From bunnies to lillies, Easter explained

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 5, 2009

Did you know Easter started as a pagan festival called “Eastre” named after the goddess of offspring and springtime. It was celebrated because there was so much joy and magic happening in the spring time of the year. It was not until years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ did the Council of Nicaea, convened by Emperor Constantine, issue 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. 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 lily come from?

A: Back in the 1800s with the rise in the Easter observances by the Protestants in America no living symbol was used to honor Easter. Flowers were not used, and lilies did not begin growing until later in the year.

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In the 1880s Thomas P. Sargent made a trip to Bermuda where he found a naturally blooming white lily that he took home to Philadelphia with. This trumpet shaped, snow white lily was native of Japan but made an immediate impact in the United States. The Easter lily, with the latin name Lilium longiflorum, is now one of the top selling potted plants in the world, following only the Christmas poinsettias, mums and azaleas.

Tradition has it that when Eve left the Garden of Eden she shed real tears of repentance, and from those remorseful tears sprung up lilies. The spiritual principle held here is that one showing true repentance for sin is the beginning of greater beauty. Another legend claims that the blood and sweat from Jesus that fell from the cross in his final hours and was transformed by a miracle into a flower to fill heaven and earth.

This Easter lily, also known as the “white-robed apostles of hope,” is now used to tell the complete story of Jesus’ resurrection. The elegant white flowers symbolize new life and eternal hope. The buried bulb represents the tomb of Jesus. The fragrance and white trumpet, which emerge from the bulb, signify life after death. The distinct glamour of the snow white color stands for purity and joy of the resurrection.

Q: Where did the Easter bunny and egg come from?

A: The Easter Bunny 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 Extensions Service. He can be reached at 601-445-8201.