Spring is a time of renewal and new beginnings and for many cultures around the world, it’s a time to celebrate. From the Christian holiday of Easter, the Jewish holiday of Passover, the ancient Persian festival of Nowruz to the Hindu festival of Holi, the arrival of spring is marked by a variety of traditions that all share a common thread of celebrating new life, restoration and a sense of hope.
Though they have largely become festivals celebrated in secular ways, each of these spring holidays were originally holy days—set apart to commemorate significant, meaningful moments of spiritual renewal. The communal hope for their memory and longevity keeps these ancient holidays in practice today.
Food is central to Easter, as it is to all cultural festivals in every part of the world. In Australia, one of the most popular Easter foods is the hot cross bun. These spiced buns are traditionally made with raisins or currants1 and are marked with a cross on top, symbolising the crucifixion of Jesus. Traditionally these buns were not just enjoyed on Easter Sunday, but also on Good Friday as a way to commemorate the day of Jesus’ death.
Today, Australian supermarkets start selling hot cross buns the day after Christmas—which shows how much the Australian people love them! A cherished part of the Australian culture, the connection from Christmas to Easter made by the hot cross bun is a telling one. The life of Jesus—birth to death and into rebirth—is set apart by a simple cross-topped bun.
Special foods mark special events and are an integral part of cultural storytelling, which ensures that beliefs and values take residence in our collective memory. Take for example, the Italian Easter celebration, where families gather for a big meal featuring traditional dishes such as lamb or kid, artichokes and a special bread called “Pane di Pasqua”. Visit any Italian enclave during Easter and you will find these authentic tastes of home. Without them, Easter just isn’t the same.
In Greece, traditional Easter foods include magiritsa—a soup made with lamb offal-and tsoureki—a sweet bread typically braided and flavoured with mahlepi and mastic. These traditional Easter foods are not just about nourishing the body but also about bringing families and communities together to remember.
One of the significant aspects that remains in many cultures at this time of year is fasting. For many Christians, Lent—the period of fasting before Easter—is a time of spiritual discipline and self-examination. It is a time of self-denial and sacrifice, as Christians seek to draw closer to God and remember the sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah. For other cultures, fasting is also a way of purifying the body and mind and to focus on the spiritual.
For example, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has a unique way of celebrating Easter. It includes a procession of brightly dressed people, carrying crosses and religious icons, singing and dancing to drumming. The celebration also includes fasting and abstinence from meat for 55 days. This fasting period serves as a spiritual discipline and reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus.
In many other countries, Easter is a time for family gatherings, egg hunts and the giving of gifts, such as chocolate eggs. Additionally, some cultures have incorporated traditional springtime symbols, such as the Easter bunny, into their celebrations.
These symbols are not just limited to Christian cultures; the Jewish holiday of Passover also includes the use of symbols such as the egg and the lamb, representing new beginnings and sacrifice.
The Hindu festival of Holi is another example of a spring festival that celebrates new beginnings and the victory of good over evil. It is also known as the “festival of colours” and is celebrated by throwing coloured powders and water on each other. Along with colourful celebrations, traditional foods such as gujiya (a sweet pastry filled with khoya) and thandai (a sweet and refreshing drink) are enjoyed by families and friends after a period of fasting and abstinence.
These springtime festivals, with their diverse customs, traditions and foods, remind us that the idea of renewal, new beginnings and hope are universal values that connect us all. They also remind us that fasting and self-discipline serve as a way to focus on the spiritual and to remember the sacrifices made for us.
Breaking the fast with culturally rich delicacies makes the purpose of Easter all the more meaningful. The traditional foods such as the hot cross bun, magiritsa, tsoureki, gujiya, thandai and more serve as reminders of the religious and cultural significance of the season. They also bring families and communities together to share in the joy of all things being made new.
As I was preparing this article, I had a late-night Zoom call—an online job interview with a company in Bangalore, India. When the interview was finished, I asked my young interviewer, “Arjun*, can I ask you a question unrelated to this job?” He nodded his head in that unique way only Indian men can and said, “Of course, David.”
I said, “I am writing an article about how Easter is celebrated around the world. For Christians like me, Easter is a reminder of the new life given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. In my research I learned about the festival of colours Holi. Do you celebrate this?”
“Not here,” he said, “Holi is celebrated in the northern parts of India. Here in Bangalore, we celebrate Makara Sankranti. It is similar to Thanksgiving. It is a day for kindness and love. Can I ask you a question now?”
I laughed and said, “Of course!”
Arjun got very excited, “I learned about resurrection for the first time today! This morning in Bible study! I asked my pastor the difference between “salvation” and “enlightenment”. Would you also share with me your answer to this?”
“Sure,” I said, “But first, you have surprised me by saying you are studying the Bible with a pastor! Are you a Christian?”
Arjun paused. “I was raised a Hindu and still very much a Hindu.” He smiled and continued, “But I am now trusting the words of Jesus to be true.”
“That is wonderful, Arjun!” I said, “You will find many things in Christianity that bless you as a Hindu!” We both laughed and then I said, “Salvation is a moment in time. It happened when Jesus died on the cross. It became yours when you accepted it to be true. Enlightenment is the process from that point forward of becoming one with God and with mankind. In Christianity, we call it “sanctification”. The apostle Paul said Jesus’ death reconciled us with God and whoever accepts Jesus is also given this ministry of reconciliation. It is now our task, as we come closer and closer to Jesus, to bring other people to Him—to show them that they too have been reconciled with God and to teach them to reconcile with others. This is part of sanctification—part of enlightenment—of becoming one with God and with people.”
Our conversation was much longer than this article. I was buzzing for days because of my time with Arjun. For followers of Jesus, Easter isn’t just a long weekend once per year. It is a new reality undergirding the way we live every day. God loved us enough to send His Son to become one of us—to live like us, die like us and to be resurrected—as we will be like Him. This is the spirit of Easter that lives in Christians—the joy of knowing Jesus and introducing Him to others.
Despite our various differences—cultures, religions and backgrounds—the common values of new life, renewal and hope for a better future are shared by each and every one of us. This Easter, may you find new life through food, family and friends. May you find renewal by interacting with your faith community. And may you bring a better future to all by loving others as you have been loved.
* not his real name
Dave Edgren is a storyteller and writer. He lives in Victoria, Australia.