With the welcomed arrival of Spring now upon us, it stands to reason that the festival of Easter is also just around the corner. Although the date for Easter is what’s known as (what is now a well coined phrase) a “moveable feast”. The date is calculated as the first Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring equinox (hope you’re following OK?) It’s usually around early April, but can be a little earlier or later than that.
If you ask someone to define Easter, then would likely say that is a Christian festival that celebrates Jesus dying for us and rising again from the dead. On Good Friday we remember Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion and then on Easter Sunday we celebrate his resurrection.
Of course, it is likely that Christianity has chosen the date to celebrate Easter to coincide with a pre-Christian festival that was called Eostre (which is where we derive the word Easter from). Eostre was the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Springtime and hence the festival originally celebrated her emergence, symbolising the coming of Spring.
The Jewish celebration of Passover is also celebrated around this time, when Jews give thanks for being delivered from slavery and for the passing over of the Angel of Death sent to Egypt.
As well as religious significance, Easter has many traditions – some familiar to us and others not so. For instance, in Corfu, Greece, they throw clay pots out of their windows at Easter (maybe an Easter stroll best avoided there on that day!)
In Scandinavia, children dress up in similar costumes to Halloween and call around asking for donations of sweets.
In the US and UK, Easter Egg hunts are popular, with children wandering around in an attempt to collect as many of the confectionary goodies as possible.
Meanwhile, it’s far easier to get your Easter chocolate fix in Austria, Germany and Switzerland as eggs are hung from trees for children to find.
Easter Eggs weren’t originally chocolate – they were, well, eggs! It’s obvious to see why eggs were embraced into the festival – after all, they are a symbol of Springtime – of new birth and new life. The custom of decorating the eggs was part of the celebration of the end to the Lenten fasting.
Did you know that a well-known chocolate company produces 500 million of their individual eggs every year? Not bad going, when you consider that the first chocolate eggs were only created in the 1870s – they obviously caught on fast! Chocolate Easter Eggs are now big business – to the tune of almost £400million being spent on them in the UK and $2 billion in the USA – wow that’s some sugar rush right!!
As well as eggs, we can’t forget bunnies – namely, the Easter Bunny, who brings the delicious treats in the form of Easter Eggs. Although, if you’re in Germany, it’s more likely that a fox will bring you eggs, whereas in Switzerland it’ll be a cuckoo. Perhaps the most unusual Easter Bunny alternative though comes from Australia, where the Bilby is the bringer of the yummy fayre.
Easter does seem to be a time to enjoy sweet goodies. There’s Simnel Cake (which is a UK and Irish treat) – it’s a fruit cake, decorated with marzipan and has 11 balls of marzipan on the top to represent Jesus’ 11 Apostles (leaving out Judas Iscariot).
Where’s there’s cake, there must also be buns and Hot Cross Buns are a famous Easter speciality. These fruity, yeasty breads, are thought to have been eaten long before Easter was a Christian festival, but were adopted by Greek Christians by the adding of a cross back in 6AD.
Interestingly, folklore surrounds the Hot Cross Bun – it is said that Hot Cross Buns made on Good Friday will keep fresh all year (don’t think I’d wish to test that theory somehow…) Also hanging a Hot Cross Bun in the kitchen helps protect your abode from evil. Such was belief in the power of the Buns that sailors even took them on voyages to protect them against shipwrecks!
After consuming all those goodies, it might be a squeeze to get into your new Easter clothes – this is a tradition that said wearing new clothes at Easter would bring you good luck for the coming year and is thought to have been the beginning of the famous Easter Parade, along with the Easter Bonnet – competitions are often held where the bonnets are judged and prizes awarded for the best ones.
Yet another component of Easter is the good old Easter Basket – very handy when it comes to collecting all those Easter Eggs!! The Easter Basket represents a nest, which again ties in with our theme of new birth, new life and Springtime. The same is true for Easter Chicks, which have also become a classic sign of the season.
Indeed, in some parts of the world, Easter is viewed as the most important festival of all (above Christmas dare I say it!) Certainly, it’s a multi-faceted celebration, but the themes are clear – new life, new birth, new beginnings – something we are all hoping for especially now.