This religious tradition has been passed down for generations.
For many Russian, Slovenian and Polish Catholics, Easter isn’t Easter without a lamb-shaped hunk of butter on the table.
If you live somewhere with a large population of central or eastern Europeans, chances are you’ve seen or heard of the phenomenon. If you don’t, you may be very confused—that’s okay, we’re here to help.
According to Food & Wine, the butter lamb is a hand-carved or molded butter sculpture that pops up every year during the Easter season, signifying “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” as written in the New Testament. In other words, the lamb represents Jesus.
Many Catholic immigrants brought the tradition of the butter lamb with them when they moved to the United States, some of whom still refer to the sculpture by its Polish name, baranek wielkanocny. The lambs are often decorated with black peppercorns or dried cloves for eyes, a red and white flag that sometimes reads “alleluia” and a red ribbon around the neck to symbolize the Blood of Christ.
While many people will hand-carve their own sculptures or create one using a lamb-shaped mold, you can buy butter lambs at some specialty food markets and grocery stores at Easter time, especially in communities where there is a large Catholic population. Butter lambs are known to be popular in Illinois, Milwaukee, Michigan and New York for this reason.
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Interested in putting a butter lamb on your own table? We don’t blame you, they’re super cute. Check your local supermarket or deli (Wegmans, for example sells them here), or look online for a mold of your own (like this one, on Amazon). Of course, if you just want to go free-hand on a stick of butter, all the power to you.
For a slight variation that’s still appropriate for the season, you can also buy an adorable wooden butter chick mold.