There is a strange feeling in the air at the moment with the world suddenly so quiet as most people do their bit to stop the spread of Covid-19. During this difficult and strange time, I think it’s necessary to still make sure we celebrate what we would normally celebrate, even if we have to do it in a very different way.
So, firstly, I want to wish you all a Happy Easter or Pesach or whatever it is you celebrate at this time of the year.
Even though things are very different this year, what isn’t different is the traditions and the stories behind them. I think traditions and stories are really important to help us to make sense of our world and to bring light to darker times. It’s why I write the stories I do, to investigate things that interest me within society, within human interactions, within belief systems and the impact of all that on our psyches. It means my brain is always very busy, asking lots of questions and seeking answer.
So, given it’s Easter, I thought I would share with you some of the questions I’ve asked about Easter and the answers I have discovered as my seasonal gift to all of you who have the same kind of restless mind as me.
The traditions of Easter
I grew up with the tradition of giving eggs and the Easter Bunny delivering eggs – as most people do who follow the general Christian traditions.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. We didn’t have the Easter Bunny delivering our eggs when we were young. We had the Easter Cow.
‘Easter Cow?’ I hear you ask. ‘How on earth did you have the Easter Cow?’ The reason was because we always went camping by the Murray River in Victoria during the Easter break and there were always cow pads and hoof footprints in the bush around the camp, not bunny prints and droppings. So, my brother in all his wisdom decided we must get our treats from the Easter Cow, not the Easter Bunny. Makes sense – right?
But of course, despite funning about the Easter Cow, we all knew that it was the Easter Bunny who delivered eggs, not cows. But why?
Why a bunny and not a cow?
It makes just as much sense for a cow to deliver eggs as a bunny. Neither lay eggs. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have an Easter Chicken? And why eggs in the first place? Especially given Easter is about the death and resurrection of Christ – and I was pretty sure I’d never heard anything in the church services I’d been to when I was younger about a rabbit or eggs in the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection. And for that matter, why is it called Easter in English and not something to do with the death and resurrection of the son of God?
So why eggs and bunnies?
It wasn’t until years later when I was doing research for my Pack Bound series, that I truly discovered the reasons behind the bunny and the eggs – and why we call it Easter.
I was already aware that many Pagan festivals were subsumed by the Christian/Catholic churches when they rose to pre-eminence from the days of the Constantinian shift. Like the way Christmas trees, mistletoe, Yule logs, gift giving and eating huge feasts at Christmas have their genus from winter solstice traditions. In fact, many of the holy days we celebrate are linked to changes in the season and harvest festivals of pre-Christian religions.
Easter is one of these.
While there are some scholars who say the etymology of why in English speaking countries we call this time of the year Easter, is in the Anglo-Saxon word ‘eastan‘ which means east, there are still many who claim that it takes its name from the Pagan festival of Eostra (sounds a lot like Easter, right?) I like this version the best.
Eostra is the Vernal Equinox. It runs from the 19th-22nd March and gains its name from the fertility goddess, Eostra or Ostara, the Eastern Star. The festival itself inaugurates the new year on the Zodiacal calendar and is the point at which the day becomes longer than the night in the northern hemisphere. It is a time of rebirth – which is why it celebrates the goddess of fertility.
There are a number of histories to the reasons we give eggs. They are also called Paschal eggs, which ties into the Jewish traditions around Passover/Pesach (the word for Easter in most non-English speaking countries has ties to the Hebrew word Pesach). Eggs are eaten as part of the traditions around Pesach for similar reasons that tie into Pagan religions – they are a symbol of fertility and new life. Jews dip them in salt water during Pesach to celebrate life and death and remember the bitterness of slavery, but most cultures came to decorate and exchange them to celebrate the hopes and wishes for a prosperous new year. Christians also came to believe that they signified the tomb of Christ and his rebirth.
That’s why we give eggs at Easter time – to celebrate the cycle of life – birth to death – at a time of the year when in the northern hemisphere, the new harvests would be planted and the world was being reborn out of the ‘death’ of winter into the ‘birth’ of spring.
Of course, the chocolate thing is an entirely modern twist that most of us find indulgent yumminess, the bright packaging a celebration of all those cultures who colour their eggs for all sorts of fascinating reasons I don’t have time to go into now – although if you’re interested, check out some of the history here.
In regards to the bunny rabbit who delivers eggs (something we all know rabbits don’t do), the Goddess Eostra/Ostara is associated with fecund symbols, most especially the hare (we all know the phrase ‘going at it like rabbits’) and the egg. So, this is why we have a rabbit delivering eggs. Cool hey?
So, that’s it – the histories that I found the most fascinating when doing research for my books. I hope you enjoyed this little dip into history behind the traditions I hope all of you are indulging in today even as you stay home-bound and self-isolate. I wish you the best of the season and hope the year to come is full of renewal and an ability to celebrate life beyond the impact of Covid-19.
And if you’d like to check out how I entwined these fascinating histories into the Pack Bound Series, you can check out the buy links HERE.
What are your thoughts? I love to hear from my readers and fellow writers. I’d love you to share your Easter traditions with me on Facebook or Twitter (@LeislLeighton #Easter2020) or even a pic of a cute bunny – or cow.
To finish up, I leave you with my wish for my readers and fellow writers –
May you all stay healthy and safe. And may your creative well be full and may your Muse be forever with you.