Easter Customs, Ethnic Foods, And The Resurrection

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for April 2, 2020, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            For most Christians, Easter Sunday, the Resurrection of Jesus, is the most important festival of the Ecclesiastical Year, varying in intensity and kinds of celebration from one ethnic culture to another. Here in Texas, where we are a kind of smorgasbord of ethnicities, I don’t think we can say there is a “Texas” way of celebrating Easter. I use “smorgasbord” intentionally as a metaphor, because, coming at the end of Lent, Easter for some means time to end fasting and begin feasting (not a true reason for celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord).

            I grew up in the part of Texas that celebrated Easter the “Wendish Way,” and I now live in an area where many celebrate it the “Czech Way” and the “Mexican Way.” When I began my teaching career, I lived in an area of Texas that celebrated the “German Way” (which is not too different from the Wendish). All of us Americans have been influenced to some extent by the “English Way,” especially when it comes to food.

            Let me begin with the way my family celebrated Easter, the Wendish Way, in Dime Box. The Wends (Sorbs) in Saxony, Germany, still observe Easter today much the way their forebears did, and some of the traditions my ancestors observed. Easter has always been the most important celebration for the German Wends, and so it began on Maundy Thursday and lasted through Easter Monday. The celebration included intricately decorated (with beeswax) Easter eggs (very similar to the ones Czech and Polish people do), Easter Riders, singing songs on horses whose manes were elaborately decorated with embroidered ribbons and flowers, and special foods. The Riders, carrying a Christian banner and a crucifix, would gallop around the countryside, proclaiming the Good News of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ by word and song. At the end of a lengthy ride, the Easter Riders would stop at villagers’ homes to eat.

            The Easter Victory Ride was not a tradition observed by the Wends in my hometown, but my maternal grandmother had mastered the ancient Wendish art of intricately decorating Easter eggs with beeswax. Like many Wendish Easter eggs, all of her eggs were dyed a reddish-orange to symbolize the blood of Christ. As we grew older, my brother and I began to wonder why the Easter bunny laid only orange eggs at Grandma’s, but multi-colored ones at our house.

            My friend Weldon, who shared Easter egg stories with me, told about how his Wendish mother, Erna Schmidt Mersiovsky, and her brothers and sisters, as children, would color their Easter eggs different colors and then dip chickens’ tails, cats’ tails, and dogs’ tails into the leftover dye so as to enjoy watching an Easter parade of the creatures running about with different colored tails.

            My family’s Easter cuisine in Dime Box, mostly Wendish, consisted of creamed herring and what we called German potato salad, served with deviled eggs made from the eggs gathered from our backyard Easter hunt. While, in Germany, Germans and Wends often had roasted lamb for Easter dinner, my Wendish mother and grandmother served roast chicken with noodles cooked in a rich gravy with giblets. Asparagus was also an Easter favorite, as was Koch Kase.

            A general influence on the United States, the typical Easter Sunday dinner in England consists of roasted lamb or lamb chops, potatoes, English peas, and hot cross buns. The English family also has Simnel cake, which is full of spices, fruits, and marzipan (these items are often avoided during the Lenten fast), chocolate cake, and chocolate mousse.

            No doubt Mexico has had a large influence on Texas Easter celebrations. In Mexico, Easter is a two-week holiday, including Semana Santa (Holy Week) and Pascua (Easter Sunday through the following Saturday). During the festival, Mexicans often serve grilled cilantro chipotle lamb chops and roasted goat, along with a soup made with pieces of fish and lima beans. They also make shrimp patties covered with Pipian sauce and Mexican bread pudding.

            In the Czech Republic, Mazanec is an Easter bread or cake made with yeast dough and covered on top with raisins and almonds. Some Czechs color them by painting on colored egg white while they’re baking. I’ve never seen these in East Bernard, but then I’ve never eaten Easter dinner with any of my Czech friends.

            Yes, of course, Easter is not really about food, but we tend to lean in that direction if we fast during Lent. To be sure, It’s OK to celebrate with “good eats” if we keep in mind that Easter is about our gracious God who loved the world so much He sacrificed His only Son for us.

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Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of the book, It Must Be the Noodles.

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