Ham recipes abound at Easter time. Top choices may include baked ham, grilled ham, honey-glazed ham, pineapple-glazed ham, roasted ham, rotisserie ham, slow-cooker ham, and spiral-sliced ham. Why is ham such a favorite dish for this high Christian holiday?
Consider these possible explanations for ham’s importance as an Easter dish.
Celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, Easter is a movable Christian feast, occurring on the first Sunday after the first full moon past the spring equinox. It is also widely regarded as a sure sign of spring (although spring officially arrives with that equinox).
1. Historically, cured hams were ready to eat by early spring.
Before refrigeration methods were invented, farmers would salt-cure fresh pork after slaughtering pigs each fall. This process took several months, so kept ham was not safe or suitable for human consumption until springtime. This made it a handy pick for Easter eating.
2. The pig has long been considered a sign of good luck.
Ancient pagan tradition in pre-Christian Europe held the pig as portending good fortune. This may be why children have long saved money in banks shaped like piglets. The pagan spring festival known as Eostre included the eating of a pig on the first Sunday after the full moon after the spring equinox (which corresponds to the modern Easter). Long ago, early Gentile Christians who left pagan beliefs and came to follow Christ may have adopted this tradition. Throughout Europe and across America, many folks enjoy ham on Easter and Christmas and even wedding celebrations.
3. Lots of people give up meat for Lent.
Fasting is a longstanding Christianism tradition in the weeks stretching from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. This period, echoing the 40 days of prayer and testing Jesus spent in the wilderness (see Matthew 4:1-11), is often marked by abstinence from certain foods and other enjoyments. Going without meat during Lent is a frequent choice. Many Catholic Christians, in particular, choose to refrain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent.
Sitting down to a bountiful ham feast on Easter Sunday breaks the Lenten fast in a gustatorily celebratory fashion.
4. Pork products are not kosher for Jews.
Jews keeping kosher refrain from eating bacon, ham, ribs, sausage, or other pork products (see Deuteronomy 14:8-10). Kosher meats come from such animals as cows, deer, goats, and sheep. Non-kosher animals include bears, camels, cats, dogs, horses, pigs, rabbits, and squirrels.
Certain other religions ban the eating of pork as well. Islam is a prime example, regarding pigs as unclean animals. Some might see the eating of meats from pigs as an exercise in Christian freedom, as shown in the Apostle Peter’s vision of the clean and unclean animals at Caesaria (see Acts 10:9-22).
5. Ham offers a simple way to feed a large group for dinner.
Honey-baked or smoked, ham is a perennial favorite for Easter feasting, with family members and friends going hog-wild for the hearty meal. Grocers usually offer discounts on this popular pick during the Easter season, so ham purchases need not break the piggy bank. Plus, ham leftovers make super sandwiches and soups after Easter has passed.