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Easter Sunday: The dance of the Sun at dawn and a cake dance in the afternoon
Afterwards, the children would race off to the hen house to see if there was an egg with their name on it. What parents used to do in those days was take the eggs laid on Good Friday and set them aside. In secret, the mother colored the eggs by adding washing blue, wild flowers or onion skins to the water in which they were boiled; then, she decorated them with simple designs and the childrens names. Others, she would simply mark with a cross. These were the eggs that were put into the nesting boxes in the hen house, before the children woke up on Easter Sunday. In more recent times, parents also hid chocolate Easter eggs among the flowers, shrubs and hedges in the back yard.
In the house of my childhood, there was no such thing as the Easter bunny, or even a basket. On Easter morning, my brothers and I each received a chocolate egg, intricately decorated with candy flowers. Back then, and may be they still make them like this today, Easter eggs were comprised of two halves which pulled apart to reveal a layer of heavenly chocolates nestled inside each half. To this day, I have never tasted chocolate as good as they used to make it in Great Britain.
Immediately following the excitement of seeing our eggs, we dressed up in our new Easter outfits and walked to Mass. I can well remember how beautiful the church looked. There were flowers everywhere, hundreds of candles burned brightly on the altar, and a contagious sense of joy could be heard and felt in the voices of the choir and congregation as we sang Christ the Lord is Risen, today, Alleluia!
When we came home, mum fixed a huge breakfast - with all the eggs we wanted. She told us that when she was a girl, everyone made a contest out of seeing who could consume the most and, inevitably, the first thing children would ask each other was how many eggs did you eat?
Making up for going without during Lent continued among the youngsters after breakfast. All during Holy Week, they had been busy visiting neighbors and friends collecting any extra eggs that had accumulated since Shrove Tuesday. According to custom, this collection was to be the main part of a special childrens feast which was supplemented by bread and butter, cakes, sweets, and whatever else their mothers could spare. In groups, the children would go off and find a quiet secluded place where they could build a little fire on which to roast their eggs. This custom was widely known as clúdóg.
When the eggs were cooked, each child would mark one or more as their own. The children would then play games that included egg-rolling. If one egg collided with another and cracked the shell, the child who owned the uncracked egg claimed both of them. The game would end with the eating of the eggs and any other treats that were available.
While the children were off indulging in their own Easter banquet, their mothers were at home, preparing the feast for adult members of the family. The Easter holiday dinner was second only to Christmas in importance. Everyone who could afford it ate a roast of veal or lamb. Wealthier farmers slaughtered a cow just for the festival and gave away the beef as gifts to friends and less-fortunate neighbors. Often, the slaughter took place months before, and the beef was salted down to preserve it. While the custom of giving meat to the less fortunate has long since died away in Ireland, the memory of corned beef and cabbage crossed the Atlantic with emigrants and still survives to the present time. The big difference is that nowadays its served the world over on St. Patricks Day, and not on Easter Sunday as it once was.
Generally the big meal of the day was around noon, which left the rest of the day and evening open for other festivities. And certainly, after so many weeks of no dancing or music, the people were ready to kick up their heels and have some fun. Weather permitting, an outdoor cake dance was held in the afternoon or evening. A large cake, specially baked for the occasion, was decorated with flowers before being positioned in an elevated place of honor. Then, a piper or fiddler would begin playing to signal the start of the dance. In some places, a couple would win the coveted prize simply by outlasting all of the other participants; in other parts of Ireland, everyone in attendance would judge who was the best male and female dancer. These two would then take down the cake and divide it among the crowd. This was considered a great honor for the winners and the old saying, that takes the cake comes to us from these very special Easter Sunday dances.
While most of us have to go back to work on the day after Easter, in Ireland they have the day off. For centuries, Easter Monday was a favorite day for fairs and markets. To read an article about how it was celebrated click Easter Monday Mirth & Merriment at the Market.
Resources: The Year in Ireland by Kevin Danaher.
The Round Towers
The Round Towers of Ireland are remarkable among the world's ancient monuments; one author has called them 'Elegant, free-standing pencils of stone.' Today, 65 survive in part or whole. Hand-crafted in native stone and cemented with a sand, lime, horsehair and oxblood mortar - a technique imported from Roman Britain - it's said by many historians that they were built by monastic communities to thwart Viking invaders. And yet, there's reason to believe that the towers were built long before Christianity came to Ireland. Whatever their origins, monasteries did indeed flourish where the round towers existed. And why not. These imposing edifices provided a watch tower, a keep and a refuge.
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March 4, 2011
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