Hippity Hoppity...
He Has Risen

By Judy Andreas

Another holiday is quickly hopping down the bunny trail. Do you have your eggs ready for a dye job? Jelly beans come in all flavors including the gourmet variety for those whose connection to status fills their Easter baskets. Little sugar chicken peeps beg for teeth to rot. Yes, friends, Easter is coming, the holiday that talks about Jesus' death and resurrection, Easter bunnies and Easter eggs.
Whether this is a momentary lapse of logic or a permanent sabbatical, I have not been able to figure out what Jesus Christ's death and resurrection have to do with Peter Cottontail and his minions of eggs.
And so, I cannot fault you for asking, with your wide eyed innocence, "Which came first, the Resurrection or the egg?"
Let's take our own "Easter Egg Hunt" into the history of this Holy Day.
Does the following sound familiar?-Spring is in the air! Flowers and bunnies decorate the home. Father helps the children paint beautiful designs on eggs dyed in various colors. These eggs, which will later be hidden and searched for, are placed into lovely, seasonal baskets. The wonderful aroma of the hot cross buns mother is baking in the oven waft through the house. Forty days of abstaining from special foods will finally end the next day. The whole family picks out their Sunday best to wear to the next morning's sunrise worship service to celebrate the Savior's resurrection and the renewal of life. Everyone looks forward to a succulent ham with all the trimmings. It will be a thrilling day. After all, it is one of the most important religious holidays of the year.
Easter, right? No! This is a description of an ancient Babylonian family-2,000 years before Christ-honoring the resurrection of their god, Tammuz, who was brought back from the underworld by his mother/wife, Ishtar (after whom the festival was named). As Ishtar was actually pronounced "Easter" in most Semitic dialects, it could be said that the event portrayed here is, in a sense, Easter. Of course, the occasion could easily have been a Phrygian family honoring Attis and Cybele, or perhaps a Phoenician family worshipping Adonis and Astarte. Or this depiction could just as easily represent any number of other pagan fertility celebrations of death and resurrection-including the modern Easter celebration as it has come to us through the Anglo-Saxon fertility rites of the goddess Eostre or Ostara. These are all the same festivals, separated only by time and culture.
Yes, friends, another Christian holiday has its roots in the traditions of paganism.
The ancient Saxons celebrated the return of spring with an uproarious festival commemorating their goddess of offspring and of springtime, Eastre. When the second-century Christian missionaries encountered the tribes of the North with their pagan celebrations, they attempted to convert them to Christianity. They knew that to be effective, they had to so in a clandestine manner, and so they cleverly disguised their religious message throughout the pagan population by allowing them to celebrate their pagan feasts, but to do so in a Christian manner.
The fabled Easter Egg originally served as the emblem of the germinating life of early spring. Indeed, the story of the egg has gotten scrambled over the years. The Easter Egg predates the Christian holiday of Easter. The exchange of eggs in the springtime is a custom that was centuries old when Easter was first celebrated by Christians. From the earliest times, the egg was a symbol of rebirth in most cultures. Eggs were often wrapped in gold leaf or, if you were a peasant, colored brightly by boiling them with the leaves or petals of certain flowers.
The Easter Bunny is not new to our Easter trail or tale either. This symbol too originated with the pagan festival of Eastre. The rabbit is a pagan symbol and has always been an emblem of fertility (Simrock, Mythologie, 551). The goddess, Eastre, was worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons through her earthly symbol, the hare (which was the true Easter beast) He was sacred to the Spring-Goddess, Eostre. The hare was an emblem of fertility, renewal, and return of spring. The egg, in modern American folklore, is the production of the rabbit or the hare. The story is that this hare was once a bird whom Eostre changed into a four-footed creature. Dyed eggs also formed part of the rituals of the Babylonian mystery religions. Eggs were sacred to many ancient civilizations and formed an integral part of religious ceremonies in Egypt and the Orient. Dyed eggs were hung in Egyptian temples, and the egg was regarded as the emblem of regenerative life proceeding from the mouth of the great Egyptian god.
The Germans brought the symbol of the Easter rabbit to America. It was widely ignored by other Christians until shortly after the Civil War. In fact, Easter itself was not widely celebrated in America until after that time.
Conveniently, the pagan festival of Eastre occurred at the same time of year as the Christian observance of the Resurrection of Christ. It made sense, therefore, to alter the festival itself, to make it a Christian celebration as converts were slowly won over. The early name, Eastre, was eventually changed to its modern spelling, Easter.
Prior to A.D. 325, Easter was celebrated on different days of the week. In that year, the Council of Nicaea was convened by emperor Constantine. It issued the Easter Rule which states that Easter shall be celebrated on the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. However, a caveat must be included. The "full moon" in the rule is the ecclesiastical full moon, which is defined as the fourteenth day of a tabular lunation, where day 1 corresponds to the ecclesiastical New Moon. It does not always occur on the same date as the astronomical full moon. The ecclesiastical "vernal equinox" is always on March 21. Therefore, Easter must be celebrated on a Sunday between the dates of March 22 and April 25.
The tradition of the Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue in New York City began in 1866 after the Civil War was over. People would don their Easter finery and wear bonnets that they had designed. There was a custom of mother-daughter dresses, that has since faded away. (no pun intended) Fashion statements change and it is not inconceivable that the day might come when mothers and daughters will have twin tattoos and matching navel rings. But forgive me....I have strayed from the parade route.
There is some debate as to whether Mrs. Hayes or Mrs. Madison began the tradition of the Easter Egg Roll for children, where tiny tots rolled Easter eggs with little sticks on the White House lawn. First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1933, made the Egg Roll a media event when she greeted visiters and listeners all over America on nation-wide radio. After a decade of cancellations, the Egg Roll was reintroduced by the Eisenhowers and, in the years since, it has become quite elaborate with races, a circus and a petting zoo included.
Some traditions, however, are better left to die. Take, for example, the following. On Easter Monday women had a right to strike their husbands and on Tuesday the men struck their wives. (Beleth, I, c. cxx; Durandus, I, c. vi, 86). I must say that this tradition struck me as odd. In the northern parts of England the men would parade the streets on Easter Sunday and claim the privilege of lifting every woman three times from the ground, receiving in payment a kiss or a silver sixpence. The same was done by the women to the men on the next day. In the Neumark (Germany) on Easter Day the men servants whipped the maid servants with switches; on Monday they "switched" and the maids whipped the men. They secured their release with Easter eggs. These customs were probably of pre-Christian origin (Reinsberg-Düringsfeld, Das festliche Jahr)
The custom of the Easter Sunrise Service can be traced back to the ancient Pagan custom of welcoming the sun God at the vernal equinox, when daytime is about to exceed the length of the nighttime. It was a time to celebrate the return of life and reproduction to animal and plant life as well.
In German mythology the Goddess Eastre or "Radiant Dawn" ruled during spring festival with vegetation rites ... singing, rejoicing, processionals, flowers and the ringing of bells. Pagan customs of lighting new fires at dawn (symbolic of new light) for crop protection and healing still exist today.
And now that I have taken some of the mystery out of the history, (or vice versa) I will leave you to celebrate Easter in your own way. I merely dropped by on this Easter Eve to show you how the fabric of cultures and religions are woven into a large and colorful tapestry. If there is one thread that runs true through all the myths, legends and stories, it is the theme of "rebirth." Is it not possible to compose a beautiful symphony around that theme.......rather than a discordant death producing debate about who's right? Is it not possible to celebrate our differences and honor one another....or.... have we passed through the doorway of hopelessness?
Mother Nature weeps for the fate of her children. Look at what we have done to her planet. Look at what we are doing to one another. Look at what greed and hatred have done to all of us. If there is still hope for a rebirth, it must start in the heart and mind of each one of us. That, for me, is the true Easter message.
Copyright 2005 Judy Andreas



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