MUNCIE, Indiana – Easter is a fascinating holiday tradition filled with both religion and the secular; paganism, Judaism and Christianity. Depending on the language you speak or where you live, it will have different meanings. One fairly constant symbol is it means “life”, or “new life”.
We had to dig a bit looking for an accurate meaning of Easter, since many informational sites have adopted the Christian version of Easter, but this would leave out the true meaning which goes well beyond the Christian religion.
Some would say that Easter came from the word, Eostre (also known as Ostara), an ancient Anglo-Saxon Goddess. She symbolized the rebirth of the day at dawn and the rebirth of life in the spring. Many cultures celebrated the coming of spring so as Christianity spread, these traditions were joined together to practice one festival.
In every other language but English and German, Easter is derived from the Hebrew word pesach for ‘he passed over’. The church proclaimed Easter be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on, or after the Vernal Equinox. This date was determined by noting that the Last Supper, as Christians came to know it, was actually a Passover seder, and Jesus’ resurrection occurred on that Sunday.
A further connection to Passover is the celebration of the angel of death passing over houses where doors were marked with the blood of a sacrificial lamb. Jesus is seen by Christians as the sacrificial lamb whose blood was shed so that they would have everlasting life.
Depending on your religious beliefs, the story at this point may become a little edgy. The death and resurrection legends had prevailed many centuries before Jesus arrival. Ancient Christians explained away those rituals as false Gods created by Satan. As a result, over time, the older traditions were discounted entirely.
Both the egg and bunny symbolize the universe and rebirth of nature, or the regeneration of life, which was a long tradition predating Christianity. Christians adopted the egg to mean the rebirth of man, specifically. The rolling of the egg symbolized the rolling away of the boulder which sealed Jesus’ tomb.
The bunny tradition has been traced all the way back to Germany in the 1500’s with the Dutch bringing over the tradition to Pennsylvania in the 1700’s. The kids would consider it good luck if receiving painted eggs for Easter.
Again, the Easter basket was originally a basket of crops and seeds brought to local places of worship so they would be blessed before planting. Ancient Catholics took dinner in baskets, so the traditions were joined with rabbit nests in baskets – Easter basket.
Easter lilies have long been symbols of fertility. They took on special meaning to Christians since Jesus’ sweat fell on them in the Garden of Gethsemane during his last hours of life.
What about the “Hot Cross buns”?
Well, dating back to the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of fertility, Ostara (Eostre), during the annual feast, an ox was sacrificed. The horns of the ox were carved into the bread served at the meal. Later, the symbol of a symmetrical cross was used to decorate the buns; the cross represented the moon, the heavenly body associated with the Goddess, and its four quarters. Still later, the cross was symbolic of the cross of the crucifixion.
As you can see, Easter is a melting pot of many traditions, and we’re sure we’ve even missed some as well. The point is from a broader perspective, Easter means life, and the joy of birth as new life. This is a natural event associated with spring after a long dormant period of winter. As farmers, our life depended on crops. Depending on what part of the globe you lived, the mysterious seeds of life were worshiped for sustaining life and bringing abundance.
Whatever story you’d like to attach to Easter is fine. Just remember the symbolism behind all the tradition and festivities, and don’t get caught up in the specific story. Once you rigidly hold unto a certain ritual as the only story for life and rebirth, then you create dogma and miss the point of why we color baskets, place green nests in the baskets, and then fill the basket with colored eggs and candy. Yes, it’s about Jesus, and a lot more.
Have a Blessed Easter, and may the seeds you sow turn into a bountiful harvest.A special thanks to our good friend Spirit Song for lending us her research behind the story.