Growing up Jewish always brought a host of questions this time of year. Did we really have to do the whole “matzah thing” again for an eight-day stretch? What was the deal with eating fish on Fridays? And that most perplexing of all mysteries – what do colored eggs, jelly beans, and rabbits have to do with commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
The sacrifices of the unleavened Passover diet were difficult enough for a bread-obsessed, food-focused kid, but watching my friends make what seemed to be drastically reduced abstentions with Lent and gorging on spiral ham, Peeps, and Cadbury eggs at Easter made this time of year even harder to swallow.
The passage of time and the onset of maturity have given me a more accepting take on the practices connected with these Spring festivals, but I’m still left with unanswered questions regarding my Christian brothers’ and sisters’ Easter observances. An attempt divine some answers via an Easter-themed google search may have given me more than I bargained for in the “things that make you go huh?” department. It should come as no surprise that the internet is filled with an abundance of informational sites that pop up when you type in “What is Easter?”, so grab a big proverbial grain of salt for my findings, and let’s dig in!
1) Did you know that depending on whom you believe, the name Easter stems from the pagan goddess Ashtaroth, goddess of Spring and Fertility, or the Egyptian fertility goddess Astarte, or the Anglo-Saxon fertility goddess Ostara. or…the commonality of all of these goddesses and their names leads me to my next point, which is…
2) Were you aware that the Christian holiday of Easter evolved from pagan celebrations honoring their fertility goddesses upon the arrival of Spring? There are even descriptions of families celebrating their savior’s resurrection by decorating their homes with flowers and bunnies, painting and hiding eggs, observing 40 days of abstention ending in a worship service at dawn and a ham dinner with all the fixings. Only these weren’t early Christians, they were Babylonian families celebrating the resurrection of their god Tammuz, who was led back to life by their fertility goddess Ishtar. Sounds a bit like Easter, only the events just described took place over 2,000 years before the birth of Jesus!
2) Did you know that the celebration of Easter wasn’t commonplace in America until nearly 100 years after the country was founded? The Puritans who arrived on our shores seeking freedom to observe religion in the manner they saw fit were leery of the pagan festivals connected with the arrival of Spring. These misgivings about the “chiristian nature” of certain holidays included Christmas as well. The appearance of Easter as a celebration of the mystery of faith (the death, resurrection and ascension to heaven of Jesus) became more commonplace shortly after the Civil War.
3) Lastly, the connection of rabbits and eggs to the holiday is somewhat murky, but both served as symbols of fertility and life dating back to some of the earliest pagan practices, and seemed to accompany the transformation of pagan spring festivals into what is more commonly known as Easter.
None of this, of course, is shared with any intention other than to illuminate some lesser known aspects of a celebration that is a mainstay in our lives. As is often the case, the celebrations and traditions that have been a part of many of our lives for as long as we or our parents and grandparents can remember are not necessarily what we might have expected. The research (if you can refer to a google search as such!) leaves us with the impression that no matter what the explanation, these times of year are likely descended from universal and time honored celebrations of man, hope, life, faith, and family brought on by the burst of life that arrives with Spring each year.
Most importantly, keep in mind that Spring and the arrival of the holidays like Easter and Passover create a wonderful time to gather with friends and family, be grateful for our many blessings, and send lots of beautiful arrangements from the folks at Exotic Flowers as a token of that gratitude! Happy holidays, and Happy Spring!
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