Through the Ages – Easter
Most of us love a nice piece of chocolate. And receiving a big fat chocolatey Easter egg is pretty exciting! The Easter Bunny also brings little candy chicks and sugar coated miniature eggs that are sometimes hidden around the house or the garden.
But where did this tradition start? Who decided that a chocolate egg would be the thing to munch on at Easter? Why a huge bunny to deliver the goods? And what’s with hot cross buns and Simnel cake?
The festival of Eostre was a pagan one where great parties celebrated the beginning of spring after a dark and dreary winter. The name came from the Goddess of spring and after the Christian missionaries spread their message to the Anglo Saxons, the festival of Eostre became Easter.
It became known for its relation to the Resurrection of Christ, which is believed to have happened at the same time that the pagan celebration of Eostre took place.
Hard-boiled eggs with coloured shells were the thing back in the day before chocolate came on the scene. And some people still colour eggs and give them to each other on Easter Sunday to roll down a hill and crack the shell before savouring with a bit of salt and pepper.
Some creative types draw caricature faces of the family on eggs and others create beautiful and ornate masterpieces with wax and food colouring.
There are different meanings for the colours that you paint your eggs –
Blue – good health
Yellow – wisdom
Green – spring/hope
White – purity
Orange – strength
Eggs have always been a symbol of new life and hope and eggs were often decorated with symbols to aid harvest or health. Some people would hang decorated eggs on trees or plant eggs in fields to ward off evil spirits or to help their crop yield and this was particularly so in the Ukraine in 4000 BC where the word pyansky derived from the Ukrainian verb ‘to write’. Pyansky is the word used for the decoration of natural eggs and some symbols commonly used have definite meanings-
Birds – happiness
Eight-pointed star – success
Chickens – fertility
Poppies – beauty
Spiders – patience
Throughout time different cultures and peoples have given and received eggs. In medieval times it was tradition to give eggs to servants of the house for example. This tradition of decorating and giving eggs has melded into what we know today and it seemed a natural progression to start to make chocolate eggs wrapped in bright paper as a treat for children with a sweet tooth.
HERE COMES THE BUNNY
But why? We go back to the pagan celebration by the early Anglo-Saxons whose Goddess of spring; Eostre was symbolised by a rabbit.
The Germans also revered rabbits (as have many other cultures throughout time) and the first sign of the Easter Bunny was in the 1500’s in Germany.
When the Dutch settled in Pennsylvania, America they brought the Easter Bunny idea over with them but it took many years before the idea spread to the rest of the country.
Dutch settler children would await the arrival of the Oschter Haws with anticipation and he would bring them little candies and eggs to celebrate the coming of spring.
It is likely that some marketing person got a hold of the idea with both hands and made sure that the Easter Bunny, Easter eggs and Easter itself eventually went hand in hand.
GET YOUR SUNDAY BEST ON
It is said that it is unlucky if you do not wear a new article of clothing on Easter Sunday and the history of this little tale most likely comes once again from the pagans who would get all dressed up in bright clothes at Eostre to celebrate the end of the winter and to symbolise the vivid colours that Springtime would bring.
People in the 19th century took this idea and made a bigger deal of it when they would parade down the street in their finery as they welcomed the sunshine once again after a cold winter.
Easter Sunday was a good day to do this as many of these people would go to church and then have a stroll and the whole neighbourhood would be able to admire the colourful clothes and Easter bonnets that would be on display.
HOT CROSS BUNS
There are some stories as to how these sticky yeast fruit buns came about but it seems that they might have another pagan background to them. Many ancient civilisations would bake small buns to offer up to their gods and the good old Anglo Saxons would make some fruity fare to offer good old Eostre.
It is said that monks put crosses on the buns to spread the message of Jesus Christ at the time of the Eostre celebrations and that eventually the symbol caught on when more and more people were converted to Christianity.
Of course now the cross is known for it’s Christian heritage when Christ was crucified and the symbol of the cross is used at Easter now to remind us all of that time and the start of Christianity.
This delicious cake has its origins on Mothering Sunday when servant girls would take the cake home to their mothers. The cake became another symbol of Easter as Mothering Sunday and Easter Sunday are so close together.
People started to put 11 marzipan balls on the top of it to symbolise the 11 disciples (12 minus Judas who betrayed Jesus).
Simnel cakes are traditionally decorated with yellow ribbon and spring flowers.
OVER TO YOU
The various traditions and meanings behind them are different for every family and it is important to respect that whilst some people like to get together at Easter and eat as many chocolate eggs as they can, others see the event as a very religious one.
However you choose to celebrate Easter this year we hope that you have a safe and enjoyable time and remember to celebrate new life and hope which is foremost in all of our minds right now.