What are the facts behind our Easter Traditions
30 March 2015 | Admin
Easter is the most significant date on the Christian calendar. It marks the end of lent and commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As such, it is greatly anticipated by the devout, and by the not-quite-so-devout, too.
It culminates on Easter Sunday, which this year falls on April 5th. But why does the date shift around so much from year to year? The answer is that Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox, which is, on the modern calendar, the 21st of March.
That said, there are a number of other traditions associated with Easter, some of which have been picked up along the way, while others can trace their origins to well before the birth of Christ. Let’s examine a few of them.
Eggs, for obvious reasons, are emblematic of new life. For this reason they have been associated with spring and with Easter celebrations in particular. Cultures as varied as the ancient Romans, Persians and Egyptians have long held eggs as central to their springtime celebrations. During the middle ages, the consumption of Eggs would be forbidden during lent and so when Easter finally arrived, the populace would traditionally break their fast on eggs.
This fascination eventually culminated in egg decoration – those celebrating Easter would take an egg and paint it in bright, attractive colours. Another long-standing Easter tradition is one in which eggs are hidden and then found, in a practice known as an Easter egg hunt. In certain parts of the world, like Scotland, eggs are rolled down hills in order to determine who can roll their egg the farthest without it breaking. The most famous egg-rolling game takes place annually on the lawn of the White House.
The colour of painted eggs varied, throughout Christendom. In more eastern countries, eggs would be painted red, in order to symbolise the blood of Christ. In central Europe, they would be painted green. Sometimes, the egg itself would be hollowed out and painted with Christian images – Jesus or the Virgin Mary were popular choices.
Today, the confectionary industry is heavily reliant on the sale of Easter eggs. It was realised during the last century that chocolate eggs were an excellent excuse to sell chocolate in far greater volumes. Chocolate companies, like Cadburys and Kraft, therefore endeavoured to make chocolate eggs socially accepted. This was not a difficult task; after all, every child loves chocolate, and parents are a great deal more willing to buy chocolate in perhaps inadvisable quantities if they feel that the occasion justifies it.
Rabbits have been symbolic of new life and fertility in many cultures throughout history – presumably owing to their prodigious rate of reproduction. The legend of this particular rabbit began in Germany, where a rabbit was said to bring gifts to children – among them of course being the ubiquitous eggs. From Germany, the rabbit would migrate to America – specifically through Pennsylvania. From there, the Easter Bunny grew, through American commercialism and spread throughout the world. Today, it is omnipresent as a symbol of Easter.
Like most Christian festivals, Easter has roots which extend deep into pre-Christian pagan tradition. Easter actually draws its name from Eostre, who was an Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring and Fertility. Christian missionaries during the second century AD sought to convert Europe to the new faith, nd saw that their new festival coincided, roughly, with the springtime celebrations of the heathens. They therefore attempted to win favour with the new flock by appropriating many of their old symbols and customs, including the name of the festival itself.
Lamb is probably the most traditional centrepiece for a meal on Easter Sunday. This is the case for a number of reasons. Some of these reasons are religious; Jesus is often referred to in Christian teaching as the ‘Lamb of god’.
Others are more practical. The vernal equinox, in pre-Christian pagan tradition, is often the time in which the first lambs of the year are brought to slaughter. A feast was often arranged in order to celebrate after a long, hard winter subsisting solely on vegetables. This tradition was then carried over into Christianity.
Similarly, the Jewish celebration of Passover, which also takes place during spring, is often demarked with a meal of Lamb. Judeo-Christian teaching draws heavily on the idea of sacrifice, whether it be Abraham’s sacrifice of his son, or Christ’s sacrifice of himself. It is for this reason that the lamb has come to be emblematic of Easter Sunday.