Food Facts & Lore

Why Ham For Easter?

why we eat ham for easter

It has been said that the reason ham has become the traditional fare for Easter in America is merely the result of a typo from an old printing press in 15th-century France. Inventor Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing press in France around 1450. A misprint in an article about lamb, the rightful traditional Passover meat in Jewish tradition, referred to “lam” instead. Everyone assumed the press setter intended to use the letter “h,” not “l,” as ham was a far more common meat in France.

This belief is likely a myth rather than a fact if you consider that the article in question would have been written in French. Ham in French is “jambon.” French for lamb is “agneau.” Not even close!

The truth is far more down to earth. Ham is a traditional Easter dish simply because it is in season at that time of the year. For practical reasons, in Europe as in the New World, large animals raised for their meats were traditionally slaughtered in the fall. The arrival of the cold season helped preserve the meat. It also allowed for the extensive curing process. Meats prepared in the fall were ready to eat in the spring, just around Easter time. In addition to this, many believed that slaughtering the animals after the first frost ensured greater meat quality since by then they were grazing mostly on insect-free vegetation.

Pigs were available in great abundance in Europe. During a holiday or festival, when families and neighbors gathered in great numbers had to be fed, large pigs were a natural choice to provide for everyone.

A meeting of cultures and beliefs may have inspired the connection to Easter. In Germanic cultures, pagans celebrated Eostre, the spring goddess. As Christianity spread to Europe, traditions merged, blending the story of the Christian faith with local customs.

Early American settlers brought pigs to the New World, and with them their Easter traditions. However, the Roast Lamb of the Jewish Passover remains a strong tradition as well. It not only predates the traditional ham dinner, but also predates any record of Easter itself.