ther than Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day, Easter is the most important holiday in Ireland; the religious significance is widely celebrated, and Catholic tradition is more strictly adhered to than in some other cultures. Easter time in Ireland includes many of the same aspects and festivities as most western countries, with a couple of traditions that are a little more unique to the Emerald Isle.
Although Easter doesn’t appear to have a connection to any specific ancient Roman or Celtic holidays – unlike Christmas and Halloween – it does seem related to a variety of old spring festivals that relate to the farming calendar. The name Easter comes from the Old English ‘Eostre’, which refers to the pagan goddess Ostara. Ostara is the personification of the rising sun and is thus associated with the spring and is considered to be a fertility goddess. She is said to be the friend of all children and to amuse them, she changed her pet bird into a rabbit. This rabbit laid brightly coloured eggs, which the Greek goddess gave to children as gifts. Despite the fact that the church in Ireland tried to eradicate many of the pre-Christian roots and Pagan spring festivals they belonged to in the Early Middle Ages, these traditions have returned via commercialization from the UK and US. The Irish have since welcomed these symbols and now celebrate Easter with chocolate Easter Eggs and Easter Egg painting, while some families may decorate their houses with festive or springtime decor
Easter Trees such as this one are becoming more popular in Ireland.
Preparation for easter starts on Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent and forty days before Easter Sunday when Christians stop eating meat and often something else they cherish – be it chocolate, alcohol or cigarettes. From the first day of Lent onwards, it’s tradition for fish to be eaten each Friday, often cooked in soup form. The Friday before Easter is Good Friday, the day Christ died. The day is a Bank Holiday and schools, businesses and even many of the pubs will be closed. Many people don’t eat meat on Good Friday and traditionally people in Ireland would go barefoot on this day. Many would fast until midday, no wood was to be burned, no nails were to be driven, and no animals were to be slaughtered. But come Easter Sunday, everyone is out celebrating; Lent is over and the pubs are open again! Many towns and villages hold processions of some sort, and out in the rural countryside, Easter Sunday brings forth more social events such as fairs or horse races packing out the pubs – and since the following Monday is a Bank Holiday, nobody has to worry about work in the morning getting in the way of their festivities.
For members of the Catholic church Easter is an important time with many ceremonies and masses to attend, but for the non-religious, there’s still plenty of secular traditions to take part in! First and foremost is everyone’s favourite Tuesday – Pancake Tuesday! This is actually directly related to Easter; it was the last chance to use up all the delicious ingredients that would be forbidden from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday. And what’s the best way to use up extra eggs, milk, flour, butter and sugar? Pancakes of course! Regardless of beliefs, this is a tradition everyone can get behind.
On Easter Sunday the biggest tradition is one that commonly takes place on just about any other Irish occasion: a big family feast. After dinner, children are given chocolate eggs to celebrate. This tradition is unsurprising the most popular of all Easter traditions, with over 5 million Easter eggs sold in Ireland each year. All of the biggest chocolate brands produce all kinds of eggs, with Cadbury’s producing the coveted creme eggs only between January and Easter Sunday every year. If the weather permits, children may enjoy an outdoor treasure hunt to find their eggs.
The famous Cadbury Creme eggs.
Easter Monday is a public holiday and many working adults also get a day off on Good Friday as well. As such, many families use the long weekend as an opportunity for a vacation, either to visit family or to just get away for a bit. Horse races are also popular around this time, with the popular Cheltenham racing festival often falling the week before Easter. Easter time is also a season in which some groups commemorate the Easter Uprising of 1916, a hugely significant event in the shaping of recent Irish history, with processions and rallies held by Republicans.