Like many other traditions, it is simply a matter of practicality.

By Patricia S York
January 31, 2021
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For many households across the country, Easter morning starts the same way. Baskets overflowing with chocolate candies, jellybeans, and dyed eggs, a trip to church in our Easter hats, and then home for a big family meal. And for many households, the main course will be a sweet and succulent ham.  Have you ever wondered why so many families eat ham on Easter Sunday when a large portion of the world still eats lamb? It is simply a matter of practicality and availability.

The Significance of Lamb at Easter

The significance of lamb is connected to the story of Passover, which is still celebrated by Jewish families today. According to the Biblical story in the book of Exodus, the people of Egypt suffered a series of terrible plagues brought about by the wrath of God. The Jewish people painted their doorposts with the sacrificial lamb blood so that God would "pass over" their homes while carrying out His punishment. It became tradition to celebrate Passover by eating roast lamb, and even those Jews who converted to Christianity continued the tradition when celebrating Easter.

Sweet-Hot Plum-Glazed Ham
Credit: Southern Living

Why Ham Became Popular at Easter

The custom of eating lamb at Easter continued in the United States until around the mid twentieth century. As the popularity of wool as a fabric began to wane (synthetic fabrics began to emerge in the 1940s and wool was no longer needed for World War II uniforms), the need for sheep decreased as well, meaning there were fewer legs of lamb available for the Easter dinner table. Ham was a practical alternative to lamb because it was more affordable and could be purchased in a larger serving size. Not only were hogs cheaper to raise than sheep. but the farmers could slaughter the hogs in the fall and let the meat cure throughout the cold winter months. By spring, the cured meat was ready to eat—just in time to prepare for the Easter feast.

The best part of the holiday ham may just be the leftovers. For rich, unforgettable flavor, don't forget to add the hambone to your next pot of greens. Dice some ham to use in breakfast casseroles, add ham to hearty potato soup, or slice it for a sandwich at lunch.