Easter is Coming
This Sunday March 27, 2016 is Easter! Easter is one of my favorite holidays. Largely because I love bunnies and I’m happy winter is finally over. It’s earlier than usual this year because the date is determined by the lunar calendar. In case you don’t already know; Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of spring (March 20, 2016). Most years Easter lands in April, however, the first full moon of spring 2016 is March 23rd leading to the earlier holiday date.
Easter is also one of the few times of the year that pagan traditions are widely celebrated without judgement. Some may not even know the meanings behind these practices. Here are a few of them.
Since antiquity pagans the world over celebrated the spring equinox and the goddess of spring. Her name changes pronunciation and spelling depending on the tradition. Oester, Eostare, Eastre were all used throughout Europe and the Saxon religions. Ostara is the most common name used by modern pagans for the goddess of spring and dawn.
Rabbits, bunnies and hares have been long standing symbols of fertility for logical reasons. Lagomorphs (these animals are not rodents) have some intense reproductive abilities. They have huge litters (up to 14 babies) every year and are capable of having more than one litter per year. They can even become pregnant with litter number 2 while already pregnant with litter number 1! That’s nuts!
There are a few different stories regarding who the Easter Bunny (or Hare) is and how he came to exist. Some believe that the rabbit is sacred to the goddess Ostara. In one telling, Ostara saved a frozen bird and saved his life. The bird survived, but could no longer fly so he was turned into a rabbit. This rabbit retained the ability to lay eggs though they are now multi-colored. After a falling out with Ostara this rabbit was turned into a constellation who can return to earth only once a year, during the Ostara holiday, and give away his colored eggs to children. Other stories say that the bird was originally scared to Ostara and was punished by being turned into a rabbit after crossing her.
The Easter Bunny can also take on some characteristics from Santa. He judges whether or not kids are good and deserving of the basket (or bonnet) of colored eggs, treats or toys and then delivers these treats the night before Easter. Though I couldn’t find what happens to the bad kids…..maybe they get rotten eggs?
The egg is another classic and understandable symbol of fertility and new life. People in many cultures throughout time have decorated eggs and given them as gifts. They may have been boiled with flowers to change their color and bring spring into the home. Or they could have been painted in traditional colors like red (new life) or green (new foliage). Elaborate decoration techniques can be dated back to Africa over 60,000 years ago when carved ostrich eggs were left in ancient graves.
The colored eggs or baskets brought by the Easter Bunny were sometimes left in a predetermined location and sometimes they were hidden for the children to find the next morning. During the days of the inquisition and witch burning those who celebrated the old ways needed to hide their faith and traditions. They would hide colored eggs in their yards for the children to find. It was a way to celebrate the early traditions in secret. The authorities would sometimes follow or bribe these children to find where the eggs were hidden and thus finding the heathen households.
The tradition of eating ham at Easter is more functional than fantastical. In the days of living off the land most people lived off of cured and preserved meats throughout the winter. They ate very scarcely to make certain the meat would last the full season. To celebrate the coming of spring families would feast on the rest of the preserved meats including a ham.
You didn’t think I would forget about chocolate did you? Or Peeps or jelly beans or any of the super tasty treats often found at Easter. Sweets are a common part of most holiday traditions for one simple reason, they make people happy. They are delicious and (especially in ancient times) occasional treats. These days if you are an adult with money you can find treats whenever you want. If you lived a few hundred years ago you wouldn’t have been so lucky.
There are also old beliefs that consuming something in the shape of a powerful symbol would give you the strengths of that symbol. So indulging in bunny and egg shaped treats would give you increased vitality and fertility. And a pretty wicked sugar high.
So this Sunday enjoy all of your favorite traditions which a little more background knowledge. And stay tuned here this week for more Easter related posts.