Holidays are chock-full of timeless traditions, perhaps in no category more steadfastly than food. What’s Thanksgiving without turkey? Halloween without candy? New Year’s without some bubbly? And of course, what would Easter dinner even be without a briny, salty ham? But aside from simply tradition, how did pigs come to play such an important role in our annual spring feast?

It really just has to do with practical considerations and timing.

Traditionally, pigs were slaughtered in the fall as temperatures cooled. This would allow the meat to stay fresher for much longer. Before refrigeration, farmers would set aside any unsold meat to be cured, or preserved, as to not waste food or income. That cured meat was finally ready to eat each year right around Easter.

Also read, Why do eat chocolate bunnies on Easter?

These days, slaughtering schedules don’t play an important of a part as simply our preference. While other countries like New Zealand or those in Eastern Europe are more likely to celebrate the feast with a lamb, Americans have come to enjoy the readily available—and highly affordable—ham any number of ways—honey baked, glazed, bone-in, smoked, spiral-sliced, and so on. Hams are also much larger than lambs so they’re better for serving a crowd.

According to the National Retail Federation, around 81 percent of Americans celebrate Easter, and 87 of those celebrate with a special Easter meal, spending a collective $5.7 billion on food for their feasts. A small, but growing, niche of Americans are demanding humanely raised pork products with no artificial colors, hormones, or antibiotics added during the process.

In any case, if you’re fixing the ham this year, here’s what you need to know:

  • Boneless ham: Allow for 1/2-pound per person
  • Bone-in ham: Allow for 3/4 pound per person
  • Always round up the amount you buy then add on even more for leftovers

Also see, Easy tie-dye Easter egg video.

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Meghan is a full-time writer exploring the fun facts behind food. She lives a healthy lifestyle but lives for breakfast, dessert and anything with marinara. She’s thrown away just as many meals as she’s proud of.