The Real Reason Ham Is An Easter Tradition

While Thanksgiving may be all about the turkey, Easter is where spiral-sliced ham truly shines. Chocolate-shaped bunny rabbits, colorful eggs, and jelly beans might be synonymous with the spring holiday, but so is baked ham. Easter dinner wouldn't seem complete without the dish, but you may be surprised to hear this wasn't always the case. In fact, history tells us that people ate lamb on Easter, not pork, and it all relates back to Passover, the Jewish holiday.

"According to the biblical Exodus story, the people of Egypt suffered a series of terrible plagues, including the death of all firstborn sons," Stephanie Butler from History told Eat This, Not That! "Jews painted their doorposts with sacrificed lamb's blood so that God would 'pass over' their homes while carrying out the punishment." The sacrificial lamb was then included on the seder plate and as a roast at dinner, per The Daily Meal. Those who later converted to Christianity kept the tradition of eating lamb on Easter. So how did we get from lamb to ham? Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the low demand for wool fabric in the 1940s.

It always comes down to money

Wool took over the fabric and garment industry in the early 1900s, but as production of synthetic materials increased, the need for wool plummeted, and according to Eat This, Not That!, so did people's appetites for lamb. Before polyester, nylon, rayon, spandex, and microfibre came into the mix, dressmakers relied on wool for clothes, especially WWII soldiers' uniforms. Because fewer lambs were being slaughtered for fabric use, the buying market dwindled astronomically, paving the way for a new Easter dinner tradition: pork.

According to The Daily Meal, pork was the next logical step from both a financial and farming standpoint. The outlet reports that in 1950 a family could purchase a whole ham for only 62 cents, whereas one leg of lamb would set you back 74 cents. Not only was ham cheaper, but you also got more meat for the price, making it a great bargain for larger families and holiday gatherings. Farmers benefited from this new tradition, too. Winter proved to be an excellent time of year to cure ham, allowing farmers to preserve their stock. When Easter rolled around, they were rolling in money. Today, ham is still more popular than lamb during holidays and everyday meals.