In the Anglican church, then as now, Easter was proceeded by 40 days of Lent. The Book of Common Prayer used during the Regency states that it is a time of fasting or abstinence. During the Regency, this apparently meant that a lady or gentleman should refrain from indulgence foods like cakes or pastries on Monday through Saturday and from meat on Friday. Sundays were not considered part of Lent. Now, how widely this tradition was applied is highly in question. Few period diaries mention any undue concern with diet. That might mean diet was taken for granted and therefore not recorded or that the custom simply wasn’t practiced!
Lent begins with a church service on Ash Wednesday. However, the day before Ash Wednesday is Shrove Tuesday. In the early Christian church, Shrove Tuesday was the day to confess your sins to the priest or get “shriven.” This was also the last day to eat the foods prohibited during Lent, a fact that resulted in Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday in other cultures.
In Britain, you instead have Pancake Tuesday, which is a more modern name for Shrove Tuesday. Since Lent was to be a time of fasting and abstinence, the lower classes generally attempted to empty the house of any rich foods before Lent. These foods included milk, butter, eggs, and fat. Thus, pancakes made from milk, butter, and eggs plus wheat flour and spices were fried in the fat and eaten.
Another popular custom on Shrove Tuesday was street football or hurling. In street football, goals are placed at least a mile apart, and two groups of any number of men square off in the middle.
These opposing groups may be merchants against gentry, country dwellers against city dwellers, one town against another, or one guild against another. Some unlucky soul threw a round ball of stuffed leather about the size of an inflated pig’s bladder up in the air and ran for his life while the two sides converged. The objective was to throw, kick, roll, or otherwise shove the ball through the opposing team’s goal. Teams of up to 1,000 were not uncommon, and sides did not have to be equal. Any land between the goals was far game for the playing field, including church yards and cemeteries.
After the 40 days of Lent comes Easter Sunday, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It is a holy day of obligation in the Church of England, which means parishioners must attend church and receive communion. Churches were often decorated with lilies, and there might be more singing than usual, for those churches where the minister favored singing.
But it wasn’t all services and sentiment on Easter Sunday. While no Easter bunny as we know him today was in evidence, some families did dye Easter eggs (hard-boiled eggs) to use in a variety of children’s entertainments. Colors included red, blue, and violet. I could not find a mention of yellow, though certainly they had access to onion skins, which make a fine yellow dye. The colors may have had religious significance—red for the blood of Christ, blue for water of baptism, and purple for royalty. Children would roll the eggs down a plank or hillside to see which reached the bottom first. Or they might host “egg wars” and smash the things together to see which remained uncracked. And then it was in for a fine dinner of ham or lamb.
May your upcoming Easter be as interesting!
www.reginascott.com, learn more about the Regency at the blog she shares with young adult author Marissa Doyle at www.nineteenteen.blogspot.com, or get to Regina better on her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/authorreginascott.