CORVALLIS -- Easter dinner for Chuck and Margaret Wert of Albany will include lamb, fresh asparagus, Italian potatoes and a squash harvested from their garden last fall. A bottle of wine and hot cross buns will complete the holiday meal.
Saturday afternoon the Werts brought the ingredients for the holiday meal to Saint Mary's Catholic Church in Corvallis to be blessed, a Slavic ritual rekindled at the church last year.
Holiday celebrations are rich with tradition, and food is a big part of Easter gatherings.
"It's not just cooking up the meal," Chuck Wert said.
Food traditions are a cultural expression, and rituals like blessing of food baskets are a vehicle to teach about the past, he said.
Brenda Hyde, editor of Old Fashioned Living magazine, has tried to retrace some of the roots of these traditions. She searched for stories about the origins of hot cross buns, a favorite Easter recipe. Her research resulted in a somewhat mixed history, considering she's a writer at a magazine that caters to Christian women.
It turns out that like many other Christian traditions, hot cross buns probably started out as part of a pagan spring festival in Europe.
"They weren't even related to Easter," Hyde said. "At some point, monks or the Christian element in the community started putting crosses on them and made them into an Easter tradition."
Another version of the hot cross bun story Hyde heard was about an English woman whose son went off to sea. The woman vowed to bake him a bun every Good Friday, and when he didn't return, she kept baking buns for him each year. She hung these in the window in good faith that he would return one day. The legend goes that after she died, the English people kept the tradition for her.
Hyde's investigation of Easter food traditions uncovered a bread recipe from an ethnic group where an egg is baked right into the roll. Easter eggs used to be dyed red, she said, symbolic of Jesus' resurrection. When people started dyeing eggs different colors, it became less symbolic and more for fun.
Sometimes there's an explanation for the foods people eat on certain holidays. Hyde's best guess why ham is so popular at Easter is that people observing Lent are craving something more than seafood and vegetarian dishes.
"They may be wanting something more than what they've been eating," Hyde said.
Sunrise services might explain the popularity of Easter brunch. People get hungry during early morning services. Many Corvallis churches will serve up breakfast this morning to appease the appetites of parishioners, including Corvallis Church of the Nazarene; First Christian Church; Zion Lutheran Church; Grace Lutheran Church; Episcopal Church of the Good Samaritan; Beautiful Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church; First Presbyterian Church First Congregational Church; Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church and Lifespring Foursquare Church; and College United Methodist Church in Philomath.
There are many holiday traditions, sending greeting cards or crafting, but one custom seems to bring families together:
"Food tops everything. It's those particular dishes your family makes every holiday that brings them together," Hyde said.