It's Good Friday, with Easter Sunday two days away, and many Christians will be replacing their usual weekend fare with something that resonates with their beliefs. Here is why Christians will be eating pickled fish, hot cross buns and lamb this weekend.
Avoiding meat on Good Friday is one of the oldest traditions of Easter; Christians "fast" by abstaining from meat to commemorate Christ's sacrifice.
Millions of Christians will not eat "flesh" on Good Friday, because Jesus sacrificed his flesh for their sins. In earlier times, the Catholic church prescribed meat-free fasting every Friday, but the rules were relaxed in the 20th Century. Catholics are still forbidden to eat meat on two days of the year: Good Friday, and Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent, 40 days before Easter.
Fish, as it comes from the sea, is perceived as a different kind of flesh, which makes it okay. Fish shapes were also used as a secret symbol for Christians to identify each other when their religion was being persecuted by various Roman emperors.
HOT CROSS BUNS
Hot cross buns mark the end of Lent – a 40-day period of fasting and repentance leading to Easter during which many Christians abstain not only from meat, but also from eggs, sugar, fruit and spices: the Lenten diet is supposed to be about sustenance only, not physical pleasure.
So when Easter Sunday arrives, to end Lent with a joyous celebration of the resurrection, a tasty baked treat that welcomes back all those ingredients makes absolute sense.
Different parts of the hot cross bun have a certain meaning – the cross represents the crucifixion of Jesus, and the spices commemorate the spices used to embalm his body before his entombment. The eggs used in the dough, back on the menu after being banished for Lent, are also a symbol of rebirth – in Christianity and many other faiths.
On Easter Sunday, tradition also dictates that we all sit down together – be it with family or friends – and feast on lamb. So why are baby sheep top of the menu? Is there a significance to the tradition of eating roast lamb on Easter Sunday?
Roast lamb as an Easter tradition has its roots in the Jewish Passover, which long predates Christianity. In the book of Exodus, at the climax of the terrible plagues that the God of Israel visited on the pharaoh's people for keeping Moses and the Jews enslaved, the Jews sacrificed lambs and painted their doorposts with the blood.
This was the sign that directed the angel of death to "pass over" their homes while killing the first-born sons of the Egyptians in the final plague. That's where the word "Passover" comes from, and lamb would have been the commemorative symbolic centrepiece of the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion.
In Christian tradition, of course, Jesus is also the "Lamb of God", who sacrificed himself to redeem the sins of humanity. So eating lamb at Easter is a way for Christians to commemorate that sacrifice too, which they believe secured them life after death.