When Spring begins to spread out her brilliant foliage and flowers, and when the gentle fragrance of warmer winds tints the air, children (and adults!) everywhere begin to eye the food coloring in the pantry and the chocolate bunnies on the grocery shelf. Visions of prettily painted eggs and ribbon-festooned baskets dance in their heads, along with prize-holding plastic eggs lurking in tree boles and under bushes. What do I speak of? Why, Easter, of course! As most of you are aware, there is far more to Easter than egg hunts and cascarones (eggs stuffed with confetti that you break open over the heads of your favorite friends and relatives). For Christians, Easter is a joyous holiday celebrating the triumph of Jesus over Death, and his resurrection. At this time, Catholics end their Lenten fast. Though Easter eggs and egg hunts are something we take along with the commercialized holiday of Easter, many might wonder what in the world eggs have to do with the Resurrection.
The roots of Easter go much further back in time than even Christ's birth. It is interesting to note that many cultures, both modern and ancient, around the world have or had festivals celebrating the themes of rebirth or resurrection. The name Easter comes from the name of the pagan spring celebration, known as Oestar, Oester, or Ostara. Some of the favorite activities and symbols of Easter were borrowed from this ancient festival. Oestra, the patron goddess of the celebration, is represented by a rabbit. Eggs, the symbol of rebirth in many cultures, were decorated and exchanged throughout the time of the festival. Actually, the Easter bunny and the tradition of decorating eggs, hiding them, and then hunting them in pretty baskets was brought to America in the mid-nineteenth century. However, neither the Easter bunny nor the egg hunts received much notice by the majority of Christian celebrators until after the Civil War.
Easter is a very important time for Christians. It represents the period in Christ's life when he was crucified for the sake of all, was buried, and then arose from the tomb on the third day following his death. The Catholic church first celebrated Easter as a religious holiday hundreds of years ago. Leading up to Easter is the time of Lent, when believers refrain from eating meat on Fridays and pledge to give up something that they enjoy, like fast food, or to give up a vice, like smoking. Lent, a somber time, represents the forty days and forty nights that Jesus spent fasting in the desert. Lent also represents preparations for Jesus's death.
Before Easter, outside many Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican churches and cathedrals, bypassers will see crosses draped with purple scarves. Purple is the color of penitance, and the scarves remind all Catholics that Lent is a time to rid oneself of vices and turn to Christ for deliverance. Inside the churches, white or purple veils are placed on statues and crucifixes. On Easter Sunday, the coverings are removed and a picture or model of Christ's empty tomb is unveiled, reminding all who view it that Christ is risen from the dead. These traditions are practiced primarily in the Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran churches - traditions vary throughout each church in the Christian world. Many churches decline to celebrate with egg hunts, due to the pagan origins of the activity and the lack of connection to the resurrection.
For many Christians, Easter represents a time to gather with family and friends. Potluck church dinners or large family gatherings frequently take place at this time of year. The Davila family, which belongs to our very own Termite Juliana, particularly enjoys making cascarones on or before Easter Sunday. When sufficiently armed, the Davilas embark on a traditional Easter mission - to smash as many relatives over the head with the confetti-stuffed decorations as possible.
Whether Christian, Pagan, or a non-religious celebrator, Easter remains a time of joy for all who choose to celebrate. Christians rejoice in the resurrection of the Son of God on this day, who gifted them with their salvation. Pagans glory in the onset of spring, with its new life, and all its beauty. And the rest of us revel in the egg hunts, the pretty hats and dresses, and most especially, the chocolate bunnies.
http://www.stnm.org/meditation/feb02.html Pictures courtesy of: http://www.easter-traditions.com/html/the_easter_bunny.html http://www.lithuanian-american.org/educat/marguciai/ http://www.atlgoc.org/icongr9.html
Thanks go out to Stephanie and Juliana Davila for providing information for this article.
||Brandie Minchew is a starry-eyed believer in fairy tales, world peace, and justice for all.