Easter Egg Hunts
Easter Egg Hunts are by now a national institution, and Manchester is no exception in this. Popular events will be hosted this year at Cockfields Farm, Kenyon Hall Farm and Rochdale Fireground Museum, as well as in many families’ front rooms. They are so ingrained into our culture, in fact, that it might come as a surprise to learn that they originated in Germany.
In the early 1500s, protestant reformer Martin Luther organised the first recorded Easter egg hunt for the women and children of his congregation. His inspiration? The story of Christ’s resurrection.
Prior to this, eggs had already played a vital role in Easter celebrations for centuries. Since pagan times they had been a symbol of Spring and new life, and this importance was only amplified in mediaeval Christendom. Many Christian states banned them during Lent, so they were a rare luxury by the time Easter came around.
In as early as 1290, Edward I was purchasing eggs in their hundreds to be decorated and distributed throughout his household during the festival. The Easter Egg Hunt, however, did not become popular in England until Victorian times.
Having enjoyed egg hunts as a child, Queen Victoria went on to hold them for her own children and, in this way, made them fashionable throughout the land.
Well, if the Queen thinks it’s cool…
To begin with real eggs were used, but in the 19th Century artificial alternatives began to emerge: hollow shells containing toys and, eventually, the egg-shaped pieces of chocolate we’ve come to know and love today. England’s first chocolate eggs were produced and sold by Fry’s in 1873, and Easter Egg hunts have been ballooning in popularity ever since.
Less widespread, but still booming around Manchester, is the tradition of egg rolling. Every year families gather at Holcombe Hill, Ramsbottom, to race hard boiled or chocolate eggs down its slopes, cheering them on, eager to see whose will go furthest before breaking. This might seem like a whimsical bit of fun, but it is actually upholding a practice believed to be over 1,500 years old.
In fact, there is a sense in which egg rolling might pre-date Easter itself. It is thought to have been part of the pre-Christian feast of Eostre, a pagan goddess of Spring. Egg rolling, along with the word ‘Easter’, were absorbed into Christian ritual as a means of making it easier for pagans to convert.
Despite its ancient roots, egg rolling likely didn’t become widespread in England until the 18th/19th Centuries. Eggs were expensive and, prior to this, your average family couldn’t afford to waste them on games.
By the 1800s, however, eggs had grown more affordable and egg rolling became popular throughout the land. This is made evident by a Lancashire Post article from 1867 covering Preston’s annual event.
‘Thousands of eggs were rolled in every direction, children were everywhere laughing and capering in infantile pleasure, the elders were looking on with a more staid and demure, but not less hearty enjoyment.’
Lancashire Post, 1867
Today, Manchester, and Lancashire as a whole, is one of few places in which this ancient custom is still going strong.
Pace Egg Plays
For those looking for an even rarer historic Easter treat, a short trip to Mossley, Middleton or Littleborough is the perfect solution. Here, every Good Friday, people gather around to marvel at the mediaeval tradition of Pace Egg Plays.
What is a Pace Egg Play, you ask? A local Lancashire tradition involving murder, mystery and mock combat, the Pace Egg Play is a quaint and silly performance accompanied by rhyming folk songs.
Their origins are unknown, but the name stems from the Latin for Easter, ‘Pascha’. ‘Pace Egg’ is really just an old-timey way of saying Easter Egg.
The plays all but died out after WW1, but since the late 60s they have seen a resurgence and there are now several options, a short bus ride from Manchester city centre, for those hoping to catch one of these historic events first hand.
Easter With A Twist
Looking for a more modern way to enjoy Easter with the family, closer to the city centre? Why not try a Secret City Manchester Treasure Hunt? Fun-filled, interactive walking adventures around the highlights and best kept secrets of Manchester and beyond, perfect for the whole family to enjoy!
Interested in discovering more strange pockets of London history? Try one of our Scavenger Hunts in Manchester- untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey around the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of London.
This post was made in partnership with stagecoach.