In keeping with the holiday spirit, an article about Easter seemed like the right fit. Easter is, perhaps, one of the most complicated holidays to follow, as it has no set schedule. Easter can fall anywhere from the end of March until the end of April. This ever changing date, along with the odd assortment of quirky traditions used to celebrate it, also makes Easter one of the most intriguing holidays.
The date set for Easter fluctuates from year to year. This is because it follows a lunar schedule. In the year 325 the ancient council of Nicaea set the convoluted date. Easter falls on the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the spring equinox. The actual date of Easter can be any Sunday between March 22nd all the way until April 25th. This incredibly complicated schedule is derived to coincide with the pagan Spring festivals.
In pagan tradition, Spring is considered a time of rebirth and life. Spring is when plans begin to bloom anew and days become longer as well as warmer. It’s in these pagan roots that we find the answer as to where some of these queer little traditions such as decorating and hiding the Easter egg, the idea of the Easter rabbit, even the name of the holiday itself came into being.
When Easter was first declared a holiday, the name was taken from the pagan goddess “Easter”. According to pagans, Easter is the goddess of Fertility. She was often seen with a rabbit at her side. Rabbits, in pagan belief, are symbols of fertility as well… go figure. So now, just from analyzing the name alone, we can see where the Easter Rabbit’s origins lie as well.
Although, the Easter hare, or rabbit, depending on your country of origin, did not begin distributing baskets of eggs until the seventeenth century and because of this, scholars are not certain how this tradition got started. Some speculate that the Easter rabbit is descended from folktales about the antics of hares, whose breeding season begins in March and who have been documented as performing crazy antics during this time… and what’s crazier than a magical egg laying bunny?
So why is it customary to color and hide eggs? During the celebration of the vernal equinox, people would make offerings of eggs colored to match the light of spring to the goddess Easter. The egg is a pagan symbol for rebirth, and many early pagans would lay these colored eggs at the site of a grave. Scholars believe this may have been some sort of charm for rebirth of loved ones, but it kind of also puts a damper on the whole hiding of the eggs tradition.
The traditional Easter Basket finds its roots hand in hand with those of the Easter Eggs. The initial baskets were filled with eggs to be presented during the festivals. The addition of candy to Easter baskets didn’t come until the 1870’s when the candy business introduced new lines of Easter themed goodies, thank goodness for that!
Easter is also associated with wearing new clothes. Since Easter is a holiday of rebirth and new life, it makes sense that it is customary to wear new clothing during the holiday. New clothes used to be harder to come by than just going for a quick trip to the mall. In early traditions, Easter would’ve probably been one of the few times a year that a person received a new outfit. Therefore, these new clothes could easily be thought to represent a new beginning.
Easter also marks the end of Lent, a forty-night period associated with fasting. As such each year many people settle in for the traditional Easter dinner or feast, here it’s usually baked ham and potato salad, deviled eggs and the like. However, some customs dictate that lamb should be consumed while others associate lung soup as the primary meal. As you can see, the customary feast varies from culture to culture, but the feast itself is the same throughout traditions.
Alright, so that’s the Easter bunny, the Easter egg and the name Easter itself, all derived from pagan traditions dating back long before Jesus walked the earth. Please don’t take that as a jab at Jesus or the Christian faith. It would be difficult to convert a mass amount of people from one way of thinking to another without finding a middle ground. It just so happened that pagans had a holiday that had been celebrated for centuries, and the story of Jesus fit the celebrations perfectly. What better way to celebrate the rebirth of a savior, than traditions of life and rebirth that had already been established?
Modern Easter traditions may be modeled after ancient pagan customs, but Easter is now mostly associated with the death and resurrection of the Christian savior Jesus Christ. Therefore, it makes sense that these symbols carried over during the religious conversion. Whatever your spiritual beliefs, I’m sure that we can all agree that the whole concept of the Easter holiday is not only complicated, but also extremely fascinating!
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