By Sherry Allen
About 7 decades ago, when I was a little girl growing up in Oklahoma City, my favorite memories were of going with Mother to buy eggs and the dye with which to decorate them. And then we were off to buy my new Easter Sunday dress clothes. When we returned home, Mother and I would decorate all our eggs together. We had dye all over the kitchen and had filled every bowl in the kitchen with different colors! Some time during the evening, all those eggs would mysteriously be hidden in the back yard. I guessed that the Easter Bunny came into the kitchen & moved them all out there & hid them for me & my cousins to find at the Easter Egg Hunt on Sunday afternoon after church. What a great time we had finding all those eggs! I still remember the squeals of excitement each time we found one!
To this day, I still don’t quite understand how the Easter Bunny and those eggs are associated with our risen Lord! But then I thought: Spring is the season of rejuvenation, rejoicing and renewal and provides a basketful of new promises and gifts.
Nature discards its weary winter look to wear a brand-new outfit. The blooming flowers bring back the beauty of plant life on earth. Can there be a better day for fun and fiesta? To have your family reunited? Friendship and love renewed? And feelings shared?
Since I still have a lot of questions regarding this holiday, I decided to further investigate. Here is what I found out about the history of Easter.
Easter is a festival of overwhelming joy. The joy that celebrates life. Or, rather, the victory of life over death. It celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, from His tomb.
Easter week is the holiest week for Christians, and each day of this week is special. It starts with Palm Sunday and ends with Easter Sunday. The holy period of Lent covers it all.
Easter is one of the holiest Christian occasions. It is celebrated by Christians across the world. However, the fun-filled air of the event has caught on with the kids across the globe, and frequently it is seen celebrated by people of other faiths too.
The origins of Easter date to the beginnings of Christianity, and it is probably the oldest Christian observance after the Sabbath (observed on Saturday). Many of the cultural historians find the celebration of Easter as a convergence of three traditions-Pagan, Hebrew and Christian. It is said that the early Christian Passover (Pascha) was a unitive celebration in memory of the passion-death-resurrection of Jesus. The Easter celebration became a holiday to honor Christ that remains today.
It was during this Passover in 30 AD that Christ was crucified under the order of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate because the Jewish high priests accused Jesus of “blasphemy”. The resurrection came three days later, on the Easter Sunday. The early Christians, many of them being brought up in Jewish tradition regarded Easter as a new feature of the Pascha (Passover). It was observed in memory of the advent of the Messiah, as foretold by the prophets.
At the same time many of the pagan spring rites came to be a part of its celebration. The Feast of Easter was well established by the second century.
The English name “Easter” is much newer. When the early English Christians wanted others to accept Christianity, they decided to use the name Easter for this holiday so that it would match the name of the old spring celebration. It was thought that this made it more comfortable for other people to accept Christianity.
Easter did not enjoy the status of a popular festival among the early settlers in America because most of them were Puritans or members of Protestant Churches who had little use for the ceremonies of any religious festivals.
It wasn’t until the period of the Civil War that the message and meaning of Easter began to be expressed as it had been in Europe. It was due to the Presbyterians’ belief that due to all the scars of death and destruction that this holiday would lead people back to the story of resurrection as a great source of inspiration and renewed hope.
Now to my burning question: Why the Easter bunny & eggs?? The bountiful Easter bunnies have become the most favorite Easter symbol. It is both universal and secular in its appeal, and it relates to Easter historically. But it is the hare, and not the rabbit, that should be treated as the true symbol of Easter. This is based on the legend that says that the hare never closes its eyes, not even for a single blink! And hares were beloved by the ancient Egyptians because they were believed to be watching the full moon through opened eyes throughout the night.
Also, the hare and eggs have been associated with the Anglo-Saxon spring goddess Eostre. Possibly, this is because they both were regarded to be emblems of fertility.
The German immigrants, who brought in most of the Teutonic Easter traditions here, made rabbits (not hares) popular among the non-German kids. The German children used to have rabbit’s nests filled with decorated eggs. They also used to build nests that looked so attractive that even the non-German kids demanded such gifts on the Easter.
Now for the “decorated eggs” question. In Christian times, the egg was a symbol of new life just as a chick might hatch from the egg.
In Medieval Europe, eggs were forbidden during Lent as well as other traditional fast days. During the strict Lenten fast of forty days, no eggs were eaten. The Easter egg tradition may have celebrated the end of the privations of Lent. Eggs were a mainstay of Easter meals, and a prized Easter gift for children and servants. And this is probably the reason why eggs came to be associated with Easter.
In Europe, most all believed in using the egg as a symbol of the regenerative forces of nature. Later during the Christian period, it was believed that eggs laid on Good Friday, if kept for a hundred years, would have their yolks turn to diamond. If Good Friday eggs were cooked on Easter, they would promote the fertility of the trees and crops and protect against sudden deaths. And, if you would find two yolks in an Easter egg, be sure, you’re going to be rich soon.
The egg is said to be symbolic of the grave and life renewed by breaking out of it. An Orthodox tradition related with Easter celebrations is the presenting of red colored eggs to friends while giving Easter greetings. The red symbolizes the blood of Christ redeeming the world, represented by the egg, and our regeneration through the blood shed for us by Christ. The egg itself is a symbol of the Resurrection. While dormant, it contains a new life sealed within it.
There are more Easter symbols and many more traditions throughout the world…too numerous to cover here. Though all this history and these traditions are fascinating, the fact remains that this special holiday’s main purpose is to honor our risen Lord and to celebrate the creation of a new life in Him! Let’s never forget that this is a time for celebrating, with our family and friends, the abundance of blessings, love and joy in our lives. And, above all else, remember the extreme sacrifice our Lord made to provide all these blessings to all who trust and believe in Him!
May the Risen Christ bring you and your family abundant happiness! Have a blessed Easter!