For most people in the United States, tasty ham is the quintessential Easter dinner meat. Enjoyed by many Americans, ham is often taken for granted, and not many people think about why it plays such an important role on Easter and other Christian holidays.
Jesus himself probably didn’t eat ham at the last supper. Pork was prohibited among the Jewish people, and Jesus considered himself one of them. Instead of ham, most Jewish ceremonies and many current European traditions call for lamb. Remnants of this tradition can still be found even in ham dinners, which often feature an appearance by the infamous butter lamb.
However, many accounts claim that, because the early Christian sect of Judaism thrived on welcoming all types of people into the fold, they didn’t want to exclude pork from the Christian diet. After all, many gentiles at the time enjoyed pork. It is said that the first official recognition of the Easter ham came in the 10th century, in the form of a blessing.
In many cultures, especially European ones, pigs are a wider symbol of good fortune. It might not seem too obvious, but think about it next time you see a child drop some change into a “piggy bank”.
Aside from the symbolic value of pigs, many people point to more practical reasons for their strong Easter presence. In Northern Europe, pigs would be slaughtered during winter, then salted and smoked similar to the way they are today. By the time lent ended, the delicious ham would be ready to enjoy, celebrating the beginning of the spring season. The practice was transferred over the Atlantic to America along with the host of other traditions that make up our cultural heritage.
Whether it was early Christians setting themselves apart by embracing ham, or practical Northern Europeans timing the curing process for coming of the spring season, the most important thing is that generations of families have firmly planted ham as a major Easter staple.
At Broadbent’s, we have a fine selection of both salty city hams and sweet country hams that will bring your Easter dinner to the next level. From our table to yours, Happy Easter and thanks for reading!