Across the world, Easter celebrations are synonymous with traditional goodies such as hot cross buns, Easter eggs and bunnies. But the festivities are about so much more.
Easter and Goa
Easter is a Christian holiday that marks the anniversary of Jesus Christ’s resurrection and ascension to heaven and arrives at the end of the Holy Week and follows Good Friday, which commemorates Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and death. In the New Testament, it is said to have occurred three days after Jesus’ crucifixion by the Romans. It is also said to be associated with the Jewish holiday of Passover, as well as the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, as described in the Old Testament. The period prior to Easter is also of great significance in Christianity, a period of penitence and fasting, which begins after Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days excluding Sundays. The Sunday before Easter is called Palm Sunday, as this marks the day Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, when followers laid palm leaves to welcome him, this also is the beginning of the Holy Week which ends in Easter Sunday.
In Goa, knowledge and respect of each other’s religion and customs, has always been the bedrock of inter-religious harmony and unity. Most non-Catholics in Goa would know about the beginning of Lent, as it would mean the period that currently falls immediately after the Great Goan Carnaval in February, so its fair to say that we partake in the festivities before Lent and irrespective of our religious backgrounds, greet each other and share goodies to celebrate Easter. Easter also provides a boost to local consumption, especially in terms of meat, fish and you guessed it, sweet-treats and alcohol. As a baker, Holy Week is all about hot cross buns, Easter eggs and bunnies and a great way to use up that rum-soaked Christmas fruit mince! It’s also a great opportunity to gift hampers and goodies, without having to wait a full year until Christmas.
In Goa and in many parts of India, you can see churches decorated with bright lights and stars, a real joyous feel. This year, it may not be as festive due to the pandemic, but the festive spirit is never dampened by disease, as Easter can teach us all to rise above our trials and tribulations with some support from above. Easter Sunday is all about cantatas and song, festivities and good food, only this year, we have to restrict ourselves a bit and celebrate wisely, owing to this lurking virus. That being said, the smell of lamb roast, easter bread, Colombas, Easter eggs and bunnies permeates the air around every waddo, rua and street across the north and south of Goa! Viva !
Easter, on a global platter
As Easter and Passover share some commonality, one finds a lot of Jewish treats that albeit traditional, are as popular as their modern-day counterparts. A proud smirk sits atop most bakers and pastry chefs, as we have the responsibility of creating the most memorable experience for most festivals, Easter being one of the most important of them.
Lamb roast or lamb leg
The French take “Pâques” quite seriously, which is, funnily, derived from the word, “pascha” meaning “passover”. They prefer lamb roasts in their kitchens and easter bells to bunnies, but will surely not debate, an Easter egg!
A Russian Easter staple, this is a savoury dessert made of cream cheese and fruit mince, and is marked with an XB, to depict that “Christ has risen”.
Colomba di Pasqua
The Italians cannot celebrate Easter without this sweet bread, shaped like a dove and loaded with fruit mince, almonds and pearled sugar.
An Eastern European bread in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, challah, pronounced “ha-luh”, is a Kosher bread that is made with the addition of eggs that contribute yellowness to the dough. It is ritualistically consumed on ‘shabbat’ and also on Passover. Modern restaurants and hotels serve it as part of their Easter brunches too.
Similar to Challah, Tsoureki from Greece, is a braided, enriched bread which uses three braids that symbolise the Holy Trinity, with a red-coloured hard-boiled egg in the centre to symbolize the blood of Christ.
Hot cross buns
In Britain, sweet currant or raisin-filled buns decorated individually with a cross on top, also known as hot cross buns, is traditionally prepared on Good Friday and is believed to bring good luck and protection to the home it is baked in and is a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages.
A light fruitcake with Anglo-Saxon roots, traditionally served in the UK, it is covered and decorated with 11 marzipan balls, to purposefully omit Judas, the 12th apostle who betrayed Jesus.
The Easter egg is the most symbolic of all the above, as it is supposed to be served hollow, which depicts the empty cocoon from which Jesus resurrected, but some believe that it should be served filled from inside, to symbolize the life within and the resurrection to follow. Lucky for us, people gladly accepted the shift from the old wood carved eggs to our modern-day chocolate ones!
A gift from the German Lutherans to the world, the Easter bunny, thankfully immortalised in chocolate casts these days instead of the old, non-edible ones, is a folkloric figure which takes on the role of a judge to reward little children, for their good behaviour, with Easter eggs and goodies.
Let’s celebrate Easter and the Resurrection of Christ, not only with Easter goodies and festivities, but also with a sense of deliberation as to how our actions can better the lives of those around us and how we should strive to rise above our trials and setbacks, and aim for a higher purpose. During this pandemic, let us be responsible for ourselves and others around us. There’s one thing can’t be stressed upon enough – how integral good foods are to festivities around the world. So, enjoy your lamb, soak in the challah, and cherish your Easter eggs and simnel cake. Alas, Easter comes only once a year!