Occupation: Retired Antrhopologist
Residence: Portland, Oregon
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/13/2015
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Czech
*Collector note: The Lamb cake in question is a cake in the shape of a lamb, not a cake made from lamb.
Informant: “In my family, we always had a lamb cake for Easter, I think this was a Central European tradition, mostly in Poland, Germany, and the Czech Republic. When I grew up in Chicago, there were a lot of German people in the neighborhood, and there were always German bakeries full of lamb cakes around Easter. The connection to Easter was that Easter was about Christ, you know, the Lamb of God. And so we would eat these lamb cakes for Easter. My mother would make it, so else sometimes we bought them in bakeries in Chicago. My aunt [M] said that her mother made lamb cakes as well. I always thought it was funny having lamb cake because we would tell people about it and people would say ‘oh, it’s like a meatloaf or something’ when really there was no lamb in it, is was just shaped like a lamb and didn’t have any meat at all. Though I know some people would sometimes hollow out the cake and put strawberry jam inside so when you cut it it looks like its bleeding [laughs]. I know other people would color their lamb cake with red food coloring to make the inside look like meat, but I always thought that would seem a bit to gory for me”
The informant is a 77 year old retired anthropologist living in Portland Oregon. Her grandparents immigrated to the United States from the Kingdom of Bohemia (in the modern day Czech Republic) in the 1890’s to escape the economic turmoil within the country in that time period. She was born and grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and studied anthropology at Stanford University, during which time she became interested in learning more about the traditions of her heritage. She has on several occasions traveled to the Czech republic to visit relatives there.
Collector’s analysis: This particular tradition is an interesting take on some very core Christian symbolism. In the Christian faith (or perhaps, more specifically in the Catholic faith), there is this idea that the religious figure Jesus Christ was sacrificed for mankind. Because of the old, pre-Christian tradition of sacrificing ‘pure’ animals for religious purposes including lamb, Jesus Christ is frequently referred to as “The Lamb of God”. Thus, there is a connection between the Easter holiday and lambs. As for why the tradition is eating a lamb shaped cake rather than an actual lamb, the most likely explanation comes from the Catholic tradition of not eating meat on religious holidays, to which Easter was no exception. It should also be noted for this reason that the Czech republic, as well as the other Countries that the informant believes this tradition originated from, were all primarily Catholic nations during the period of time in which this tradition originated. As a side note, in this collector’s opinion, these cakes are absolutely delicious!