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Easter is celebrated worldwide in surprisingly varied ways. For Christians, Easter is the holiest of religious holidays and relates to the old Jewish festival of the Passover. Both holidays are celebrated in the same period of the year, almost the same week. Passover lasts for a week commemorating the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. For Christian, Easter commemorates the resurrection of Christ after the crucifixion. In fact, the Holy Week starts on a Sunday, when the entrance of Christ in Jerusalem is celebrated and ends with Easter Sunday. The reason for the Holy Week is the sharing of the sufferings of Christ. This week marks the end of the 40 days fast and nature becomes reborn.
The celebration of Easter starts Saturday afternoon. The most important moment of the day is the sanctification of baptismal water. It is said that the first person baptized with this water will be lucky all his/her life.
Many things about Easter are neither Jewish nor Christian at their origins. For instance the English name “Easter” and the German name “Oster” come from the Germanic language family. At the same time the tradition of Easter bonfires or of burning wheels and their pushing downhill originate in the veneration of the Sun in both German and Celtic mythologies. Even boiled and died eggs are of pagan origin: it is believed that they represent the symbol of fertility in Ancient Egypt.
Today, the eggs are almost synonym to eggs in many countries including Germany, Austria, India and Switzerland. At the end of the long fasting period, the colored hard boiled eggs, the Easter trees and bouquets are decorated with small objects and painted eggs. People bake or buy sweet Easter bread to which raisins are added.
The Easter bunny (which in Sweden, Germany, Austria and Switzerland is simple field rabbits as compared to Great Britain, The United States of America, Canada and Australia) is known for bringing sweets for the little ones so no wonder all Easter baskets are filled with chocolate rabbits. In France children do not thank the Easter bunny. “They are the Easter bells that have come from Rome”.
Secular Traditions of Easter
The hunt for the Easter eggs is part of the popular tradition. It takes place in Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, The United States of America, Malaysia, Australia, Brazil, India and the Philippines where parents hide eggs and sweets usually outside the house so that their children find them. In the past Easter was attributed to the Anglo – Saxon goddess Easter (in Latin: Oestre), the goddess of fertility. This goddess gave birth to happy children and she was always followed by a bunny which when seeing a well-behaved child lay colored eggs. The rabbit never lay the eggs in the same place and so that the child know that he/she was good had to look for the eggs in the grass.
The parade of the Easter bonnet is a tradition shared by Australia, Great Britain and The United States of America. Australian kids go round the school building and up and down the streets wearing their bonnets decorated with bunny ears, decorations that contain chick, Easter egg and chocolate figurines. British kids often make large hats decorated with spring flowers.
The tradition that colored eggs should be ready by Resurrection and even old tales prove the very close relationship of the egg with birth and life. In the Christian tradition the egg symbolized life; being a not very common food, it was rarely cooked, only for the holidays. It was necessary that every family eat eggs before the 40 day fast and in England that’s why they have Crepe Day before the fast. For Christians who were not allowed to eat meat and dairy products during fast, the egg was the only food originating from an animal without bloodshed. That’s why the eggs were placed on a pedestal after the fast being considered a purifying food.
In other corners of the world it is supposed that for many people like the Egyptians, Persians and Romans eggs were prepared like staple food on the occasion of spring festivals as a symbol of the regeneration of nature’s forces.
Nobody knows exactly who the first to use the egg as symbol for Easter was, but we all should acknowledge the message of happiness that Resurrection propagates. No matter whether the egg is red and the bunny remind us of spring festivals where the rebirth of nature and fertility are important issues, or of Resurrection. In certain parts of the world even before the birth of Christ every spring this regeneration of nature was celebrated and according to mythology and the accounts of some Asian cultures, the world is created from a big egg.
One Christian story attributes the heralding of happiness to eggs. Mary Magdalene on her way to preaching about the Resurrection of Christ in front of the Roman emperor received the answer that this was as impossible as the turning of a white egg into a red one. As soon as the emperor uttered this, the egg he was holding turned into red.
So the red color symbolizes Jesus’ blood and their knocking together symbolizes return to life.