Spring has definitely arrived

Published 6:29 pm Saturday, March 22, 2008

What a difference a week makes in life. By looking at the Bradford Pears blooming everywhere along with other blooms it is obvious spring has arrived. As you know, Thursday, March 20 was officially the first day of spring.

But today is even more important, as Easter is upon us. Most of us know that Easter is celebrated in remembrance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but is there more to the story than that? Like where did the Easter Bunny and Easter Egg come from, or was Easter once a pagan celebration?

Q. When was Easter first celebrated?

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According to historians Easter was originally a pagan festival called “Eastre” named after the goddess of offspring and springtime, Eastre. As it happened, the pagan festival of Eastre occurred at the same time of year as the observance of the Resurrection of Christ. Christian missionaries attempted to convert people and change the pagan festival to a Christian holiday. Over time they continued to allow the public to celebrate Eastre but added Christian values to it each year. The Christian tradition slowly made progress and eventually Eastre was changed to its modern spelling, Easter, and became widely accepted as a Christian celebration of the Resurrection of Christ.

The Council of Nicaea convened by Emperor Constantine, issued the Easter Rule which stated Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon or after the vernal equinox. This gets confusing but the “full moon” in the rule is the ecclesiastical full moon, which is defined as the 14th day of a tabular lunation, where day one corresponds to the ecclesiastical New Moon. It does not always occur on the same date as the astronomical full moon. The ecclesiastical “vernal equinox” is always on March 21. Therefore, Easter must be celebrated on a Sunday between the dates of March 22 and April 25.

Q. Where did the Easter Bunny and egg come from?

The Easter Bunny like the holiday goes way back before chocolate was invented. The rabbit was the earthly symbol for goddess Eastre. In addition the hare and the rabbit were the most fertile animals in earlier times and were viewed as symbols of the new life during the spring. The Germans first introduced America to the Easter rabbit sometime around 1700. However, the United States did not widely use it as a symbol for Easter until sometime after the Civil War.

The Easter egg also predates the Christian holiday of Easter. Eggs were exchanged many years as a custom every spring before the Christians ever celebrated Easter. From the earliest times, the egg was a symbol of rebirth in most cultures. The Romans, Gauls, Chinese, Egyptians and Persians all cherished the egg as a symbol of the universe and rebirth. From ancient times eggs were dyed, exchanged and shown reverence. Therefore painting, dying or coloring eggs has become a common ritual for children today on Easter morning.

Like many Christian holidays Easter has become secularized and is known for chocolate bunnies and colorful eggs hidden everywhere for children’s excitement. But hopefully this glimpse of the past allows you to understand where it came from and why it is celebrated.

David Carter is the director of the Adams County Extension Service. He can be reached at dcarter@ext.msstate.edu.