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Easter traditions in Ireland and abroad

After a long winter and a time of abstinence, Easter has always been a special time in Ireland, as it marks the beginning of spring and heralds warmer weather.

Irish Easter traditions old and new

After a long winter and a time of abstinence, Easter has always been a special time in Ireland, as it marks the beginning of spring and heralds warmer weather.

A Moveable Feast

An ancient festival and tradition, Easter Sunday falls on a different day each year – on the first Sunday after the full moon of the vernal (spring) equinox. This means that can happen any time between March 22nd and April 25th.

Lent – A Time of Abstinence

Easter follows “Lent” in Ireland, which has traditionally been a time of fasting, where all sweet things were banned. During Lent we “give up things” to honour the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert. Today the fasting is not quite so harsh, but people still give up all manner of things for Lent – from sweets to alcohol, cigarettes or even lying.

Feasting & Fasting

Lent begins on Shrove Tuesday or “Pancake Tuesday”, when people traditionally used up all the rich, fatty foods in the house, like butter, milk sugar and eggs to make pancakes, in one last hurrah before the long 40-day fast.

Fasting was a serious business in Ireland back in the day. Meat was not allowed so people generally ate fish. Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, was particularly severe, featuring a meagre diet of black tea, dry bread and butterless potatoes or even just dry bread and water. You’d commonly find people fainting in mass from hunger. Good Friday, the day Christ was crucified, was the most punishing day of all and many Irish people didn’t eat at all. Some Irish adults will remember going to school very hungry that day as children.


Fish on Good Friday

The church relaxed the rules a bit in later years and, although meat was still forbidden, people were allowed to eat fish, particularly dried herring, so fish on Good Friday became a tradition. This is sometimes still done in Ireland on Good Friday, but more for a treat nowadays than anything else.

Hot Cross Buns

Traditionally all bread baked on Good Friday was marked with a cross, as a symbol of Christ’s crucifixion. Hot cross buns are a Good Friday staple and are decorated with a cross made from flour paste. The spices in the buns symbolise the spices used to embalm him. Hot Cross Buns actually originated in England as a pagan tradition but fitted the narrative nicely so they were adopted by Ireland as an Easter tradition. It was believed that hot cross buns baked on Good Friday wouldn’t go mouldy for a year, but we wouldn’t recommend trying it.

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday is a day of celebration, as it marks the resurrection on Christ and, of course, the end of the fast, and for some…the arrival of the Easter Bunny.

A Visit from the Easter Bunny

The tradition of the Easter Bunny didn’t actually originate in Ireland. It is believed to stem from the German pagan festival of Eostre, the goddess of fertility, whose symbol was a bunny or hare, for obvious reasons.

According to German legend has a hare named “Oschter Haws” would go around laying coloured eggs at this time of year so German children needed to make a nest for him. This tradition spread all over the world and we were happy to adopt it too. What’s not to like about a chocolate egg-laying bunny?

Eggs, Eggs and More Eggs…

Eggs are a symbol of fertility, new life or rebirth, so they’re a fitting symbol of Easter. For pagans they were a symbol of the regeneration that happens in spring and for Christians they symbolised the resurrection of Christ.

Kick off your Day with a Holy Egg!

People were not allowed to eat eggs on Holy Week so by the time Easter Sunday rolled around everyone was craving an egg. Eggs laid on Good Friday were considered particularly holy. They were marked with a cross and saved to be eaten on Easter Sunday morning. Some people decorated them and gave them as gifts to friends and family, which is where the tradition of decorating eggs came from.

Join in an Easter Egg Hunt

Easter egg hunts have been attributed to the 16th Century Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, who organised them for his followers and got men to hide eggs for women and children to find. This is another widespread tradition we’re more than happy to get on board with.

Roll your Eggs down a Hill

Easter egg rolling has become a popular activity on Easter Sunday in many parts of the world – even the White House joins in this tradition, with an annual Easter egg roll on the lawn. This tradition is believed to symbolise the stone being rolled away from Jesus’ tomb to reveal that he had risen from the dead.

 Whip a Herring

As you can imagine, after 6 weeks without meat and only a bit of dried herring to tide you over, Irish people were pretty sick of fish by Easter Sunday, which led them to engage in some strange behaviour. One very peculiar 19th Century Irish tradition was a ceremony called “Whipping the Herring” or “The Herring’s Funeral”, where people, often led by butchers, who were very much looking forward to selling meat again, marched through the streets carrying a dead fish on a stick. Everyone was invited to whip it on its way past, as it was carried to the nearest river and dumped in. It was then swapped for a nice piece of lamb, which was paraded back to town. Fortunately, we skip this step nowadays and go straight to the main course.

Brown easter egg among colorful ones
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 Easter Lunch – Lamb for Dinner

After all the fasting and making do with fish, Easter Sunday lunch has always been a real treat in Ireland and roast spring lamb is usually top of the menu. Cooked with sprigs of rosemary and served with fresh mint sauce, it’s the perfect start to spring.

 No Surprises about what’s for Dessert…

After lunch it’s time for more eggs, of the chocolate variety this time. A whopping 17.5 million Easter eggs are eaten in Ireland each year. Considering we’ve got a population of over 7 million, that’s more than 2 and a half eggs each! When you leave out babies and people who don’t like chocolate, we’re betting that the real figure is well over 3 eggs each, but who’s counting?

 Easter was originally a Pagan Festival

Although Easter is quite a religious celebration in Ireland, the festival actually has deep roots in paganism and some of the symbolism and traditions seem to have become confused over time and blended into each other.

 Easter around the World

Easter is celebrated in vastly different ways all around the world, from the obvious to the downright weird. In Sweden children dress up as witches and go door to door collecting sweets, in Bermuda people make kites and fly them to symbolise Christ’s resurrection, in Greece they paint eggs red to symbolise the blood of Christ, in Northwestern Europe they light bonfires, in Haux in France they cook giant omelettes and in Hungary women dress up in traditional costumes and get splashed with water.

We could add the Easter Bunny and Easter egg hunt paragraphs in here, as they are not originally Irish Easter traditions, but ones we’ve adopted?

Happy Easter to You!

However you’re planning on celebrating Easter this year, we hope you have a great one. Here are a few egg-citing treats to help make it egg-stra special. Feel free to gift them to a loved-one but if you want to keep them to yourself we won’t judge.

So, how do You like your Eggs?

And we’re not talking poached, scrambled, boiled or fried!

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Guinness Dark Chocolate Easter Egg with Mini Chocolate Pints

If you enjoy your eggs with a pint of the Black Stuff, this is the perfect Easter egg for you.

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Baileys Double Chocolate Luxe Mini Eggs

Like your eggs a little more luxurious? Check out our doubly delicious Baileys Double Chocolate Luxe Mini Eggs or for the piece de resistance…

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The Baileys Chocolate Sundae Easter Egg

It doesn’t get more indulgent than this!


The Ultimate Irish Chocolate Selection Box Hamper

Or you could just skip the eggs altogether and swap them for delicious hamper packed full of all your Irish chocolate favourites.

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