You might have heard of chocolate eggs, Easter egg hunts and the Easter Bunny, but how about Egg Jarping, Bottle Kicking and Morris Dancing?
It might surprise you to know that Britain has some amazing Easter traditions all of its own. From royal ceremonies to competitive sports, and rituals inspired by legend, keep reading to discover the 6 weirdest British Easter traditions we bet you didn’t know!
1. Egg Rolling
Egg rolling is a quintessentially British custom which dates back over 150 years. It takes place annually at Avenham Park in Preston, a small city in the northern county of Lancashire. Each year, hundreds of excited children decorate hard-boiled eggs, ready to take part in the competition.
To play the game, you have to roll your egg down one of the park’s grassy hills. If it breaks? Bad, luck. You’re out of the competition. But if your egg travels the furthest without smashing, you’ll be declared the annual egg rolling champion! And, when the race is over, you definitely don’t want to leave any empty eggshells on the hillside. Legend has it that witches will steal them to use as boats – which is why they’re always crushed at the end of every event.
In the past, the church would organise events such as tea parties to accompany egg rolling events, but today they’re a much more exciting affair. You can now enjoy your egg roll alongside live entertainment such as music, Easter craft workshops and street theatre.
2. Hot Cross Buns
Hot Cross Buns are a delicious spiced raisin bread, traditionally served split in half, toasted and served with lashings of butter. But did you know they’re more than just a tasty treat? They’re also steeped in folklore dating back hundreds of years.
The story goes that a widow’s only son, a sailor in the Navy, left home to fight in the Napoleonic Wars. He wrote to tell her that he would return for Easter and to have a hot cross bun waiting for him when he got home. The widow prepared him a fresh batch of buns and waited patiently for him to arrive. But he never returned.
Many years went past, and even though the widow knew her son had been killed in battle, she continued to bake the buns each Good Friday and place them in a net hanging from a beam in her attic. When she died and her house was sold, the new owners discovered hundreds of hot cross buns hanging in the net.
Centuries later, the site where her home once stood was turned into a pub. It was named ‘The Widow’s Son’ in her honour, and the landlords have continued her tradition ever since. Each year, a soldier from the Royal Navy places a new bun into a net hanging above the bar.
3. Maundy Money
This ancient royal ceremony takes place on the Thursday before Easter each year and dates back to the 13th century. Inspired by Jesus’ acts of charity in the bible, monarchs would wash the feet of their poor subjects and offer them money, food and gifts.
Nearly 200 years later King Henry VIII introduced a new tradition of handing out the same number of gifts as his years in age, and this event became known as The Royal Maundy.
Although the tradition of washing feet has since died out, it’s still customary for the Queen to give out sterling silver coins on Maundy Thursday. Elderly men and women who have served the community are chosen to take part in the ceremony, and it’s considered a great honour to attend.
At the event, the participants receive two leather purses – one filled will ordinary coins and the other filled with silver coins or ‘Maundy Money’, equivalent to the same number of pence as the Queen’s age.
4. Egg Jarping
Have you ever heard of a British game called conkers? Egg Jarping is remarkably similar, but instead of smashing horse chestnuts together, players use hard-boiled eggs.
The weird and wonderful World Egg Jarping Championships take place each Easter in Durham, but this is a game you can easily try at home. All you need are two people, two hard boiled eggs and a steady hand! Want to know how?
One player holds the egg firmly in one hand with the pointy side facing up. The second player holds their egg from above with the pointy side facing down. The second player must bring their egg down and try to smash the egg below…without destroying their own egg. If any of the eggs are cracked, the players are eliminated from the competition. But if they stay intact, they swap places and carry on until one of the eggs is cracked.
The lucky winner receives a trophy and a certificate, and is crowned the Egg Jarping Champion – until next year, of course.
5. Morris Dancing
This traditional English folk dance has been around for centuries. In fact, the earliest mention of Morris Dancers dates back to 1448. Although we don’t know the true origins of Morris Dancing, they’re believed to have their roots in ancient rites celebrating fertility and the start of spring – which is why you can often see them performing at Easter events around the country.
Morris dancing is often accompanied by lively folk music, and is easily recognisable by the rhythmic stepping of the dancers, and the way they weave in and out of each other to create patterns of movement. They usually wear elaborate and coordinated costumes, which often include bell pads on their shins, and props such as handkerchiefs, sticks and swords.
6. Hare Pie Scramble and Bottle Kicking
Ready for a fight? One of Britain’s strangest and best-loved Easter traditions takes place every Easter Monday in Leicestershire. It’s not only defined by a traditional act of charity, but a fierce and brutal competition that can leave contestants with cuts, bruises and even broken bones!
Celebrating this crazy custom requires a large hare pie, and 3 red and white kegs, called bottles. Two of the bottles are full of beer and one, the dummy, is made of solid wood. The pie and the bottles are paraded through the streets to the village of Hallaton, where the vicar blesses the pie and throws part of it into the crowd – this is known as the Hare Pie Scramble. The rest is put into a sack and carried up to nearby Hare Pie Hill.
The bottles are then taken to the Buttercross monument on the village green to start the game. They’re thrown into the air three times and then the scrum begins! Each team fights to capture the bottles and move them over a mile in distance, across rough terrain and two streams, by any means possible. There are only three rules – no eye-gouging, strangling or weapons, but other kinds of violence are allowed.
Frighteningly, there are so many accidents the emergency services are always on standby to help anyone who gets seriously injured in the fray. I don’t think I’d like to take part – would you?
We hope you’ve enjoyed discovering more about how British people celebrate Easter. Which tradition did you like best?
Do you have any strange or unusual Easter customs in your country? If so, we’d love to hear about them! Practise your English today by sharing them with our Brighter English community in the comments below.