As the old adage about March goes: “In like a lion, out like a lamb.” Come April, a month whose calendar is filled with holidays and their requisite feasts, that lamb often finds itself on dinner tables.
As it turns out, a meal of lamb is a common thread linking various ethnic communities as they celebrate Passover (April 18 at sundown) and Easter (April 24).
Many Christians view lamb as a symbol for Jesus, with French, Italian, German, Middle Eastern, and Greek Orthodox traditions all including lamb in their holiday repasts.
The Polish have a different version of the esteemed young mutton. “In Hamtramck, it’s popular to get the little lambs that are made out of butter,” says Carolyn Wietrzykowski, manager of the Polish Village Café in the historically Polish enclave. “You put that in your basket and take it to the church [to be blessed].”
Apart from the common ground of ovine protein, what some don’t realize about Easter is the degree to which it’s tied to Jewish Passover. The first day of Passover brings the Seder, a meal that follows a strict order of food service. The Last Supper, which, in Christian tradition is the moment when the Eucharist tradition began, was itself a Seder. And for the first few hundred years of its existence, Easter was celebrated at the same time as Passover.
“Lamb has been a traditional springtime food in the Middle East since biblical times,” The New York Times noted. “It is appropriate to serve lamb for Passover, but rules govern the preparation, and are subject to various interpretations.”
More secular American holiday-dinner customs opt for a different meat to accompany colored eggs. Last Easter, Warren’s Lipari Foods sold more than 2,500 hams for the holiday. Dearborn Ham and Honey Baked see similar throngs. Why the conversion from ovine to swine?
One theory has it that Americans were forced to use cured meat left over from winter because Easter generally came too early for fresh meat to be available.
Vegetarians also have edible traditions that recognize this month. Gardens are coming alive with asparagus, broccoli, greens, and, soon, rhubarb — available fresh and local, which gives us something else to celebrate.