The Folklore Behind Easter

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Fertility, rebirth, and resurrections have been apart of human culture since the dawn of civilization.  The bunny and the egg are universal symbols representing fertility and rebirth. Cultures throughout time have been celebrating the rebirth of life by paying homage to old gods and goddesses of spring, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus, or still pondering the unsolved philosophical question, “which came first the chicken or the egg?”.

220px-Punic_ostrich_egg_from_Villaricos_(M.A.N._1935-4-VILL-T.609-7)_01

A decorated ostrich egg over 60,000 years old

Ostara or Eostre

Anglo-Saxons were Germanic inhabitants of Europe between the 5th and 11th century until the Norman Conquest.  Before the 8th century, Eostre was a Saxon goddess of Dawn and Spring. The hare was considered to be her sacred animal representing fertility and the egg was a symbol for rebirth.  The Scandinavians of this time period referred to her as Ostra and those who lived in the area now known as Germany called her Ostara. In Germany today they celebrate Ostern which is Easter to the english speaking world.  There were many other gods and goddesses worshiped by ancient cultures during the spring equinox around the Mediterranean Sea, but Eostre is so far the only pagan goddess that has a direct influence on the modern holiday Easter.

ostara_by_johannes_gehrts

Passover

In Judaism, Passover is one of the three Shalosh Regalim, or 3 pilgrimage festivals.  People would gather in Jerusalem at springtime with their agricultural offerings. On the first night of Passover a seder (order) meal that has 15 separate steps in a traditional order is prepared.  At sometime during the seder the telling of the story of Exodus from Egypt and the first Pesach (Passover) is told. The seder ritual objects can vary by tradition but most common are a shank bone, lettuce, an egg, greens, a bitter herb, and a mixture of apples, nuts and spices.  The egg represents the Passover offering of ancient days as well as the wholeness and continuing cycle of life.

A Ukrainina 19th century seder table

The Resurrection of Jesus

Christians celebrate Easter as a remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus was crucified and resurrected during Passover. In 325 AD the Council of Nicaea determined that Easter should be the Sunday that follows the first moon, after the Spring Equinox.  On the Gregorian calendar, (named after Pope Gregory XIII) that would fall between 22nd of March and 25th of April. The Christian custom of Easter eggs started with early Christians of Mesopotamia who colored eggs red to represent the blood of Christ.

Red_Paschal_Egg_with_Cross

 

The Easter Bunny

The Easter Bunny is the egg-laying bunny that leaves colored Easter eggs on Easter Sunday.  In the 1700’s German immigrants brought this tradition into America. The parents told their children to use their bonnets or caps as nests and leave them out at night before going to bed and if they were good, the Easter Bunny (Oschter Haws or Osterhase) would leave them eggs in their nests.  Eventually traditions evolved where the egg-laying bunny would lay and hide the eggs for the children to hunt.

no evil bunnies

Final Thoughts…

For those of you who have been losing sleep over the metaphysical question,  “which came first, the chicken or the egg?”. It’s simple of course; the magical bunny laid the egg and out hatched the chicken.  Now you can get some sleep and have a good night.

funny bunny

References

Patterson, R. (2011, April 19). Is the Name “Easter” of Pagan Origin? Retrieved April 25,      2018, from  https://answersingenesis.org/holidays/easter/is-the-name-easter-of-pagan-origin/

The Pagan origins of Easter. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.religioustolerance.org/easter1.htm

Ēostre. (2018, April 18). Retrieved April 25, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ēostre

(n.d.). Retrieved from http://archives.adventistreview.org/article/1062/archives/issue-2007-1509/jews-revive-the-sanhedrin-with-plans-for-a-passover-sacrifice/adventists-and-easter

Passover: Customs and Rituals. (2018, February 06). Retrieved April 25, 2018, from https://reformjudaism.org/passover-customs-and-rituals

Easter egg. (2018, April 20). Retrieved April 25, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_egg

Travers, P., & ABC Radio Canberra. (2017, April 13). Origin of Easter: From pagan rituals to bunnies and chocolate eggs. Retrieved April 25, 2018, from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-04-15/the-origins-of-easter-from-pagan-roots-to-chocolate-eggs/8440134

Origins of Easter. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2018, from https://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2017/04/13/origins-of-easter.html

Origin Of Easter. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2018, from https://www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/origin-of-easter.htm

Is it true that the name Easter is pagan in origin? (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2018, from https://billygraham.org/answer/is-it-true-that-the-name-easter-is-pagan-in-origin/

Sifferlin, A. (2015, April 01). Easter Bunny: The Origins of Easter Day’s Rabbit. Retrieved April 25, 2018, from http://time.com/3767518/easter-bunny-origins-history/

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One thought on “The Folklore Behind Easter

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