So often we lose sight of the original (or perhaps not so original) reasons for celebrating holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and other events that were originally pagan holidays. When Christianity was in its fledgling years, the church elders wanted to steer people away from celebrating pagan holidays and instead, celebrate Christian ones, so many Christian holidays were built on a foundation of a pagan one. Sounds confusing? It is.
From Wikipedia we learn that Easter (also called the Pasch or Pascha) is a Christian festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion at Calvary as described in the New Testament. Easter is the culmination of the Passion of Christ, preceded by Lent, a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance. The last week of Lent is called Holy Week, and it contains the days of the Easter Triduum, including Maundy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday), commemorating the Last Supper and its preceding foot washing, as well as Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Easter is followed by a fifty-day period called Eastertide or the Easter Season, ending with Pentecost Sunday.
What adds to the confusion is that Easter is a moveable feast, meaning it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar. The First Council of Nicaea (325) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon (the Paschal Full Moon) following the March equinox. (I can write it down much easier than I can explain it to anyone).
Ecclesiastically, the equinox is reckoned to be on March 21, (even though the equinox occurs, astronomically speaking, on March 20 in most years), and the “Full Moon” is not necessarily the astronomically correct date. The date of Easter therefore varies between 22 March and 25 April. Eastern Christianity bases its calculations on the Julian calendar whose 21 March corresponds, during the 21st century, to 3 April in the Gregorian calendar, in which the celebration of Easter therefore varies between 4 April and 8 May.
But, like so many Christian holidays, Easter is linked to the Jewish Passover by much of its symbolism, as well as by its position in the calendar. In many languages, the words for “Easter” and “Passover” are etymologically related or homonymous. Easter customs vary across the Christian world, but attending sunrise services, exclaiming the Paschal greeting, clipping the church and decorating Easter eggs, a symbol of the empty tomb, are common motifs. Additional customs include egg hunting, the Easter Bunny, and Easter parades, which are observed by both Christians and some non-Christians. Try explaining to any non-Christian how it is that Christians celebrate Easter and credit the Easter Bunny (which does not lay eggs!) with putting colorful eggs in a basket or hiding them in the back yard.
The onset of Easter is on Ash Wednesday. Having gone to Catholic grade school, we went to mass every day before classes began, so on Ash Wednesday everyone walked around school with a black smudge of ash on their foreheads. Then we always made a big deal about what we were giving up for lent. The usual things were candy, soda pop, movies (not that we had very much of any of those things to begin with). In my family we always had some kind of fish on Fridays and there wasn’t that much meat to go around anyway.
I do remember my mother placing orders for new clothing from Sears or Montgomery Ward but the highlight of pre-Easter celebrations was going downtown to Shiff Shoes to get a new pair of shoes. These would become our new Sunday shoes and the old Sunday shoes would become everyday shoes. I think most of our shoes were functional, seldom dressy (until I got old enough to buy my own). I leaned heavily towards penny loafers and rarely wore saddle oxfords.
The Stations of the Cross would be said – I think – on Wednesday and Friday evenings. The statues inside church would be covered with purple cloths during Lent. In retrospect, I see that much of our lives revolved around the Church. Our church was St Leo’s, just down the street from my grandmother’s home. My father, uncle and aunt all went to St Leo’s too. My grandparents bought this three storied brick house when my father was about seven years old. Aunt Annie was a toddler who only spoke German and she got lost in the shuffle of the move. My father was sent to find her. I imagine most of the neighbors spoke German too. That part of Cincinnati was heavily populated with German and Italian immigrants.
The day before Easter we boiled eggs and colored them. Easter morning there would be a basket hidden somewhere for each of us. Imagine never refrigerating the boiled eggs—I told my granddaughter this recently. She was astonished. I said we never heard of salmonella poisoning. And nothing in our baskets lasted very long anyway. Easter dinner may have been one of the holidays where the Schmidt family got together – often at grandma’s – and when everyone had eaten, an adult would take the carload of kids to a movie theatre and drop us off there with just enough money for admission and either candy or popcorn. I think Uncle Al usually gave us each a quarter. We thought he was rich.
By the time we got back to grandma’s, the adults would be playing cards and all the dishes had been washed up…by then everything would be brought out again for a snack before going home.
I don’t seem to remember very much about our Easter celebrations.
I remember buying a new outfit for myself, for Michael who was three at the time, and Steve, who was a baby. We were living in an apartment near the Warner Brothers Studio. I never gave much thought to whoever might be going through the nearby studio gates.
Well, I’m not here to explain Christian holidays—what I would like to do is share with you a couple of my favorite Easter holiday recipes! My #1 favorite is my Cool Rise Cinnamon Rolls. Even as we speak, I have a pan of the cinnamon rolls rising in the refrigerator, to bake tomorrow morning.
Cool Rise Sweet Dough for Cinnamon Rolls
Stir together in a bowl:
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp dry yeast (or 2 little packets)
½ cup (1 stick of butter), softened to room temperature
Pour in 1 1/2 c. very hot water. Mix on medium speed for 2 minutes.
2 eggs (at room temperature) and
1 c. flour
Mix on high speed for 1 minute.
Gradually add in 2-3 more cups of flour until the dough is thick and elastic, pulling away from the side of the bowl.
Turn dough out onto counter or a cutting board. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes.
Divide the dough into two balls. Roll out one ball at a time. Roll out into a rectangle that is roughly 10×14 inches. Spread melted butter over the top of rectangle to within 3/4″ of edges. Sprinkle sugar on top of the butter. Sprinkle cinnamon on top of that. Distribute raisins over the butter/sugar/cinnamon. Starting with one side, roll up the dough into a long, thick roll. Slice into individual rolls and place in a 9×13″ pan on their sides. I try to get 12 rolls out of each ball of dough and put 12 to a pan.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-24 hours. The flavor really improves if you refrigerate this recipe overnight. Before baking, remove from fridge and let sit on the counter for at least an hour.
Bake at 350° until golden brown. Remove from oven. While they’re still hot, drizzle some glaze over them. Serve warm. Glaze: a cup of powdered sugar, a drizzle of melted butter, and just enough milk or lemon juice to make a runny glaze. Recently, I saw a bunch of glaze recipes and so I tried one. I was very disappointed with the results. Note to self: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
This is a versatile sweet dough recipe and you can make a lot of coffee cakes with it.
My next favorite holiday recipe (for any holiday!) is my friend and former co-worker Nina’s recipe for making deviled eggs. I have no idea how many different recipes I have tried for deviled eggs—but always come back to Nina’s recipe! At work, when we had pot lucks, Nina had to set out one batch for immediate consumption as people arrived at work. She’d have a second batch when the dishes were put out for the department at lunch time.
To make Nina’s Deviled Eggs
6 hard cooked eggs
1/4 C mayo or salad dressing (less if eggs are very small)
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp mustard
1/2 tsp horseradish
salt to taste
dash of pepper
Nina writes, “I very rarely add salt or pepper, but it depends on what you like. My recipe book also has alternatives: Add 2 TBSP crumbled crisp bacon, or 1 TBSP finely chopped olives, or 1 TBSP finely chopped green-onions or chives. Enjoy!”
Sandy’s cooknote: I made two batches of Nina’s eggs today, for tomorrow’s Easter dinner at the home of my youngest son and his wife. Don’t add salt! There is already a salty taste to this recipe, which I think comes from the mayonnaise (always Best Foods or Hellman’s brand of mayonnaise) or the horseradish. I topped the filled eggs with a very light sprinkling of Paprika. **
I generally associate cookie making with Christmas but Easter is also one of the occasions when I make up lots of large egg-shaped cookies; two of the cut-out egg shaped cookie dough fit on a cookie sheet so you will go through a good amount of cookie dough and I prefer to bake one sheet of cookies at a time* so it takes a while to get the cookies baked. I baked cookies for all the ladies on my bowling league last week—they each got a carrot-shaped glazed cookie, along with a yellow chick cookie and a white glazed bunny cookie. I’ve done this a few times for holidays – Christmas and Valentine’s Day and now Easter. Now they call me the Cookie Lady.
*The reason I bake one sheet of cookies at a time is because my stove is almost as old as I am and I can bake two sheets at a time, by checking them after five minutes and switching the trays around – but if I am in a hurry or working on frosting, I do one tray at a time and set the timer. I made a lot of cookies this year—who doesn’t like cookies?
I made a batch of Hot Wings for an appetizer but those are so easy—does it even constitute a recipe? I like the McCormick’s brand of Buffalo Hot Wings spice mixture and bought a 4 pound bag of wings with the tips already cut off. All you have to do is mix the raw chicken wings with the seasoning mix and bake them on a cookie sheet in the oven. The directions don’t say so, but trial and error has taught me not to put the wings directly on the foil-covered cookie sheet—I use a rack. You won’t believe how much oil collects on the sheet underneath the wings. A lot!
My sons like the wings best if they are “dry” (not greasy) so I baked them at 450 degrees for 25 minutes according to the package directions—but they weren’t “dry” so I turned the heat down to 250 and kept them in the oven for well over an hour checking every 15 minutes to see if they felt and looked “done” enough. These wings are not mouth-burning hot like many hot wings ARE but we have young children who like hot wings and so the recipe has to be toned down for them.
I’m not hosting Easter dinner this year—I haven’t for a few years. Tomorrow I will prepare for the kids to come and decorate Easter cookies and then make some Easter eggs with construction paper and stickers. Then there will be an egg hunt at my son’s and after dinner, I am going to my sister’s so I can see my nephew and his girlfriend and my niece who I haven’t seen since Christmas. Our holidays are a far cry from those of my childhood.
I wish you all a Happy and Joyous Easter holiday.