If you were not raised in a religious household, Easter may be a little strange to you. Most people know that Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus, but what does that have to do with bunnies, baskets, and whips? Whips? We’ll get to that later.
In Christianity Easter is by far the most important holiday. Most people know that Easter is about Christ rising from the grave, but to Christians Easter is more than that; Easter is a celebration of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, his meditation, his crucifixion, his resurrection and ascent. If you have heard of the phrase “A Moveable Feast” in reference to Easter this is because Easter is at a different time every year. It lands some time between March 22 and April 25. In the western Church, Easter falls on the first full moon after the vernal equinox following the Gregorian calendar. For Orthodox Christians, Easter typically falls a week or two after the Western Christians because they follow the the Julian calendar.
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Easter is also much more than a single day. The celebration is seasonal and it begins with Fat Tuesday, the day before lent. Fat Tuesday is the party, but Lent is just as important, but not always as much fun. Lent is a forty day observation of reflection and penance, it represents the 40 days that Jesus spent in the woods before beginning his ministry. The week before Easter Sunday is called the holy week. Days within the week represent days leading up to Christ’s crucifixion. Maundy Thursday is to remember The Last Supper. Good Friday is the day of the Crucifixion. Holy Saturday is the transition between the crucifixion and the resurrection, and Sunday is the Resurrection and the beginning of Eastertide: the 50 day celebration of Jesus’ ascent into heaven. For many people this is the time to pray and to reflect.
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But what about those traditions and symbols that are not biblical?Like Easter egg hunts and rabbits?
The name Easter has a blended or argued origin. Easter is said to be from the name Eostre, a Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility. The name could also be from the Latin term hebdomada alba (white week) a name for the color of the robes worn by those who had been baptized. In Spain and France, the name is Pascua and Paques which comes from Pascha which means Passover. Jesus had travelled to Jerusalem before the time of his crucifixion to celebrate the Passover. Regardless of the name’s origin Easter is strongly tied to many cultures.
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Bunnies, eggs and candies- Oh My!
The rabbit is not in the bible and neither is the egg, yet they are both represented during the celebration. The rabbit is known to be a prolific bunny maker. It has long been a symbol of fertility and new life. The Easter bunny was thought to be brought to the U.S. by German immigrants who had a hare called the Ostehase, an egg laying rabbit. Children would make nests for the rabbit for him/her to leave some colored eggs.
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Speaking of eggs: The egg is very pagan. Since ancient times the egg has represented new life and has always been used in traditions celebrating spring. In the Christian perspective the egg represents Jesus emerging from the tomb, and resurrection, but historically speaking the egg belongs to the pagans (well… the egg belongs to the chicken, but we’re talking symbolism here).
The painting and dying of eggs may have started around the 13th century. One theory is that the egg was given up for lent. It was painted in celebration and eaten on Sunday.
Candy, eat it up yum! Easter is the second largest candy selling time in the U.S.. Chocolate Rabbits and eggs, and jelly beans. There is no real why for this other than maybe after giving up for lent it seemed a logical or welcomed dessert. Chocolate had been joining Easter since the 1800′s, but it was in the 1930′s that Jelly Beans joined the gang, and the last new treat to join was in 1950 with the introduction of Peeps.
In the U.S. we dress up in our Easter dresses and suite for Easter Sunday sermons. We eat ham or lamb for an early dinner, and then have an Easter egg hunt. The hunts can be broken down into individual family traditions, some hunt real colored eggs, others hunt plastic eggs filled with candy, and sometimes a lucky child can find an egg filled with money. At the White House, the Monday following Easter, is the annual Easter egg roll started in 1878, and of course the New York Easter Parade.
The Easter parade began in the 1800′s when wealthy socialites paraded home from church showing off their fancy hats and clothing. They were later invaded by the “common” folk who also wanted to join in the Parade. In 1948 Easter Parade came out, a movie starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, with music by Irving Berlin, this movie helped to solidify the tradition.
And around the World? There are far too many traditions to put here on our little store blog, but we wanted to share a few that we found, and some that we know of first hand.
In Bermuda, they celebrate by flying kites, and eating codfish cakes, and hot cross buns. In Norway, they have something called Easter-crime or Paaskekrim. This is the time that the Norwegians catch up on their detective crime reading and crime drama. For the weekend they head up to the mountains for some skiing and yahtzee. We have no idea how that tradition began, but we’d go with it, who doesn’t love yahtzee? In various parts of Western Europe there are huge bonfires, where people gather to eat snacks, and drink gin or lager or both simultaneously.
- Image 5http://www.planetneptune.com/
In Sweden, they eat eggs, herring, and a dish called Jansson’s Temptation. We are not sure the temptation, since it is made of potato, onion and pickled sardines baked in cream. Children dress like Easter witches by donning old and discarded clothing, then they traverse from house to house trading paintings and drawings for sweets. In Haiti, they have parades and play traditional ”rara” music that uses instruments of bamboo trumpets, maracas, drums and coffee cans. The celebration is a combination of Catholic and Voodoo traditions, there are church prayers and animal sacrifice (most likely not together).
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In Verges, Spain, in a parade similar to the Day of the Dead the people dress like skeletons carrying boxes of ash and wander through the city. At midnight the Death Dance begins, a huge dance party that officially lasts three hours, but we surmise it probably unofficially goes on till dawn. In Haux, France, they make a huge omelette out in the middle of the street that everyone shares.
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Giant Easter Omelette
In The Czech Republic the males of the country throw water on women, and then “beat” them with homemade whips made from willow and decorated with ribbons, after the holiday spanking the women surrender an egg. Hmmm… fertility symbolism anyone?
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Not an Easter tradition, but still surrounded around the story of Jesus, during what is now the Easter time, is the Passion Play. In Oberammergau, Germany, dating back to 1634, the city has been performing the Passion Play. It comes once every ten years. The last performance was in 2010. It is the story of Christ and his Crucifixion. The entire city of Oberammergau, plus neighboring Bavarian cities and towns participate in the historic event chronicling the last days of Jesus.
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All this talk of traditions in different cultures cause’s an ache to do some traveling! Doesn’t it?
Where ever you are and however you celebrate we wish you a Happy Easter.
If you are curious to learn more you can check our sources here, here, uh here, and of course, if you can, see the Passion Play. We can tell you after living in Germany during the time of the last Passion Play this writer is kicking, kicking, themselves for missing theatrical history.
Image 1: Bulgarian Online Tourism- http://btourism.com/
Image 2 & 4: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/easter
Image 3: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C4%92ostre
Image 5: Planet neptune geotravels- http://www.planetneptune.com/
Image 6: Food.com- http://www.food.com/recipe/janssons-temptation-swedish-potato-and-anchovy-casserole-196655
Image 7: Hypervocal- http://hypervocal.com/news/2012/france-haux-omelet-5212-eggs-world-record-2/# giant omelette
Image 8: Guiri Guide to Prague- http://guiriguidetoprague.com/2011/04/20/a-good-whippin-czech-easter/
Image 9: Travel Wonders- http://travel-wonders.com/2009/08/21/a-timeless-promise-oberammergau-germany/