lemon juice or lemon wedges
- Put the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl.
- Make an indentation in the center of the flour and crack both eggs into the hole.
- Mix well with a fork until all the flour is mixed into to egg.
- Holding an electric hand mixer in one hand and the milk jug in the other gradually pour the milk into the bowl, and mix well until there are no lumps.
- Heat the butter or cooking oil in a large non-stick saucepan.
- When the fat is melted/heated pour the fat into a heat proof jug. (You only need a coating in the pan)
- Add a ladle full of pancake mix to the frying pan and tilt the pan to spread the mix out.
- Cook until the top of the pancake is bubbling.
- Lift one edge of the pancake with a pan slice - if the bottom of the pancake is a nice golden brown then flip it over.
- Cook until the bottom of the pancake is a golden brown too.
- Using a pan slice put the cooked pancake onto a warm plate and cover with a clean cloth.
- Pour the butter back into the pan, wirl around to coat the base, then tip back into the jug.
- Add another ladle of pancake mix and cook as before.
- You can use squares of baking paper inbetween the pancakes to stop them sticking together whilst waiting to be served.
- Serve warm with a sprinkling of sugar and a squirt of lemon juice.
The "Ceremony of the Royal Maundy" takes places every year on the Thursday before Easter, and has done since the 13th century.
Queen Elizabeth II visits a UK cathedral and gives a purse containing specially minted Maundy coins to pensioners who have been chosen for something good that they have done for their community.
Each year one man and one woman is chosen for each year of the monarch's age. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth is currently eighty six years old, and last year one hundred and seventy two purses of coins were given out.
Each purse contains four silver standard coins, a 1 pence, 2 pence, 3 pence and 4 pence coin.
York Minster - Maundy Thursday - April 5th 2012
Good Friday Walks
In honour of Jesus' crucifixion on Mount Calvary, many people take part in processions on Good Friday. They sometimes carry small crosses to remind them that Jesus had to carry his cross, and the walk will usually finish at a local high point.
Sometimes the children who have completed the walk will roll eggs down the hillside.
The picture above shows the Good Friday walk to Peel Tower on Holcombe Hill, near Ramsbottom in Lancashire.
When I was a child we used to walk from our village church to the Wedgwood Monument which stands on a hill just outside the nearby village of Bignall End in Staffordshire. Built to commemorate the local colliery owner John Wedgwood, it could be seen for miles around until a strong storm toppled it in 1976. Its remains have been capped, but it is a much shorter shadow of its former self.
If you would like to take part in a Good Friday Walk, here are the details of some that are taking place this year:
Links to Easter 2015 walks and processions will be posted early in 2015.
Good Friday in Ilkeston, Derbyshire
Hot Cross Buns
Traditionally eaten on Good Friday, hot cross buns are now available before Easter and eaten when desired.
The cross on the top of the bun signifies Jesus's crucifixion.
After the traditional fasting period during Lent, hot cross buns were a sweet treat eaten just before Easter.
Hot Cross Bun Superstitions:
* If you share a hot cross bun with a friend it is supposed to signify that the friendship will last for another year.
* Hot cross buns are reputed to have medicinal properties, and if a sick person eats one they will be cured.
* If you bake your hot cross buns on Good Friday it is believed that they will not go mouldy.
Good Friday Hot Cross Bun Tradition:
If you happen to be in the East End of London on Good Friday you might like to pay a visit to The Widow's Son bar in Bromley by Bow.
The bar, built in 1848, stands on the site of a cottage where a widow and her son lived. Her son was a sailor and when he left home to go to sea she promised to bake him a hot cross bun and save it for him until he returned home safely. Unfortunately he drowned at sea, but his mother still baked a hot cross bun for him every year until her death, and saved them all.
Today,Mr Bunn's Bakery provides the bar with a hot cross bun each year, and they are placed in a net that hangs above the bar. Unfortunately the bar had a fire a few years ago, so the bun collection is somewhat blackened and diminished.
Prep Time: 1/2 hour
Total Time: 3 1/2- 4 hours including rising time
Hot Cross Bun Recipe
- To Make The Buns - 1lb 2oz/500g strong white bread flour
- 2 oz/55g muscovado sugar
- 2 tsp mixed spice
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 oz cold butter sliced into smallish pieces
- 3.5 oz/100g dried mixed fruit
- 1 oz/ 25g candy peel
- 0.25 oz/7g dried yeast
- 0.5 pint/300 ml warm (not hot) milk
- To Make The Crosses - 2.5 oz/75g all purpose plain flour
- 1.5 oz cold butter sliced into smallish pieces
- To Glaze The Buns - 1.5 tbsp warm apricot jam
The buns are sliced into two and can be served cold or warmed.
Traditionally they would be spread with butter, but I also enjoy them with damson jam or a good coarse cut marmalade.
- *To Make The Buns*
- Put the flour, sugar, spices and salt into a bowl and mix together.
- Rub the butter pieces into the flour (it should resemble small breadcrumbs)
- Put the candy peel and dried fruits into the mix and stir well so that the fruit is all coated with the flour mix.
- Sprinkle the yeast over the mix.
- Pour the warmed milk into the dry mix.
- Use a wooden spoon to mix the ingredients together thoroughly.
- Put the hot cross bun dough onto a pre-floured board and knead for at least 10 minutes.
- Put the kneaded dough into a large greased bowl.
- Place a cloth over the bowl, put the bowl somewhere warm and and leave the dough to rise.
- The dough mix needs to double in size, and this should take roughly 2 hours.
- Put the risen dough onto a floured board. You now need to knock the air out of the dough and knead for a further 2 minutes.
- Split the mix into 12 equal sized pieces and shape each into a round bun shape.
- Put the buns onto a greased baking sheet.
- Cut a cross on the top of each bun with a sharp knife (not too deep)
- Cover the tray with a cloth and allow to rise again, which will take about 45 minutes.
- Heat your oven to 425F/220C/Gas 7
- *To Make The Crosses*
- Rub the butter and flour together until they resemble bread crumbs.
- Put about 1/2 a tablespoon of cold water into the flour mix and stir.
- This should make a thick dough. If it is too dry add a little more water, and if it is too wet add a little more flour.
- Divide the dough mix into 12 equal pieces, roll them into balls, and put them in the fridge to chill, for about half and hour.
- Using your fingers roll each ball out into a snake, the same length as the buns are wide.
- Carefully put 2 strips on the top of each bun, in the shape of a cross. Don't press to hard or you will knock the air out of the buns and they won't rise properly.
- Bake in the heated oven for about 15 to 20 minutes. The buns should be risen and a nice golden brown color.
- Take the buns out of the oven, place onto a wire cooling rack, brush them with the warmed jam and allow to cool.
Video Guide to Making Hot Cross Buns
The Easter Bunny
Originally children would have decorated hard boiled eggs at Easter, but it is traditional in the UK for children (and adults) to receive chocolate eggs at Easter time.
In recent years it has also become popular for children to take part in Easter egg hunts. Either their parents will hide eggs in and around the house and garden, and the children will try to find them all, or the children will be taken to organised Easter egg hunts.
Here is a list of some of the best Easter egg hunts that are taking place during Easter 2014 if you would like to take part:
- If you are in London, the V&A Museum of Childhood has got Easter egg hunts on between the 19th and the 21st of April 2014.
- For the 7th uyear running, in conjunction with Cadbury's and the National Trust there will be Easter Egg Trails taking part at 300 locations all over England, Wales and Scotland.
- On the 16 Apr 2014 there will be a The Great Peter Rabbit Easter Egg Hunt in Bowness on Windermere in the Lake District.
- Haddon Hall in Derbyshire has got an Easter egg hunt on Easter Sunday, 20th April 2014.
- There is an Easter egg hunt at Highclere Castle, the home of Downtown Abbey on Easter Sunday, 20th April 2014.
Links to 2015 Easter egg hunts will be posted early in 2015.
The Great Easter Egg Hunt
Will You Be Wearing An Easter Bonnet?
It used to be a tradition in the UK for people to have a new set of clothes at Easter. This was in the days when people maybe only owned two sets of clothes, one of which would be there "Sunday Best" outfit, that would be only worn to church on Sundays and other important events or holidays. This outfit would include a hat, or bonnet.
In recent years it has become a tradition for children to make an Easter bonnet at school. Either making the hat from scratch, or decorating a straw wide brimmed hat, the hat would be adorned with Easter symbols such as chicks, eggs and flowers.
Often the bonnets are made at home and taken into school to be judged, which can lead to some very competitive parents putting a lot of effort into making sure their child has the best bonnet.
Below you can see a typical Easter bonnet, as worn by children all over the UK.
A 1970s Style Easter Bonnet
Easter Bonnet Events, Easter 2014
If you would like to watch or take part in an Easter bonnet event in the UK at Easter 2014, here is a list of some of the best events:
- There will be an Easter Bonnet Parade in Lyme Regis in Dorset on Easter Sunday.
- For all those who will be in London at Easter there is an Easter Bonnet Parade Competition at Keats House, near to Hampstead Heath, on Easter Sunday.
Links to 2015 Easter bonnet parades will be posted early in 2015.
Judy Garland sings "In Your Easter Bonnet"
Easter Holidays in the UK
Easter is early this year, and as such the weather could still be cold in the UK. For the last few years Easter has seen nice weather, indeed in 2011 we all sat outside on sun loungers after our Easter Sunday family lunch, not a luxury you would normally expect in Staffordshire.
If you want to maximise your chances of good weather then you probably need to think about the South West of England or the Channel Islands.
The South West of England, and in particular Devon and Cornwall, are beautiful places to visit at any time of the year, not just Easter.
What's on in the UK at Easter 2014?— This will be updated early in 2015
Some ideas for Easter acitivities
* Visit London for a comprehensive list of ideas for Easter events in London.
* York 360 has lots of ideas for Easter acitivities in and around York.
* Birmingham Mail has a guide to Easter events in the Birmingham area.
* Kids Guide have lots of family friendly Easter activities all aorund the United Kingdom.
* Making it Discovery Centre in Mansfield have lots of kids activities on over the Easter period.
* Check out Explore Gloucestershire for lots of family friendly activities.
* Visit Scotland has listings for Easter Activities north of the border.
* Visit the Wales Directory for things to do in Wales at Easter.
* Discover Northern Ireland has a wealth of information of upcoming events taking place there this Easter.
* Visit Cornwall at Easter, and find out what's on before you go!
Roast Leg of Lamb
A British Easter Lunch
Easter is traditionally a time for families to get together and maybe share an Easter lunch.
Easter tends to fall around lambing season in the UK, and roast lamb is to Easter what turkey is to Christmas. Below you will find a video guide to help you to cook the perfect roast lamb and mint sauce lunch.
A popular alternative these days is for families to go out and enjoy a restaurant meal or a pub lunch.
Great British Roast Lamb Recipe - with Mint Sauce & Gravy
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.— William Wordsworth
"A Host of Golden Daffodils"
A Time to Garden
Daffodils and Easter are entwined in the minds of British people, but depending when Easter falls and the harshness of the previous winter, the daffodils season could have not begun or already ended at Easter.
Easter is traditionally a time when people start to think about planning their gardens for the upcoming summer, and visits to the local garden centers are popular.
Easter is also the time when National Trust gardens and houses re-open after the winter.
If you would like to visit a garden or two at Easter, here is a selection of the best:
* The Eden Project near to St Austell in Cornwall is well worth a visit. I have visited here and its indoor rainforest is spectacular. Throughout 2013 they have 2 for 1 offers and children go free offers, depending on the time of year, which makes it an all weather affordable venue.
* Also close to St Austell in Cornwall are the Lost Gardens of Heligan.They do not have anything special planned for the Easter weekend, but if you enjoy walking in the spring air and admiring the plants then this is well worth a visit. After becoming overgrown and "lost" for nearly a century the gardens have been restored and I can assure you they are stunning. I spent a happy afternoon exploring these gardens and I came away a Heligan fan.
*If you are in Kent there are lots of gardens worthy of a visit.
* If you are visiting the Lake Distric over Easter, Cumbria has a plethora of gardens to visit.
* Formerly the ancestral home of the Marquess of Anglesey, Plas Newydd is sitauted on the bank of the Menai Strait on the isle of Anglesy in Wales. With Snowdonia providing a stunning backdrop these gardens are definitely worth a visit.
"Daffodils" by William Wordsworth (poetry reading)
If you would like to grow your own daffodils, to add a golden touch to Easter, then these are my absolute favorites.
A miniature version of the traditional daffodil, these are less likely to fall over in the rain - or Easter snowfalls, and can also be grown in window boxes and tubs.