Explaining Easter: Why we celebrate the heart of Christianity with a rabbit that lays chocolate eggs.

The following is the background information for an Easter assembly I put together a couple of years ago. Feel free to use it if you are preparing an assembly or activity for Easter.

I wanted to do something a bit different, while marking the most important feast of the Christian calendar in an appropriate way. It proved popular with staff and students alike, the latter part prompting many students whose families originated from abroad to share some of their own cultural experiences. I have incorporated some of these, adding to those in the original assembly.

Why do we celebrate Jesus rising from the dead with a bunny and chocolate eggs?

EasterThe festival called ‘Easter’ in English celebrates Jesus rising from the dead on Easter Sunday, following the crucifixion, which is marked on Good Friday. It’s the most important feast of the Christian calendar. As hard as you look, though, you won’t find any references to bunnies, eggs, or chocolate in the Gospels. So why does the Easter Bunny bring us delicious chocolate eggs for Easter?

Eggs, new life, and barbaric Brits

Giving eggs in springtime predates Christianity. In many cultures, eggs represent new life, fertility and creation. In mythology, the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre found a wounded bird one winter. Realising that the bird could not survive the cold weather, she not only healed it but turned it into a hare. The hare did survive, and went on to lay coloured eggs the following Spring!

The early Christian church had problems bringing its message to the peoples of Northern Europe, who had a reputation as barbarians. The church decided to fix the dates of key Christian feasts near the times of the year when people were used to partying because of local celebrations. In Britain, Eostre’s festival became the Christian season of Easter. We retained the original name, whereas elsewhere Christians call it ‘Pascha’.

We forgot about the hare, but gave each other painted eggs as presents. Christians took on the egg as a symbol of resurrection. The egg can also represent the stone that was rolled away from Jesus’ tomb, or the empty shell (or half-eaten chocolate egg) can symbolise the empty tomb itself.

Chocolate eggs were introduced by confectionary manufacturers in the 19th Century and soon became very popular. The Easter bunny was reintroduced to Britain from the United States. The traditional hare, or Osterhase, who rewards good children with eggs, had been taken to America by German settlers, but the bunny has gradually lost the mythology of Eostre’s hare, and we now gloss over the idea of it actually laying all those eggs.

Celebrating Easter

There are many different traditions for celebrating Easter around the world:

  • Christians May keep a vigil on the evening of Maundy Thursday, remembering the night before Jesus died. They may then attend a service on Good Friday, remembering the crucifixion, and will go to church on Easter Sunday to celebrate Jesus rising from the dead. In the UK traditional Easter foods include hot cross buns, traditionally eaten on Good Friday, and Simnel Cake, which is topped with eleven marzipan eggs, representing Jesus’ disciples, minus Judas who betrayed him.
  • In Jerusalem, pilgrims may walk the route that Jesus is said to have walked to his crucifixion, the Via Dolorosa (‘Way of Sorrow’). Some carry wooden crosses, remembering that Jesus was made to carry the cross on which he was to be crucified.
  • Sometimes communities will put on Passion Plays which reenact the biblical events of the Easter period. In parts of the Philippines this is taken to an extreme where some participants allow themselves to be actually nailed to a cross.
  • Many children will have fun at Easter egg hunts on Easter Sunday and may have egg-rolling competitions. In the USA the president hosts an Easter egg roll on the White House lawn each year.

Egg painting is an Easter tradition in many European countries, as is bringing spring branches of shrubs and trees into the house and decorating them with painted eggs. In Russia and Eastern Europe eggs are often dyed red and patterns are carved into them. A modern trend is to paint pictures of politicians or celebrities onto eggs.

  • In the Czech Republic and Slovakia boys whip girls legs with decorated willow twigs on Good Friday.
  • In Poland boys pour water on people. Tradition says that a girl who gets drenched will be married within the year. In Hungary this ‘sprinkling’ has been replaced by a spray of perfume.
  • On the Greek island of Corfu, Holy Saturday is ‘Pot Throwing Day’. Earthen ware pots and plates are thrown from balconies to smash on the ground below to greet the spring.
  • In many Caribbean countries, kites are flown on Good Friday, symbolising Jesus’ ascension to heaven.

If you have any other Easter traditions, please let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

However you are spending the holiday, have a very Happy Easter!

Images

Easter Bunny: Pixabay

Calvary: Public Domain Pictures

Painted Easter eggs: Pixabay

Decorated branches: Wikimedia

Advertisements