Eggs in all colorful embellished varieties, fluffy bunnies, chicks, the hunt for hidden eggs and lots of chocolate. Combine all these and most people will know what you’re on about. Because these are the typical rituals involving the annual Easter celebrations.
Easter unlike other holidays, never falls on a set date but instead is celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox on March 21st. Easter can thus be celebrated anywhere between March 22 and April 25 each year.
As with most rituals, these Easter festivities find their origins in religion. Easter being one of Christianity’s most important holidays, celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But how do eggs and bunnies related to all this? Well, Easter celebration has borrowed some of its aspects from early pagan traditions which predate christianity by thousands of years.
Easter is named after a pagan (Saxon) goddess who was known by the names of Oestre, Eastre or Ostara depending on where you lived. She was a goddess of the dawn and the spring and her name, which literally means east, derives from words for dawn, the shining light arising from the east.
Ostara was the goddess of fertility and was responsible for heralding the end of winter, bringer lighter and longer days after the vernal equinox. Ostara had a passion for new life. Her influence could be felt in the flowering of plants and the birth of babies, both animal and human. The rabbit, know for its rapid reproduction skills, served as her sacred mascotte.
So it might come as no surprise that eggs and bunnies, both obvious symbols for fertility, became the representation of new growth during the spring fetes. These Easter celebrations filled with colourful and happy festivities aimed to inspire gratitude to mother earth and the environment in a beautiful and meaningful way.
Christianity assimilated the pagan festival of spring equinox and made the pagan Ostara a christian celebration. The name endured, and that is how the christian festival of Easter got its name.
The history of Easter eggs as a symbol of new life is obvious when you couple it with the pagan tradition as a symbol of fertility and new life. So these traits were adopted as well in Christianity although with a different meaning. Easter eggs (empty and decorated) in this narrative are a symbol for the empty tomb of Christ and are often colored red as a reminder of the sacred blood that Jesus Christ had shed. But even more so because in the early Christian calendar eggs were forbidden during Lent, a 40 day period of fasting. This made them extra appealing and delicious. The brightly colored eggs honor this celebration.
Easter celebrations all over the world involve, if you’re religious, attending mass at church followed by an elaborate celebratory brunch with lots of coloured eggs. Special foods and their association with pagan Easter are eggs for rebirth, ham for luck, lamb to mark sacrifice and cake and bread to symbolize fertility. Lamb is also a favorite and can be traced back to its Christian origin as in “The lamb of God”.
Colouring and embellishing eggs are another important tradition of Easter. Dyed eggs are given as gifts in many cultures. Decorated eggs bring with them a wish for the prosperity of the abundance during the coming year. The world famous Faberge eggs, made with gold, diamonds and other precious gemstones are in fact imperial Easter eggs which the Russian tsar had commissioned to be made as a gift to his mother and wife during Easter.
These days Easter is celebrated by many people all over the world, both religious and non-religious. It marks a time when families come together. To make it fun for the children the ritual involves colouring and decorating the eggs after which they are hidden in the garden by the parents. And if egg painting doesn’t conjure up any enthusiasm at your family table you can always fall back on chocolate…