The History of the Butter Lamb

By Charlie Fashana

Published on | Last Updated

Lent and Easter are full of seasonal foods. Chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks are the likely conversation starters nationwide, but here in Buffalo you can’t make it through a conversation without including the famous butter lamb.

A display case showing an assortment of butter lambs at Malczewski's, a popular shop in Buffalo.

With every unique eat or holiday custom you hear about in Western New York – from the “angel wings” chrusciki to the post-Lenten bash, Dyngus Day – just about every one of them stems from European culture and is faith-based. Most people don’t consider the religious symbolism behind the popular foods they eat every spring – be it pork (a “forbidden” food) or bread or eggs (signs of new life) – they just know it’s all good!

And for the cute little creamy butter lamb, the same rings true, especially around Easter.

What is a butter lamb?

The butter lamb is a small (or sometimes large) sculpture of a lamb made from butter, typically decorated with a red ribbon around its neck and a blessing on its back. The butter is sculpted into the shape of a lamb using a mold, and then the details, such as peppercorn eyes, are added by hand. It’s typically served as a centerpiece on the Easter table or given as a gift to friends and family.

But what’s even more impressive is the skill required to make these butter lambs. The art of butter sculpting is a time-honored tradition in Buffalo and has been passed down through generations.

Where did the butter lamb originate?

A sign displaying a butter lamb with a red ribbon at Malczewski's, a popular Buffalo shop.

This beloved Easter tradition has been a part of Buffalo’s culture for nearly 150 years, and the butter lamb origins can be traced back to the Polish immigrants who settled in Buffalo in the late 1800s. In Poland, the butter lamb is known as “Baranek wielkanocny” and has been a part of the Easter celebration for centuries, with other variations appearing throughout eastern and central Europe. When Polish immigrants came to Buffalo, they brought this tradition with them and it quickly became a staple in the local community.

What is the meaning of the butter lamb?

The butter lamb holds a significant meaning during Easter as the lamb represents Jesus as the Lamb of God. The butter lamb even has ties to Passover and the exodus of the Jews from slavery. During this time, the blood of a sacrificial lamb was placed at their door so the angel of death would pass over their firstborn. Catholics refer to Jesus and His sacrifice as the Lamb of God.

For these reasons, today the butter lamb often wears a red ribbon around the neck, representing the blood of Christ, and a cross or a banner with a blessing such as “Alleluia” on its back.

Why is the lamb made out of butter?

So why is a butter lamb made out of butter? Simple: To eat! Butter is an ingredient in just about everything so we can pin the idea on necessity and flavor.

Why does Buffalo love the butter lamb?

As a Buffalo Easter tradition passed down through generations, the Broadway Market has been the butter lamb headquarters for many decades. And Malczewski’s stand within the market (Malla-cheski’s) is where the Buffalo butter lamb got its start. But thankfully, if you aren’t able to make it to the East Buffalo market, most of the major grocers in the area carry their own versions of the butter lamb. We’ve even heard of places outside of New York, where many Buffalo ex-pats reside, that make that continue to make the butter lamb a proud Easter tradition, like in Milwaukee, WI. Plus, butter lambs are adorable. Honestly, what isn’t there to love?

How can you make a butter lamb?

Looking to make a butter lamb at home this year? If you’re feeling a bit artistic, or if you’re more of a DIY person, you could even make your own butter lamb this Easter season. There are how-to videos such as the video above thanks to Buffalo’s very own St. Casamir Church, or you can buy a mold online – Small Lamb Wooden Butter Mold.

Happy Easter, happy spring, and enjoy your butter lamb!

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Charlie Fashana

At work I'm part artist, part scientist. At home I'm part husband, part dad. Here and always, I'm all Buffalo.