For almost three-fourths of the people in the United States, today is Easter Sunday. (For the rest of us, it’s another day to get some work done or go have fun with friends and family.) For the religious, here’s a bit of background on Easter’s connection to pagan traditions and other customs connected with the popular holiday:
1. Easter falls on a different date each year because it is on the first Sunday after the full Moon after the Vernal Equinox. Reason: The god Attis of the Cybele cult was sotor, reborn each year with this resurrection celebrated on the Friday after the full moon after the Vernal equinox—now Good Friday—and lasted three days. Rome worshipped Attis into the third century, and Christianity adopted the date for their own savior. The cult faded, but the date stayed because of tradition.
2. The name “Easter” comes from the goddess Eostre, the Mother Goddess of the Saxons of Northern Europe. Reason: Eoestre represented the bright, growing half of the year, and Holda held sway over the cold, dark winter. The dates of Easter are so close to Walpurgisnacht that they may have been concurrent at one time, the night giving way to the first day of Summer. As with many other pagan observances during the early history of Christianity, this one was adapted for the new faith to get more converts. Early missionaries knew that they could more easily get people to celebrate a new name than a new date. Other sources state that Easter comes from Astarte, one of the titles of the Chaldean goddess, the queen of heaven.
3. The story of Jesus was similar to that of other sotor gods in pre-Christian cultures; i.e., Attis, Adonis, Tammuz, Dammuzi, Dionysos, Marduk, and Amun. Being born of a Virgin, hanging “between earth and sky,” dying and arising again after 3 days–these and other details occur in all stories of a savior god. Pagan Christs by John M. Robertson gives more information about these gods and their stories.
4. Easter’s tradition of eggs and lilies comes from their symbolism of fertility, creation, and rebirth. Many ancient cultures’ creation myths involved the earth being hatched from an egg. Ancient Persians and Egyptians exchanged colored eggs, usually red, in honor of spring. Greeks and Romans adopted the custom and extended the color palette. Because eggs were forbidden during Lent in Medieval Europe, they became very popular at Easter. Eastern Europeans created intricately designed and beautifully colored eggs, In Russia, Faberge eggs were first created as elaborate Easter gifts for the Russian royal family to give to friends.
Eggs were originally colored with natural plant dyes from plants. Red onion skins resulted in a soft violet color, carrots produced yellow eggs, and cherry juice gave us red eggs. The Russian word for the art of egg-coloring is “pysanka.”
The Easter lily has long been revered by pagans of various lands as a holy symbol associated with the reproductive organs and considered a phallic symbol.
6. People eat ham for Easter dinner, not as an insult to Jews, as some people have thought, but because pagan cultures slaughtered meat animals in the fall, preserved them during the winter, and finished everything off in the spring. Eating lamb for Easter dinner comes from the Jewish Passover holiday when a sacrificial lamb was eaten, along with other symbolic foods, at the Passover Seder. The Christians adopted the lamb as a symbol of Jesus and retained the custom.
7. Hot cross buns come from the wheat cakes baked in honor of Eostre. Christians replaced the horns on on top of the buns with crosses and had the cakes blessed by the Church. People in England believed that hanging a hot cross bun in the house would protect it from fire and bring good luck for the coming year.
8. The Easter bunny came from the rabbit representing the moon to the Egyptians. The hare was a totemic animal of the goddess Eostre, symbolizing fertility for Spring. In Germany, the Easter Bunny was like Santa Claus, delivering Easter treats to children and known as Osterhase. The children would build a nest for him to leave their eggs in, a custom that evolved into the modern Easter basket.
9. Easter eggs were once used as birth certificates in Germany. When families could not get to a town hall to file a birth certificate in the nineteenth century, they would provide an egg as identification. The egg, dyed and inscribed with the person’s name and birth date, was a legal document accepted by courts and other authorities.
10. Easter customs: In England, doors and windows are opened on Easter Sunday so that the sun can drive out any evil within. Rain on Easter morning means rain on the next seven Sundays. Finding a double-yolk egg on Easter is a sign of good luck. Getting up early on Easter and swimming in a cold stream will ease rheumatism pain.
A trauma for conservatives today was Google having the audacity to post a photo of—gasp!—Cesar Chavez on its search engine today to celebrate the birthday of the Mexican-American activist who battled for workers’ rights? Chavez is so revered that some states including California, Colorado, and—yes—Texas have a state holiday on his March 31 birthday. In 2011, President Obama declared March 31 as Cesar Chavez Day. Some conservatives declared that they were switching to the engine, Bing, http://www.bing.com/ because it had Easter eggs, possibly religious symbols to them. (The image was very pretty!)