Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter - Why is it so?

I thought we'd take a closer look at the way Australians celebrate this holiday. For some people it's an important religious celebration for others it's about chocolate eggs and the Easter bunny. Here are some of the meanings behind our traditions.

This is what you might picture when you think of Easter. But what does a bunny, eggs and buns have in common? Well, there are meanings behind each one, so let's go on an Easter journey to find out.

Easter is one of the most sacred holidays on the Christian calendar. Good Friday represents the day Jesus Christ died on the cross and Easter Sunday is a celebration of when he rose from the dead. It's a time when families get together and go to church; some Christians will even fast, giving up something they really like for 40-days in the lead-up to Easter. This period is called 'Lent', and it's meant to teach sacrifice and self-discipline.

But Easter wasn't always a Christian festival; some people believe Easter traditions go back to the Pagan religion, which was more about nature. They reckon the festival was originally for the Pagan goddess of spring and fertility named Easter. And that's where they reckon the name might have come from. She's said to have brought new life to things like dying plants and flowers. Her sacred animal was a hare, which looks kind of like a rabbit. Okay, things are starting to fit into place a bit now, so let's go back to the bunny, eggs and the buns!

Hares featured in pagan Easter festivals because; well let's just say they're good at breeding, so the animal was thought to be best at representing new life. It's thought that over time people changed it to rabbit and that's why we see chocolate bunnies and even stuffed-toy rabbits around Easter time. In fact, the first edible bunnies were made in Germany in the 1800s out of pastry and sugar.

But it's not just the rabbits that have become a symbol of Easter, there are the eggs too! Eggs represent re-birth or continuing life and this fits in with the Christian message of Jesus rising. A common tradition is decorating actual eggs, which are then given as gifts. And it didn't take long for someone to work out that if you made them out of chocolate, you could make loads of money by selling them.

From eggs to hot cross buns! Whether you scoff them fresh or you take the time to toast them, they're traditionally eaten on Good Friday. Christians say the cross on the top of the bun represents Jesus' death on the cross, known as the crucifixion. But they weren't always eaten; some people hung them up in their homes believing it would protect them from evil. These days there are lots of hot cross bun varieties, like fruit and chocolate versions too!

In all modern Celtic languages the term for Easter is derived from Latin. In Brythonic languages this has yielded Welsh Pasg, Cornish and Breton Pask. In Goidelic languages the word was borrowed before these languages had re-developed the /p/ sound and as a result the initial /p/ was replaced with /k/. This yielded Irish Cáisc, Gaelic Càisg and Manx Caisht. These terms are normally used with the definite article in Goidelic languages, causing lenition in all cases: An Cháisc, A' Chàisg and Y Chaisht.

In 725, Bede succinctly wrote, "The Sunday following the full Moon which falls on or after the equinox will give the lawful Easter." However, this does not reflect the actual ecclesiastical rules precisely. One reason for this is that the full moon involved (called the Paschal full moon) is not an astronomical full moon, but the 14th day of a calendar lunar month. Another difference is that the astronomical vernal equinox is a natural astronomical phenomenon, which can fall on March 19, 20, or 21, while the ecclesiastical date is fixed by convention on March 21. In applying the ecclesiastical rules, Christian churches use March 21 as the starting point in determining the date of Easter, from which they find the next full moon, etc.

So now you know why people eat chocolate bunnies, eggs and hot cross buns, it might help you to remember the real reason behind the season.


LindaG said...

Just like Christmas. Very good article.

Maria said...

I live on the prairie. Sometimes we still have snow on the ground on Easter. I also hide my daughter's basket in our house so if I gave her hot cross buns I would have to slather them in plastic wrap so that they wouldn't draw mice or ants and so they wouldn't get hard over night. Plus, my partner would have a fit if I used plastic. She doesn't even know that I have it hidden in the bottom drawer in the kitchen since it isn't "green" and we are all about "green" in my house. This would be way too complicated. I think I will stick to jelly beans, malted milk balls and cream eggs.....

John Gray said...

I will go and hang my buns around the house immediately!

JohnD said...

JohnG - Your buns are always hanging around the house. Linda, Christmas has its own folklore - I'll do something closer to the event! Maria, it's a case of 'Horses for courses', so do your own thing.

Happy Easter to all!