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Written from Vietnam: Easter...What’s that?

Friday, March 25, 2016, 14:21 GMT+7

Editor’s note: Stivi Cooke is an Australian living in Hoi An, a small town in central Vietnam.

I think it’s pretty funny that the mostly vegetarian Vietnamese have supermarkets full of Western candy. Whole rows of imported chocolate stacked to the point that I’m afraid to select a packet out for fear of collapsing the entire shelf.

Gorgeous metal boxes of white, brown, and dark chocolate compete for shoppers’ attention. Still, it’s all perfect for Easter, the Christian celebration of Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection before going to heaven... at least I think that’s the story – you see, I’m not a Christian.

So what’s Easter?

The Easter holiday lasts from ‘Good Friday’ to Easter Monday – usually landing sometime between March 21 and April 25 with Easter Sunday falling on the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring.

Anyway, it seems to be all about food... and someone dying.

It’s a very strange holiday. In some kinds of churches people eat a little piece of bread and sip a little bit of wine to remember Jesus. On Good Friday, Catholics (one kind of Christian) are supposed to eat a small bit of fish and not much else.

Other people like eating ‘Hot cross buns’. It’s a custom started by the early people of England, called the Anglo-Saxons, who made a kind of cake that the Christians changed into a kind of sweet bread. What is it with these Christians?

This spiced, rich, tea bread is very sugary, often banked with raisins or dried fruits. The bread was popular long before Jesus’ time although, never as sweet as the modern version. The Christians made a white cross on the top of the bread to remember Jesus. Roast lamb is eaten on Easter Sunday as it was often a part of spring rituals.

Now, yummy breads from a long time ago lead to yummy cakes, which explains part of our modern love of Chocolate and Easter eggs!

However, the egg part is confusing. Since the time of the ancient Egyptians, the egg has been a symbol of birth and ‘re-birth’. As such, some people had, and still have, colored hard boiled eggs for Easter Sunday - which doesn’t seem that exciting to me and doesn’t seem to fit the celebration of a man returning to life.

Sometime around the 16th century, chocolate (which comes from cacao seeds, also grown in Vietnam!) was brought from what is now Mexico to Europe and sugar was added, making it amazingly popular and a cool thing to drink in bed on a Sunday morning! Did you know the word chocolate is an ancient word from the Aztec people who lived in what is now Mexico? They called it chocolātl.

It took a long time but clever people finally worked out a way to make a ‘hard’ chocolate for eating. How come I can’t come up with ideas like that... *sigh*

Meanwhile, the rabbit, a long-time legendary symbol of fertility (you know, making lots of baby rabbits), also became part of the Easter tradition, and it wasn’t long before another clever person (sigh...) started covering the rabbits and eggs. Usually hollow on the inside, people often put some candy inside the chocolate rabbits to amuse children.

It’s also interesting that although the Americans (and the French!) are winning the chocolate wars with brands such as Hershey, M&Ms and Cadbury blocks, Vietnamese chocolate is still quite popular – Marou, Lam Dong Vietnam 72%, Scharffen Berger- Bến Tre, Vietcacao-Mo Cay are great examples.

So, now you know something about Easter! Since a lot of Vietnamese kids are under-weight and short, I’d recommend at least half a kilo of Easter food this year. Regardless of whether you like eating, munching, nibbling, or crunching your sweets – have fun and remember to save some for me!

Stivi Cooke

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