Easter: Tradition melting pot
April 9, 2004
The American celebration of Easter is melting pot of Christian, Jewish, pagan and secular traditions. For Christians, it is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ and the reason Christianity exists.
After the weekly Sunday observances, Easter is considered the oldest of Christian holidays.
Beyond that beginning, the way we celebrate Easter borrows heavily from other traditions.
Even the name Easter is probably based on the ancient faiths of Europe. Scholars consider the likely sources to be the goddesses of fertility variously named Ostra, Ostern, Eostre and Eastre in Scandinavian, Saxon and Germanic traditions. They signify spring and fertility and their festivals were celebrated on the vernal (spring) equinox.
Truer to the origins of Christianity is another term for an Easter observance. Paschal derives from the Jewish Passover, or Pesach. The Last Supper ” the last meal that Jesus is reported to have eaten ” was the Jewish Passover, which also occurs in spring (this year Passover began at sunset April 5).
Early Christians, who were mostly Jewish, regarded Easter as a new feature of the eight-day Passover festival.
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As Christianity spread from its origins, its believers encountered a variety of spring holidays with themes of the reawakening, or rebirth, of nature. Over the centuries, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus absorbed many of the features of the pagan celebrations of spring’s rebirth.
Eggs occur in a variety of spring symbolism. They were often painted bright colors to represent the sunlight of spring and used in egg-rolling contests or given as gifts.
Decorated hard-boiled eggs are associated with the fertility goddess, Ostra. Her equinox celebration also included lighting new fires at dawn and ringing bells.
Gathering different colored eggs from the nests of a variety of birds is thought to be a predecessor of the traditional Easter egg hunt. The woven baskets the eggs are put into can be said to look like nests. Pysanky, exquisitely decorated Easter eggs from Ukraine, were originally used as amulets for fertility, prosperity and protection.
The Easter bunny also has pagan origins. The goddess Eostre’s patron animal was a hare. Both hares and rabbits have been fertility symbols since the days of ancient Egypt until today.
Easter means many things to many people through many ages. At it’s essence is renewal ofin spirit and in the earth. When is Easter? It’s not a simple answer