When you hear the word "Easter," it usually conjures up a few unique images: dyed eggs, lambs, rabbits, and so on. Many old traditions have become wrapped up in Easter over the years, but where did they come from? If Easter, itself, is a Christian holiday, what does the Resurrection have to do with eggs and rabbits?
Easter's Changing Date
As a major Christian holiday, it may seem odd for its date to be so imprecise -- especially when other Christian holidays do not move. Unfortunately, the people recording things in Christ's time did not write down the actual date of the resurrection. All that is known is that it happened after Passover. Since Jewish holidays change dates, this means that, in order to keep Easter after Passover for the sake of accuracy, it must change as well. Therefore, Easter always falls on the Sunday right after the first full moon after the spring equinox. The choice has some pagan roots, as well. Across many old religions, this time was the time of the rebirth and return of the sun. In "The Descent of Inanna," it is Tammuz who is given the ability to return to warm the earth for six months out of the year.
The Easter Bunny
Shifting the date of Easter based on other holidays is all well and good, but what about the Easter bunny? There was no mention of rabbits during the resurrection of Jesus, after all. The secret here lies with German immigrants. In pagan traditions dating from before the 13th century, rabbits were associated with the spring goddess Eostre due to their fertility. When Catholicism entered Germany, the spring traditions of Easter and Ostara, Eostre's holiday, began to meld. Then, when German immigrants traveled to the U.S., they brought these traditions with them.
Eggs are another symbol of fertility, but Eostre may not be responsible for "Easter eggs." For this, we have to look to Mesopotamia, Russia, and Siberia. Eggs were traditionally dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ shed during the crucifixion, while the egg itself represented his empty tomb. The association of eggs with Easter began with Mesopotamian early Christians, while the dying and color symbolism came from the Eastern Orthodox Church. In eastern Europe, men hunt for eggs by gathering them from women, who they then splash with water to give them health and beauty. The connection with rebirth and renewal is what makes eggs, be they real, wooden, or made of quartz crystal, excellent decorations for springtime altars.
Lambs and Chicks
Spring is the usual time for raising baby animals. As the days get longer, the weather becomes warmer, and grass starts growing again, baby animals, like lambs and chicks, have an easier time surviving. So, Easter is associated with the emergence of new life in the form of the animals born this time of year. This is not the only reason why lambs make an appearance, however -- they are also associated with Jesus Christ as the "sacrificial lamb" of God.
An Easter Prayer
Easter is a good time to bring fresh spring flowers into your home, clean out the dust and clutter of the wintertime, light some candles, and say a prayer. Give your home a thorough wash with Spiritual Cleansing Big Al Bath & Floor Wash, and set your altar with white candles and either Sacred Heart of Jesus incense sticks, or jasmine incense.
Light the candles and incense, center yourself, and say,
"Draw us forth, God of all creation.
Draw us forward and away from limited certainty into the immense world of your love.
Give us the capacity to even for a moment taste the richness of the feast you give us.
Give us the peace to live with uncertainty, with questions, with doubts.
Help us to experience the resurrection anew with open wonder and an increasing ability to see you in the people of Easter."
"As life returns, greening and growing again from the earth, we welcome the goddesses of spring.
From the soil to the flowers, and the spring rains to the trees, come and be welcome."
Whether you celebrate Easter or not, Easter traditions are familiar to many people as signs of springtime. Their roles in ancient paganism do not diminish their place in modern Christianity; it strengthens them as symbols of the reborn, renewed earth and the return of life to the world.