Welcome to Easter, Christianities most important feast of the year. I’m not going to sit here and preach about what this holiday is all about, I am sure that we all can agree on its importance to Christianity. What I can tell you, are some things about the origins of Easter, yes I said the origins of Easter.
The festival of Easter like many Christian holidays has a mix of pagan traditions, the origin of its name is unknown, it is thought than one possible origin is from Estre the name of an Anglo-Saxon Germanic Goddess of spring and fertility. The festival of Estre was celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox, the first day of spring. Such festivals, and the stories and legends that explain their origin, were common in ancient religions. A Greek legend tells of the return of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, goddess of the earth, from the underworld to the light of day; her return symbolized to the ancient Greeks the resurrection of life in the spring after the desolation of winter. Many ancient peoples shared similar legends. Wiccans and other neo-pagans continue to hold festivals in celebration of the arrival of spring.
Scholars also emphasize the original relation of Easter to the Jewish festival of Passover, or Pesach, which celebrates the liberation of the Jews from bondage in Egypt. The early Christians, many of whom were of Jewish origin, were brought up in the Hebrew tradition and regarded Easter as a new feature of the Passover festival—a commemoration of the advent of the messiah as foretold by the prophets. The term paschal, meaning “of Easter,” is derived from the name of the Jewish festival, as are the names of Easter in some European languages. In Greek, Easter is called Pascha; in French, Pâques; in Spanish, Pascua; and in Italian, Pasqua.
Rooted in ancient tradition and centered on church services, Easter is primarily a religious festival. However, many customs of the season are less serious in nature and have more to do with the beginning of spring. Many of the traditional ways to celebrate Easter come from the festival of Estre, is were the Easter rabbit a symbol of fertility and colored eggs come from. Eggs were originally colored with bright colors to represent the sunlight of spring, and were used in egg rolling contests and were also given as gifts. Today painting eggs in bright colors with pretty designs is a popular pastime that particularly delights children. Other customs include various Easter foods, the practice of wearing new clothes on Easter Sunday, and the traditional Easter egg hunts and Easter rabbits. The tradition of wearing of new clothes on Easter rests entirely on the shoulders of the church, so when you have to go out spend hundreds of dollars on new clothes for your family you know just who to blame. The congregation members that were baptized on Holy Saturday were given new white robes to wear. Other members of the congregation, recalling their baptism would also put on new garments to join in on the occasion of their fellow parishioners baptism. The procession of these people made up what would become Easter parades, the most famous parades are those held on New York City’s Fifth Avenue.
In some parts of Europe huge bonfires are lighted on hilltops and in churchyards on the eve of Easter. They are sometimes called Judas fires, because effigies of Judas Iscariot are frequently burned in them. The Easter eve bonfires predate Christianity and were originally intended to celebrate the arrival of spring. The burning effigy once symbolized winter.
As I sit here thinking of this holiday I am reminded of how I spent Easter last year, driving. My Easter dinner consisted of a ham and cheese sandwich and a can of roasted rib soup; from Campbell’s of course, I wonder what the poor people are eating. I sat back tuned in my TV and tried to see what was on running the day through my mind. I watched for split seconds as children filed out into their front yards and as others held their hands high in their excitement showing off the newly discovered eggs and candy. Others are immerging from church carrying their small children with that haggard look of spending too much time chasing the little one around and through the pews. Every now and again I would watch as a family dressed in their Sunday best sped past me the little ones with their heads tilted to one side sound asleep. Couples slid by me holding hands and looking lovingly at each other, as if they had been reminded of the very first time they had seen the other. I couldn’t help but wonder what it was that had gotten into them. I am sure that it could have been the sermon that they had just listen to or perhaps it was seeing themselves in their children or grandchildren, whatever it was the day was full of them. I think that there were some of the older couples that passed me by that may have gotten me bit choked up.
For the most part I grew up with the same traditional Easter as many other children around the world, filled with church, egg hunts, small baskets with plastic grass filled with candy, chocolate eggs and bunnies with colorful eyes, the knowledge that Peter Cottontail would be hopping down the bunny trail and bringing me my little basket of grass filled candy. Just how giving painted eggs moved as to giving children yet another day filled with little sugar bombs allowing us to bounce off the walls is beyond me but it happened and here we are. Pictures with the Easter bunny when we could afford them, well actually, I don’t think we ever did get those kind of pictures taken.
My mom always likes to tell about the time that she had gone out and bought me a new brown suit for Easter mass. For some reason, that escapes me right now, I was allowed to wear it before Easter Sunday, why she would have allowed me to do that, let alone play it, is I think to this day still a mystery even to her. Being a boy I was as hard on my clothes as any, if you wanted to wear out a pair of jeans in a hurry I was your boy, so what she was thinking that day, only she could say. Well, as you can imagine, it was only a matter of time before I was called back inside allowing me to show off my new suit complete with holes at each knee. Needless to say, my mom was not the happiest camper on the block, nor was she the happiest mother. If you listened really close as I stood in front her, you probably would have heard her calculating the cost of the suit with the amount of time spent on my body, coming up with just how much it cost her per minute before I tore the pants. Not to be out done by my total disregard of the suit, or was it that I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to wear the buster brown looking outfit to church, I walked into church wearing the most casual looking three piece suit in the world. I, dressed in my white shirt, tie, vest, and suit coat, walked into the Methodist church of, well, anyway, wearing, what my mom would no doubt say, the cutest pair of shorts in church, that Easter Sunday anyway.
Unlike Christmastime, where you run downstairs and jump into your pile of presents and then go to church we children were forced to get dressed in our Easter best driven off to church, expected to sit quietly for several hours of a lengthy program, well maybe it is only two or three hours, but someone that is bursting to get at those plastic grass baskets it seems an eternity. For that and for whatever other reasons that can be used egg hunts are never before church, I guess in my instance it was so I wouldn’t be tearing any holes in my pants before church.
Peter Cottontail spends his night placing eggs around your house or in your yard depending on the weather, leaving maps and counts for parents, so they know how many and where they are hidden in case hints are needed to find them. After church there is a lull in the festivities as we spin through our plastic grass baskets for jelly beans and those little chocolate eggs looking for our favorite color jelly bean from the year before, malted milk balls melting in our hands as we bit off an ear of the chocolate bunny that was always the tallest piece of candy in our basket. It was just a matter of time before we were pulled away from those baskets and led to a central point and given our instructions for the egg hunt.
Now the older kids were supposed to look out for the younger ones and see to it that everyone was allowed to find the Easter eggs, I know what you’re thinking, did that ever really happen well it was supposed to work that way. The hunt would always last until it was time for dinner no matter how many eggs were hidden around the house or in the yard, depending on how big your family was or how many family friends were over it could have been huge. As the little ones began to wonder if they were ever going to find any eggs, the older ones were picking off all the easy to find, out in the open, left behind so that the toddlers could find them. It wouldn’t be long before a parent was racking there memory trying to remember where they hid one of the eggs that hadn’t been found yet. Even with the maps and the counts there was always at least one egg that was never found. I know that it happened in my house more often than I or my parents can remember. What never ceases to amaze me is that they were never found even those that were lost inside the house, you’d think that it would smell eventually. As for those that were lost outside, I guess they were no doubt carried off by some small animal, can you imagine the look of the squirrels eyes as he looks at that egg and sees food for his family for a week as he rolls it off to his hiding spot he begins to laugh at the rest of the squirrels as they pick through the pine cones and acorns looking for the right ones to take to their family. The problem of course that in a week it is going to be spoiled, the smell wafting through his home while his mate is trying to figure out where that smell is coming from, I don’t think that once the smell is found that it would be that easy to get rid off. The nagging that must have been going on in that squirrels home must have been something for the record books.
So to you my family and friends, on this Easter day when you sit down to your dinner think of the reason for this holiday, and try and remember where that lost egg is hidden before it begins to smell up your home. Take your little ones into arms before they start bouncing off the walls, or if you missed it, just before they fall asleep and give them the hug that they want and need. Raise up your glass to your friends and family and invite them in to share in your dinner. As for me I will be sitting somewhere with my ham sandwich and roasted rib soup, well maybe this year it will be split pea soup, and trying to sweat out a cold that I happened on.