As Easter creeps nearer, you might wonder why we, as a nation, do some of the things we do. There are a host of British traditions that take place at Easter, so here are some of them and why we do them.

Today Easter is known as a Christian holiday, but before Christianity came to Britain, a similar festival was celebrated by the Celtic tribes that made up England before the Roman invasion. After Britain was converted to Christianity, Easter became centered around the death and rebirth of Jesus and in medieval England, churches would hold dramatic ceremonies with processions, vigils and plays throughout the Easter weekend. This went on for hundreds of years until 1647, when Easter was banned by the puritans. Some semblance of Easter was restored after 1660, but the traditions from then on were not quite as intense as those celebrated earlier in history.

One of Easter’s defining features is the Bank Holiday weekend, which even at the time of the Reformation was observed!

Though some of the merriment was lost with the introduction of Puritanism, there are some that have survived to this day.

Eating hot cross buns

The earliest mention of Hot Cross Buns is in 1733, when they featured in Poor Robin’s Almanac for that year. Initially, hot cross buns were only to be baked on Good Friday, which apparently imbued them with magic. Any buns baked on this day would never go mouldy and would be used to treat a range of medical problems. The buns would be hung from the kitchen ceiling and would be broken off throughout the year. The buns would also bring good luck apparently.

These days millions of hot cross buns are sold every year, with flavours ranging from the traditional to savoury and other more experimental flavours.

In London, there is a Hot Cross Bun ceremony which has been taking place since the 19th century. Taking place at the Widow’s Son pub in Bromley-by-Bow, this tradition was said to have started when the pub was a residence, the widow who lived there would put hot cross buns out on Good Friday for her son, who was a sailor to welcome him home. The story goes that he never did come home, but she continued to put a bun out every year anyway and when she died, a collection of buns were discovered hanging in nets from her ceiling. Once it became a pub, the various landlords have upheld the tradition and each Easter, a member of the Royal Navy places a bun into a net that hangs above the bar resulting in it being known locally as the Bun House. For some years, the bun was specially baked for the event by a Mr Bunn of Mr Bunn’s Bakery nearby.

Eating and hunting Easter Eggs

Easter eggs are by far the most popular surviving way to celebrate Easter. Across the world, civilisations have given each other decorated eggs at festivals at this time of year. Early Christians in Mesopotamia dyed eggs which then spread across Europe. In the Medieval times, eggs were one of the things that was banned during Lent, so giving each other eggs on Easter Sunday was a great way to celebrate the period ending.

The earliest record of an Easter Egg in particular dates back to 1290 when Edward I purchased over 400 eggs, which were decorated with gold leaf and given to his household staff, Henry VIII even received an egg in a silver case at Easter from the Pope before his attempt to divorce Katherine of Aragon.

Easter eggs as we know them now first went on sale in England in 1873 after being created by Cadbury and today, we not only eat them in droves but also hide them and send the kids out on a treasure hunt to find them. The tradition of Easter egg hunts has been around since the late 19th century and is believed to originate in Germany. The concept was brought to England by the Hanovarians when they inherited the English throne and Queen Victoria was known to enjoy an Easter egg hunt as a child, making reference to them in her diaries. In fact, the Easter Bunny itself is said to come from German folk stories in which a rabbit lays eggs that it then delivers to good children.

The tradition of Easter egg hunts became more widespread in the early 1900s after Hamley’s released an Easter Egg Hunt Box for children’s parties.

In Preston, they don’t just eat or hide the eggs, they also race them. Easter Egg Rolling has taken place in Preston for hundreds of years, these days it accompanies a fun day out with festivities, music and food but the event itself remains the same. You turn up with an Easter egg and roll it down a hill and the one that reaches the bottom first wins!

Sports and games

If you think that Easter egg rolling is unusual, this isn’t the only Easter tradition that might turn your head. There has long been a tradition of sports and games taking place over Easter, including the Leicester Hare Hunt which took place on Easter Monday until 1767, when dogs were given something else to chase. Other events were the Epping Forest Stag Hunt where an elderly stag would be released and locals would then track it down. This was also eventually banned, coming to an end in the 1840s.

In Leicestershire these days you can enjoy the Hare Pie Scramble and Bottle Kicking. The scramble involves residents trying to get pieces of pie followed by Bottle Kicking – a mass football game played between two villages in the area. Both events date back to at least 1796.


Easter and the spring season bring lots of traditional British dances, including Maypole dancing and Morris Dancing. Both these things come from pre-Christian celebrations and are one of the oldest British traditions that are still celebrated.




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