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The Meaning of Easter,
Understanding Easter

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Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
Understanding Easter
By Susan Nye

All around the world Easter is a celebration of spring. The air warms, the sun
shines, daffodils bloom, supermarket shelves fill up with marshmallow peeps
and spirits soar.

In New England, the air tries to warm up, rain pours and dirt roads turn to
seas of mud.
The snow is melting or at least trying and a few early blooms are
blooming. In a spirit of optimism, we don summer dresses on Easter Sunday,
put on a sweater and our rubber boots and head out the door to celebrate.  

Easter...Christian and Pagan

Easter is a strange mix of Christian and pagan rites. When Christian
missionaries traveled north to convert the Celts, Anglos and Saxons, they
realized that a merger might be more successful than a takeover.

Their celebration of Jesus’ resurrection fell at the same time as the North’s
spring rituals. The northern tribes were celebrating the end of winter, an end to
the harsh cold and long dark nights. In a way, both festivities celebrated
rebirth, the triumph of light over dark and life over death. A few compromises
were negotiated and the two celebrations merged.

It was that very spirit of compromise that created our jumbled mix of Easter
traditions. It is all rather curious how bunnies, eggs and parades, even the
name came into the picture. It may be a sacred Christian holiday, but the name
Easter comes from the ancient Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, Eostre.

Eggs, Bunnies and Peeps

Now, what’s with the eggs? Eggs have been a symbol of new life and fertility
since the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. They were a natural part of
spring fertility rituals and celebrations.

On a more practical note, eggs were forbidden during Lent in Medieval
Europe. Not wanting to waste the eggs laid during Lent, they were boiled or
preserved. With forty days of eggs waiting to be consumed, they became a
mainstay of Easter meals.

With so many eggs around, it only made sense that they become part of the
entertainment. Eggs were used in games and given as gifts. Not just any old
egg, after all it was a holiday. Decorating eggs with dyes and paints made its
way into the celebrations.

Long before the big festivities on the White House lawn, families celebrated
the day and the season with egg hunts, eggs tosses and egg rolls. (That’s
rolling the egg across the lawn not the crispy treats from your favorite Chinese
restaurant.) And those sweet little chicks and marshmallow peeps? Just an
extension of the egg theme.

Now the Easter Bunny has always been a bit of a mystery. What does a rabbit
have to do with Jesus or even eggs? The rabbit was an ancient fertility symbol
in northern Europe, particularly Germany. The tradition of the Easter rabbit
was brought to the US by German immigrants.  I guess someone or something
had to deliver all those eggs.

Easter Parades

I’ve never celebrated Easter in New York, but I always thought that it would be
fun to parade down 5th Avenue. Better yet, dance down the avenue like Judy
Garland and Fred Astaire.

In spite of its fame, New Yorkers did not invent the Easter parade. Easter
parades have been around since ancient times. Early Christians celebrated
their baptisms with new white robes and a parade to celebrate their new lives.

In Medieval Europe, everyone paraded through the town after Easter Mass. I'm
not sure if they wore straw bonnets festooned with flowers, ribbons and bows.

And finally the big Easter feast.  Easter dinner celebrates the end of Lent and,
at least in warmer climates, the first spring harvest. If you are lucky enough to
live in one of those warmer climates, Easter dinner has always been about
eating local foods.

Artichokes in Italy, lamb in France and lemons in Greece. In New England, we
should be savoring maple syrup! Or maybe bear. Beware, they are out and
about and wandering around the neighborhood looking for birdfeeders.

About the author: Susan Nye lives in New London and is a freelance writer and cook.
For more recipes and to learn about her cooking classes, catering services and Around
the Table chef’s aprons visit her web site,
Susan Nye.
© Susan W. Nye, 2009
©The Heart of New England online magazine
...celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont!
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