Here's why people eat pickled fish and hot cross buns during Easter

Eusebius McKaiser speaks to historian Vashna Jagarnath, about the stories behind Easter foods, fasting and why certain treats are reserved for this time.

Jagarnath says what Easter symbolises is very much linked to the ancient world and the ancient rhythm of time and the change of seasons.

So something like Spring which is seen as a time of bountifulness is really important and that was marked through a variety of festivals but just as Spring was marked, so were the mid winter festivals and if you know around Christmas there would be these bacchanalia mid winter festivals and people would just go crazy and eat a lot and have a big jol.

Vashna Jagarnath, Historian

She says what happens when winter is at its darkest in the North, they begin fasts in preparation once again for spring time. She says fasting has been very important and has been in place since the ancient times.

The Greeks talk about fasting as a form of therapeutic practice for your body, it then becomes very tied to religious practices and often very gendered. So women often do a lot of fasting.

Vashna Jagarnath, Historian

She says most religions have a deep rooted engagement with fasting.

What you find happening is by the mid evil period, with Christianity itself and with society being highly unequal, you had the elite women taking on very strict fasts, so for them Lent, which lots of people still practice today, but for like 40 days, they will start it at Christmas.

Vashna Jagarnath, Historian

She says these women would fast from the end of Christmas till Easter and all they would do was take communion on Sundays.

Jagarnath says when one reads the stuff about pickled fish in South Africa, is very particular, it has various spices and that is the story of the Western Cape area.

Where it largely arises out of and that is linked deeply to our colonial moment, pickling and curing fish goes back to ancient times. For example the Dutch in the 10th century began pickling herring and this becomes a key tool for them, a key source of nutrition, when they go on their voyages and fishing trips.

Vashna Jagarnath, Historian

Listen below and hear Vashna Jagarnath speak about the history of Easter food:


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