The weather was glorious over the Easter weekend, a four day holiday with warm sunshine in April, a rarity in England! It was great for outdoor activities after the cold and gloom of winter, not least the Easter Monday Point-to-Point, a much loved country tradition of which there are numerous across the UK. I went to the Old Berks Hunt at Lockinge, a wonderful course set in beautiful open downland near Wantage.
The spring sunshine brought out the crowds, I have never seen the car park so full. This was very welcome as the hunt relies on the Point-to-Point to raise funds and it has not been held over the past two years due to the pandemic. Those years have been a struggle financially but in a good year the event brings in £30,000 and, judging by the number of people present, this was a good year. The other thing that struck me was the dawn of the digital age; gone were the bookies’ blackboards and chalk to be replaced by electronic screens and even entry money at the gates was taken by swiping a credit card.
The weather at Easter is notoriously fickle, not least because the date can vary by as much as a month from 22nd March to 25th April. Apparently there is some logic to the date, it falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the spring equinox. This was decreed by bishops at the Council of Nicea, convened by Emperor Constantine in 325 AD, who decided it would be useful to know in advance on which date Easter would fall each year. Setting a fixed date would seem the easiest way to do that, but obviously that was too simple. In any event, there has been every imaginable climatic condition at the Point-to-Point over time, from a howling gale with horizontal snow a few years ago to the balmy sunshine of this year.
There are numerous traditions concerned with Easter, some of which date back to pagan times. Eostre was the pagan goddess of dawn and fertility whose earthly manifestation was a hare. As a celebration of the spring equinox, Easter predates Christianity, a time of birth and renewal, so it is logical that the egg is also a symbol. The decoration of eggs started in the 13th century when their consumption was not permitted during Lent. To preserve eggs laid during Lent, they were hard boiled and decorated ready to be enjoyed at Easter once Lent was over. In one tradition, the eggs were painted red to symbolise the blood of Christ.
The cult of Easter eggs surfaced in Germany in the 17th century and spread around the world, coming to England with Queen Victoria whose mother was German. The rabbit also became a symbol of spring partly from the hare of Eostre and partly because of the notorious fecundity of the species. Over time, it has all grown into an Easter tradition of bunnies hiding eggs for children to find, often in the garden. In Washington, the President of the United States hosts Easter Egg Rolling in the garden of the White House.
Easter is also the time for lambing, at least in the northern hemisphere. I am always intrigued by the difference of the seasons between the hemispheres. At Christmas we have roaring log fires and take bets on whether there will be snow whilst in Australia, a White Christmas is more likely to refer to sand on the beach than snow. The Met Office claims that there is a greater chance of a White Easter than a White Christmas but not this year, although snow in April is not unusual. Easter is inextricably bound up with spring, with lambs gambolling in green pastures, with daffodils and the Easter Monday Point-to-Point and yet it is autumn in the southern hemisphere. At least we can look forward to summer to come.
The weather has been kind for lambing this year with a mild dry spring. Mid-March is the traditional time to start lambing so it is largely over for many. Reports locally suggest that it has gone well with good numbers of lambs born and low numbers of losses due to the good weather. However, some farmers, concerned about the costs of indoor lambing, especially of compound feed, have looked to lamb later outdoors even in May when temperatures should be higher and grass plentiful.
Meantime the newly born lambs are gambolling in the spring sunshine in the paddock near my home. One of the drawbacks of writing this column a week in advance is that, by the time you read this, the weather may have broken. You may be subject to April showers, on and on for hours and hours, in the immortal words of Michael Flanders, although there is little rain in the forecast. Indeed, we may soon be crying out for rain as the ground is very dry after a winter of limited rainfall. However, for the moment at least let us enjoy the arrival of spring but beware of the blackthorn winter!