Easter has a different meaning for everyone, whether you are a Christian who follows the rituals of lent, palm sunday etc, or a person who simply enjoys the festive holidays. But what are the origins of this ancient festival, its symbols and legends?
The Easter Festival
The oldest and most important festival in the Christian calendar concludes in a celebration held on Easter Sunday. This is also a time when Christians and non Christians come together with their families, share a meal and most likely gorge on chocolate! Scripture tells us that it was on this day that Jesus came back to life after being crucified, who then visited his family, friends and disciples.
At Easter time Christians remember the last week of Jesus’ life known as ‘Holy Week’. It also breaks the forty days fast of ‘Lent’.
Daffodills symbolise new beginnings and rebirth. It is believed a gift of daffodils ensures happiness for the recipient.
White lilies [Lilium Longiflorum] have come to represent a spiritual renewal at Easter. They are commonly used to decorate Christian churches during the religious celebrations. White Easter lilies also symbolise joy, hope and inspiration for the coming Spring season.
Tulips come in such a wide pallet of colours and therefore are an ideal choice for home decoration and Easter bouquets. They also represent love, passion and belief.
Hot Cross Buns
The traditional hot cross bun, with spices, dried fruits and the cross markings is a tasty addition to the Easter fayre. However there is a deeper level of symbolism that may not be obvious to everyone, e.g. for Christians the sign of the cross symbolises the crucifixion of Christ. The ritual of eating ‘cross buns’ is also thought to date back to the Anglo-Saxon period where they were baked for Spring celebrations. Back then, the bun symbolised the moon and the cross represented the moon’s four quarters.
The Easter Egg
There are a variety of myths that surround the simple egg and although the rituals may vary the common theme seems to be that eggs are an emblem of fertility and life, a sign of re-birth or a new beginning. At a deeper level this ties in with the Christian belief that Christ died on the cross to allow mankind to experience a spiritual re-birth. Hence around the Easter period Christians celebrate Christ’s resurrection.
Birds eggs in particular were originally given as gifts to celebrate the Spring season. They were painted in bright colours, often elaborately decorated, to reflect the vibrancy of Spring.
Over the years artificial eggs became more common and replaced the tradition of giving birds eggs. The origin of chocolate eggs began in the 19th century and has become a global ritual in today’s, rather commercial, Easter celebrations.
The true meaning of this Easter Monday ritual isn’t fully understood. It is said that Pagans rolled eggs in early Spring to bring new life to the land. A Christian theory suggests that egg rolling symbolises the stone being rolled away from Christ’s tomb.
The Easter Bunny
The pagan festival of Eostre [Easter] was named after the Saxon goddess of Spring. Anglo Saxon legend tells us that Eostre magically transformed a wounded bird into a hare so it could survive the next winter. When the same hare discovered it could lay eggs it made a gift of them to the goddess who had saved him. This gave birth to the symbolic tradition of the Easter rabbit or hare.
The tradition of wearing decorative headware for the Spring and Easter celebrations dates back centuries. In the middle ages the arrival of Spring was celebrated by wearing a headress, circular in form, and adorned with fresh greenery and flowers. For the ancients the circle represented Earth orbiting the sun and the circular seasonal cycle. In the Christian tradition, following the end of lent, luxury items could then be purchased. To celebrate adults and children dressed in new clothes, also symbolising a new beginning. It also became popular for women and girls to decorate straw, felt and silk hats with fresh flowers, blossom branches and leaves. Today the tradition of using fresh blooms and foliage has died out but the fashion for wearing hats seems to have revived thanks to the talented milliners and celebrities who wear their creations.