Easter is a celebration of life, death and re-birth. It is not the easiest of the yearly holidays to honour and observe, simply because of the challenging context it signifies, especially if you have young children. So I often find myself in a state of imbalance, wanting to acknowledge and share the true meaning and history of this time as a nod to the truth of the past, but at the same time, almost wanting to forgo that for ‘fun’! The fun stuff is so much easier to digest, especially the chocolate!
But I do love ritual and tradition, so I thought I’d share ten intriguing facts about Easter with you today.
1. The word ”Easter” originates from the word Eastre, or Eostre. This was the name of an anglo-saxon goddess who was often thought to be the caretaker and protector of eggs, and hares. Strangely, both of these two things now represent and symbolise the Easter time. Her name is also associated with the term for the female hormone, ‘oestrogen’- a big player in the world of fertilisation and birth.
2. Easter represents a time of life and death, in both Christian and pagan mythologies. In the world of Christianity, it is taken in a literal sense, because the story of Jesus is that he died and was then resurrected. In pagan mythology, the idea of life and death is more figurative, speaking of a time when the world is slowly being woken up after the mini ‘death’ of winter time. We celebrate the joyous return of the birds, butterflies, the blossoms and the earthly creatures.
3. Did you know that the practice of gifting eggs at Easter time has been found right throughout history, all the way back to the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Persians? They shared eggs as a symbol of life.
4. Eggs are a symbol of rebirth, renewal and rejuvenation and as such tend to be seen as a perfect vision of the new life that is birthed in Springtime (northern hemisphere) in which Easter is celebrated, but many people do believe that the ‘egg’ is shared as a symbol of the egg shaped stone behind which Jesus was buried.
5. The chocolate company Fry’s was the first business to create a chocolate egg. (Thank goodness for Fry’s!) Until this time, it was more common to gift cardboard eggs which would be filled with gifts and treats.
6. The story of the Easter Bunny “osterhase” originated in Germany, and to this day, is probably the most popular story told, although in Australia, the story of the Easter Bilby is growing in popularity. (The origins of the ‘Easter Bilby’ story is said to have been created in response to the terrible damage that rabbits have caused across the rural farmlands and agricultural fields of Australia as a way to throw a positive spin on the Easter tale.) If you like, you can read my friend Ali’s ‘Easter Bilby’ story this Easter time?
7. Another german tradition I particularly like is the ‘custom of using old Christmas trees to make the Easter Fire as a way of bidding goodbye to winter and welcoming spring’. In Australia, we could refashion this idea as a way of saying goodbye to the old and offering life to the ‘new’ as seen by the fertile ashes that remain after the warming fire burns out. It also appeals to my need to reduce and recycle- a lovely sustainable idea for the earth.
8. Many school children are invited to create an Easter Bonnets for an Easter Bonnet parade in the lead up to the school holiday break. I’ve never known why but it seems that this custom is actually related to the time of Lent, where people are inspired to ‘fast or give up some of life’s luxuries’ (including, somewhat surprisingly, beauty, in the form of personal finery, decorative clothes, and even flowers. Flowers were often removed from their altars inside the church, and statues or sculptures or artworks are often veiled as a recognition of the solemn nature of this time. As Lent came to an end, people were once again encouraged to celebrate, and the decorative bonnet became a symbol of this happy return to cheerful life.
10. And finally, hot cross buns. While the original recipe is a sweet spiced bun made with currants and sultanas, nowadays there are plenty of variations available, including chocolate chip! The perfect day (some say the only day) to eat a hot cross bun is Good Friday, as a tribute and a nod to the religious element of the Easter period. The ‘cross’ on the top of the bun is said to symbolise the cross of Jesus, but other sources suggest the cross is actually based upon the idea of the four quarters of the moon. (The dates of Easter being a moveable celebration determined by the lunar calendar. Easter always falls on the first Sunday following the full Moon after the 21st of March. If the Full Moon falls on a Sunday then Easter is the next Sunday.) Whatever the truth, the idea I like the most is that sharing a hot cross bun will bring wonderful friendships (not just with the person you are eating alongside, but with all) for the coming year. There is even a verse to recite while you ‘break bread’ together to add a touch of magic to this moment! Here it is:
“Half for you and half for me, Between us two shall goodwill be“
So today, if you are lucky enough to find a friend to share a hot cross bun with, take a moment to share this verse. You’ll be blessed with new blossoming friendships galore- a true reflection and gift of what the Easter time is all about. Caring, loving, and believing in one another. I like it. Don’t you?