Home UK Easter in the UK: traditions you might not know

Easter in the UK: traditions you might not know

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Easter, one of the most heartfelt holidays in the British tradition, has even more ancient roots than the Christian ones. The name “Easter” derives from “Eostre”, the ancient Anglo-Saxon pagan goddess of dawn and spring. The Easter holidays in the United Kingdom last a long time, generally from two to three weeks, and the British take the opportunity to take the first real trip of the year. But let’s see together what are the traditions and customs associated with this holiday.


Holy Thursday or “Maundy Thursday”

la facciata di westminster abbey a LondraHoly Thursday here in England is called “Maundy Thursday“. The Ceremony of the Royal Maundy is an ancient ceremony of medieval origin, during which the “Maundy Money”, two purses (one white and one red), were distributed. Traces of it can be found already in the 10th century AD. C., and the first sovereign to distribute alms was King John, in 1210. However, it was Edward I who instituted the ceremony as we know it today, in the second half of the thirteenth century.

This ceremony takes place on Holy Thursday in Westminster Abbey, and Queen Elizabeth always participates in it, who dedicates herself to charity activities on this day.

During this event, the so-called “Maundy Money” (holy money, i.e. special coins specially minted for the occasion) are donated to as many male and female citizens (as many years as the queen) among those who have distinguished themselves for having made a helpful service in their community.

The coins are placed inside two purses, one white and one red: in the white purse there is a number of coins (pences) equal to the years of the sovereign; in the red purse, on the other hand, there are normal coins to replace food and gifts that were once given to the poor.


Holy Friday or “Good Friday”

Here in the UK Good Friday is called “Good Friday”. It is called this because Good meant Holy. The day is considered a national holiday, and is therefore a day off for everyone.

Good Friday is the day dedicated to the preparation of Cross Hot Buns, small hot sandwiches made with cinnamon and raisins, with a sugar icing cross on top, which recalls the passion of Christ.

In the past, farmers considered Good Friday to be the ideal day to plant potatoes and plan work in gardens and agricultural estates.

During this day, they indulged in particular amusements and games, from running across the fields to playing colored marbles (marble-playing).

According to superstition, bread baked on Good Friday was lucky, it did not deteriorate and cured all diseases.

Another of the most widespread superstitions related to Good Friday was that relating to the prohibition of washing clothes on that day.

If this happened, the clothes washed or hung out to dry would have been found splattered with blood, the soap scum would have turned red, the family would have been terribly unlucky, or the person intent on washing clothes on this day would have been found dead.


When is Good Friday, and is it Bank Holiday?

The day before Easter, known as Good Friday, is considered a “moveable feast” as its date changes every year.

This also means that with Easter Monday, which is typically a bank holiday (excluding Scotland), we can enjoy a full four-day break.

Although Good Friday is technically a common law public holiday predating the establishment of bank holidays in the UK in 1871, it is commonly recognized as a bank holiday, allowing readers to plan their holidays accordingly.Good Friday is the Friday before Easter and being a “moveable feast” means the date changes every year. Given we also have Easter Monday as a bank holiday (except in Scotland) this means we have a full four days holiday.


The Hot Cross Buns and The Widow’s Son pub

un piatto con gli hot cross buns e una tazza si caffè

Gli hot cross buns

facciata del pub the widow's son a Londra

Il pub the Widow Son a Londra


In the London pub called “The widow’s son” there are almost two hundred specimens of hot cross buns.

The sandwich has a cross on it and was traditionally prepared by the Saxons to honor their goddess Eostre: the bread represented the moon, while the cross represented its quarters.

Hot Cross Buns are eaten hot with butter, and are made on Good Friday. Various superstitions surround this dessert, the most popular being that giving one of these sandwiches to a friend ensures that the friendship lasts over the course of the following year. Christians later identified it instead, with the crucifixion of Christ.

The pub was built in 1848 on an area previously occupied by a poor widow’s house. Legend has it that her only son, a sailor, had to return home on Easter day after a long journey.

His widow made hot cross buns for him on Good Friday because it was believed that, cooked on that day, they would not go bad. Unfortunately, however, the son never returned home and the widow kept the sweets in a net hanging from the ceiling and she did so every year, until her death.

Every year, on Good Friday, a sailor from the Royal Navy goes to this pub and inserts a sandwich inside the net where these hot cross buns are kept, in memory of the widow’s son.

Another British custom derives from this story, which is to hang one of these sweets outside one’s door, as a good luck charm.


Want to try a variation of the Hot Cross Buns? They are the ones with saffron, I’ll put the recipe below.

Remember: best if served hot and topped with butter or jam!


Easter Sunday and the “Morris Dance”

The British celebrate it by gathering for lunch, and celebrating the day with traditional dishes, entertainment and the folkloric “Morris Dance“. Morris dancing is a form of English folk dance that has its roots in the Middle Ages. A popular folk event especially in the English countryside, a dance known and danced not only in Great Britain, but also in other English-speaking countries such as Australia and the United States. Usually accompanied by music, it sees men dancing in a rhythmic step, holding a stick on top of which is fixed a pig’s bladder and on their feet they wear pads of bells on their shins.

During the dance, the men hit the girls they meet on the head and this gesture is thought to bring good luck to the girls who receive it.

Even women on this day love to “dress up” and there is the custom in some rural areas, to hand-make and wear Easter headdresses, adorned with flowers and ribbons as it used to be when it was possible to get married even on Easter Sunday .

On Easter Sunday, English families get together for lunch or for Easter breakfast, a sort of classic English Breakfast. In addition to the Hot Cross Buns, another traditional dessert is the Simnel cake, which symbolizes the end of Lent because it is very rich in spices, fruit and marzipan, all ingredients that are prohibited during Lent.


The Easter egg hunt

In England, children spend Easter Sunday in parks and gardens, hunting for hidden eggs. It’s a tradition we didn’t know about and that we’ve made our own since we moved! It’s fun and the kids have to find the hidden eggs.


Easter Bonnet

due bambini con l'easter bonnet in testa per londra

What are Easter Bonnets?

They are Easter hats.

How did the Easter Bonnet tradition come about?

It’s not really just an English tradition. Every year people all over the world don extravagant hats to celebrate Easter.

The Easter Bonnet is a European tradition born to celebrate the arrival of spring and the meaning of Easter, and is also very popular in the United States. In fact, here it became popular in the 1940s also following the film Easter Parade (here in Italy translated as ‘I loved you without knowing it’) with Fred Astaire.

Easter hats come in many different shapes, styles and sizes. Traditionally, the hat would be adorned with fresh spring flowers.


Did you know these traditions?

You might be interested in reading: Easter in London: Guide 2023


With love!










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