Easter is a time of huge sorrow and great rejoicing. It is also, in this country, a period surrounded with tradition, much of it based on common sense. Let’s start with Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent fasting begins. In earlier times, all the eggs and butter left in the house had to be cleared up, so most of it went in making pancakes.
Easter is named after the Saxon goddess, Eostre, in whose honour the month of April was once called Eostrurmonath (thank goodness they changed it!). The date of the Christian Easter was settled in AD 525 to be the Sunday following the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, or 21st March; if that first full moon happens to fall on a Sunday, Easter Day is held the Sunday after. Thus it can never be earlier than 22nd March or later than 25th April, so this year it is almost as early as it can be. It is seen as the start of Spring, signalling the time when every day shows new growth and freshness.
It is the custom in some places for ladies to wear a new garment to the Easter Morning church service. It used to be considered unlucky to do otherwise and some folk believed that crows would befoul old clothes if any lady was rash enough to wear them on that day.
The egg is the obvious symbol of resurrection and new life and a natural gift for Eastertide, particularly as it was then permissible to eat eggs after the Lenten fast. Our tasty chocolate eggs are a development of the practice of hard-boiling and dying Easter eggs a bright colour. The tradition of egg-rolling is still pursued in some places. Hares have long been associated with Easter and in France the children are told that the hares go to Rome in Holy Week to fetch home the Easter eggs. There is a tradition in parts of Germany saying that the hares lay the eggs and the children hunt for hares’ nests.
Hocktide falls on the Monday and Tuesday after Easter Week. One charming Hock Day tradition was the parade of the Tutti-men, or tything-men, accompanied by the Orange Scrambler who carried a sack of oranges. They would call at every house and demand coins from the men and from every woman a kiss. In exchange for the kiss, an orange was given from the Scrambler’s sack. This was extended to every passing woman, including motorists who would have to stop, give the kiss or pay a penny fine. Wouldn’t it be interesting to re-introduce this custom in Ickenham!