Days of Easter and Their Traditions

By Terry John Calendar

The individual days of Easter have their own particular customs and legends. Good Friday was a time of solemn celebration commemorating the crucifixion of Christ. In some towns, the church bells were rung at 3pm, the reputed hour of Christ’s death. Altars were cleared of all adornments and no decoration was allowed in the church except boughs cut from a yew tree, symbolising mourning. In the medieval period many churches took down their crucifixes and replaced them only on Easter Sunday.

As Good Friday was a day on which the death of Christ was remembered, it was also regarded with some suspicion and even fear. For witches in was a day second only in importance to Halloween. To ward off evil influences, people brought into their homes branches of rowan, a tree with protective powers.

In Tenby all business was suspended and no horses or carts were to be seen in the town; people walked barefoot to church. After the service hot cross buns were eaten.  Another Good Friday custom carried out in the Tenby area was the making of Christ’s bed. Young people would gather a quantity of long reed leaves from the river and weave them into the shape of a man. The figure was then laid on a wooden cross in a remote a part of a field or garden and left there. The custom recalled the burial of Christ and might have had its origin in the pre-Reformation custom of burying the image of Christ on Good Friday.

Tenby Harbour 

There was such an aura of sanctity about the day that fishermen would never set out to sea on Good Friday and the planting of crops was ill-advised, as no iron - spade, fork or plough - should enter the ground. Blacksmiths would never shoe horses on this day, because it involved the driving in of nails, as Christ had suffered.

On the other hand there were benefits to be derived from Good Friday. It was well known that a child born on that day and baptised on Easter Sunday would develop the gift of healing. If you suffered from toothache, the best cure was to have your hair cut on Good Friday.  And everyone knew that eggs laid on Good Friday would never go bad!

On Easter Day, in many parts of Wales, people climbed to the top of nearby hills or mountains to see the sun ‘dance’ in honour of the Resurrection, as Christ was thought to have risen from the dead at dawn. Sometimes a basin of pure water was taken along in order to see the reflection of the sun dancing on the horizon.

All the usual foods could now be eaten as Lent was over and lamb was regarded as a proper meat to eat. The Easter Dinner was as much looked forward to as the Christmas feast and even the poorest families did their best to make it a special occasion. In some areas it was the custom to include eggs in the preparation of every dish. It was usual also to put off the dark coloured clothing worn in Lent and to wear something new, even if it was only a pair of gloves, a new bonnet or a ribbon.     

Easter Monday was celebrated in Tenby by games and sports and other types of merry-making. At Gumfreston and at Tenby tea parties were held and these were known as ‘Parish Clerk’s Meetings’. Stool ball was a popular game played on this day; it resembled cricket except that no bats were used and the wicket was a stool.

On Easter Monday, the custom of ‘Lifting’ was observed. On Monday the men gathered in parties of three or four and, decorated with ribbons and carrying a decorated chair, went from house to house. A fiddler would often accompany them. At each house where there was a young woman, she was placed in the chair and gently lifted three times to the accompaniment of loud cheers. Some of the more respectable ladies of a parish preferred to lock and bolt their doors and never ventured out until the afternoon, when by tradition the custom was over. On the Tuesday, however, the unlucky ones could take their revenge, as the women could then ‘lift’ the men.

A more pleasant tradition was that of ‘walking the wheat’. This seems to have taken place more often in the border areas of Wales than elsewhere. Farmers would stroll through their fields on Easter Monday carrying plum cakes and cider and eating and drinking to the good health and prosperity of the newly planted crops. In Monmouthshire they buried pieces of the cake in the fields and scattered other portions where the crops had been sown. As they did so, they chanted ’A bit for God, a bit for man and a bit for the fowls of the air.’ No doubt there was also lots of jollification as well. Perhaps it’s a custom we should revive!

Categories:History

Tags:Easter

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Have a cracking Easter and make it a sizzling summer

We’re having a cracking Easter break here at Bluestone with so much free range fun going on for our guests who are certainly finding their wild thing.

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