Celebrating Irish Easter:
21 Traditions Both Sacred and Fun!

There are so many things to know about an Irish Easter – they range from religious to historical to simply traditional.  A wonderful and fascinating holiday, perfect for expressing your individual Irish side!

Irish Expressions: Irish Easter Traditions.  Image of young boy finding an Easter egg, per license with Bigstock.com.

Our Easter celebration always includes an egg hunt with an occasional appearance from the Easter bunny.  In any given year we might decorate the baskets with shamrocks, color certain eggs green or gold (with Irish prizes associated with them) or make liberal use of harp or shamrock stickers in the decorating of the area.

That's just us!  There are gazillions of ways to bring your Irish side to an Easter celebration. And we'll definitely look at a million of them at least.

But first things first...

What (and when) is Easter?

In the Christian tradition Easter commemorates the crucifixion and resurrection (three days later) of Jesus Christ.  It also represents the end of 40 days of fasting and prayer following its beginning on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

The actual dates of Easter may be anywhere between March 22nd and April 25th in western Christian tradition.  This is because the event is defined by the moon, the vernal equinox and … well … it’s complicated. 

Another interesting tidbit is that the Easter tradition actually has roots prior to Christianity, to celebrate the return of the ‘fertile’ season.  And this brings us to the first Irish Easter expression we would like to mention...

The Irish Easter Egg

Many cultures share this tradition of course.  But do you know where it comes from? 

In Ireland the Easter egg (and other important symbols such as the hare – or ‘bunny,’ get it?) are actually ancient expressions of fertility.

And the idea of an Easter egg hunt actually celebrates a return to the fertile season – Spring!  Flowers blooming. Babies being born.  Eggs being laid.  Land once again becoming fertile. This ancient celebration became connected with Christ’s resurrection and the idea of re-birth.

So, remember the Irish Easter egg.  We’ll come back to that!

Irish Easter Traditions:  Good Friday

Good Friday is an observation of the day of Christ’s crucifixion.  Generally, in Ireland, Good Friday is a day of rest and a time of quiet and contemplation.  While not an official public holiday, banks will be closed as will some schools and businesses.  

One Irish tradition on Good Friday calls for no work outside the home.  That’s the good news!   The ‘bad news’ is: it’s very typical for Good Friday (and all of Easter weekend really) to be a time of spring cleaning inside the home. 

Irish Expressions: Irish Easter Traditions. Image of sign saying "Spring Cleaning Just Ahead" per license with Bigstock.com.

Fun Good Friday Traditions

But hang on!  There are several other traditions associated with Good Friday that are much more fun!   For example: the tradition of representing a cross in various ways such as

  • Carving the shape into home-baked bread. Today’s hot cross buns are a reflection of this tradition.
  • Painting a cross on Easter eggs
  • Wearing clothing or jewelry containing the shape of a cross

Other Irish expressions associated with Good Friday (and Easter in general) include:

  • Cutting your hair on Good Friday is said to prevent headaches in the year to come.  (Truthfully, I had no idea – I’m going to give it a try this year!)
  • Marking any eggs laid on Good Friday with a cross and eating one on Easter Sunday.  If you don’t have your own chickens, or they don’t seem interested in laying a Good Friday egg, that’s ok – just buy one, mark it yourself and eat it Sunday morning!

Irish Easter Traditions:  Easter Saturday

Depending on your beliefs, this day may be a sacred time of fasting and prayer – or it might just be the day before the neighborhood Easter Egg hunt!  

Irish Easter Saturday Traditions

Here are some traditions many Irish families and Irish households take part in on Easter Saturday

  • Attend a local church and observe the hundreds of small candles lit of the Paschal candle that has been blessed by the priest.
  • Drink three sips of holy water for health.
  • Sprinkle holy water on everything for good luck.
  • Observe a time of silence – ranging from a minute to an hour to all day (ouch!)
  • Prepare and color Good Friday eggs.

Irish Easter Traditions:  Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday is an immensely important day in Catholic Irish culture, as it commemorates the resurrection of Jesus, making it a most important religious holiday.  

In addition, as I alluded to before,  Easter represents the end of several religious observances including 40 days of fasting.  

The unfortunate victim of this pent-up hunger is ... wait for it ...

  ... the humble herring.

Irish Easter Sunday Traditions

Yes, this innocent, unsuspecting fish, one of the few sources of protein during the 6 previous weeks of meat-free living, is now the scapegoat (scapefish?) of all that pent-up hunger. Easter Sunday traditions involving the herring include:

  • Having a mock funeral for a herring
  • Whipping the herring - seriously people?!
  • Tying a herring to a stick and leading a parade (herring procession) with it…

(In our house we just eat some pickled herring and call it good.)

Irish Expressions:  Irish Easter Traditions. Image of a candle lighting for the post-Lent herring massacre, per license with Bigstock.com.

Still more Irish Expressions associated with Easter Sunday include:

  • Wearing new clothes, the colors for girls in particular would include green, yellow and white, signifying purity and a new start to life (notice how so many Easter traditions revolve around this idea of ‘new’?)
  • An Easter Feast, the core of many Easter celebrations, often including traditional Irish Easter foods such as roast lamb and leek soup.
  • A traditional cake dance contest, with the best dancer 'taking the cake' as a prize.  Rumor has it this is where the term ‘take the cake’ comes from.
  • Doing stuff with eggs.  One tradition is to eat them – and lots of them – since they are not permitted during the 40 days of Lent.  I once heard Irish people on Easter Sunday consume an average of six … SIX … eggs.  Other traditions include Easter egg hunts and Easter egg races (rolling them downhill for prizes).
  • A cute variation of the Easter egg hunt is to put a note under a child’s pillow with a clue where to find their Easter basket.  From there, one clue leads to another until the basket is full (including as many chocolate eggs as possible!

And There You Go! One Gazillion Ideas for a Fun and Memorable Easter Weekend...

Easter season is a time of great significance on the Emerald Isle.  While we all have our own traditions for this time of year, our goal at Irish Expressions is to provide you with a unique Irish experience, on demand, wherever you are in the world.  

If you have enjoyed our section on Irish Easter Traditions, you probably have a bit of an interest in Irish traditions in general.  If so, a good next stop for you might be our main section on Irish Trivia and Traditions!