Easter is a time for bunnies and bonnets. It’s the time of the year when florists stock Easter lilies and the fields are ablaze with the gold of daffodils. Easter is a time for ancient customs and new beginnings.
Easter is named after the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of the dawn and spring – Eostre. Like many Christian customs it is based on the old pagan ones. It is very difficult, therefore, to differentiate between ancient beliefs and the more modern celebrations. The early church leaders were wise enough to take such pagan practices and use their celebrations as the basis for Christian festivals.
The festival of Eostre was the time the pagans celebrated the coming of spring after the dark days of winter. Easter, like that old pagan practice, is about new life and resurrection.
Today a banana is often cited as the perfect convenience food because it is wrapped as only nature can wrap something. The same, of course, applies to an egg. The Easter egg, though, symbolizes not only new birth but the very world’s beginning as it broke out of its shell. It is not surprising then that eggs were given as gifts at a time of the year when rebirth was to be seen everywhere. As with Valentine cards, eggs have become more and more beautifully painted and decorated over the years. The rich gilded theirs with gold while poorer people painted theirs or decorated them with flowers.
Those who celebrate Easter today may not know that the Pagans worshipped the Goddess Eostre through her earthly symbol the rabbit. The rabbit or hare, as it used to be, is a symbol of fertility and of course spring is the season of new birth. However, while we celebrate the Easter bunny it’s not the same everywhere. In Switzerland, for instance, it‘s not surprising that the cuckoo, not the rabbit, brings the Easter eggs. The eggs we give today are usually made of chocolate and come in many extravagant boxes and with different kinds of fillings. They cost millions of euros but at what price to the producers of the cocoa? Research has shown that there are 284,000 children used as slave labour on the cocoa farms in West Africa. If we buy Easter eggs supplied by multi-nationals who exploit these children we are, in effect, doing the same thing.
Younger children, of course, do not know where the Easter Bunny shops. Older ones, though, can learn of the misery of other children and do something about it. So why not spread the news that everyone should buy Fairtrade chocolate? In that way you would be helping third world children as well as those with a sweet tooth. Easter is also a time when children traditionally search their homes, gardens and even communities for eggs hidden by the Easter Bunny.
Of course, in many countries ordinary eggs are hardboiled and decorated and hidden in various place for the children to find. Flowers sellers often sell pussy willows with daffodils at Easter. There was an ancient custom that to be tapped by someone with a willow was a sign that spring had officially arrived. Egg rolling takes place in many places, the most notable being in the White House every year.
Most of us today buy new clothes at Christmas but historically it was in the brighter days of Easter that encouraged people to get dressed up and wear their new clothes. That’s how we got the custom of the Easter Bonnet. Easter parades then became part of the festival, a time for exuberance and flowers and, naturally, the Mardi Gras. In contrast, in Ireland, Easter is the time for a military parade commemorating the fact that patriots had declared Ireland a republic and not subject to foreign rule.
Perhaps the most famous film about Easter is ‘Easter Parade’ starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland. Their light-footed dancing seems to encompass the energy of Spring. Today Easter is a holiday and many celebrate by going on vacation. The most obvious place to go might be Easter Island in the South Pacific Ocean which was discovered by an explorer Admiral Roggeveen and named by him for the day he landed.
Whatever we do or wherever we find those hidden Easter eggs we are continuing a tradition that started back in Pagan times. It proves that even today spring calls to each and every one of us.