History of Easter, the Easter bunny and Easter eggs
The ancient Anglo-Saxons celebrated the return of spring with a carnival commemorating their goddess of offspring and of springtime, Eostre. The word carnival possibly originated from the Latin ‘carne vale’ meaning “flesh, farewell” or “meat, farewell.” The offerings were rabbits and colored eggs, bidding an end to winter.
As it happened, the pagan festival of Eostre occurred at the same time of year as the Christian observance of the Resurrection of Christ and it didn’t take the Christian missionaries long to convert the Anglo-Saxons when they encountered them in the 2nd century. The offering of rabbits and eggs eventually (in the 8th century, it is thought) became the Easter bunny and Easter eggs.
Prior to 325 AD, Easter was variously celebrated on different days of the week, including on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. In that year, the Council of Nicaea was convened by emperor Constantine. It issued the Easter Rule which states that Easter shall be celebrated on the first Sunday that occurs after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox.
The “full moon” in the rule is the ecclesiastical full moon, which is defined as the 14th day of a tabular lunation, where day 1 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 21st March but Easter Sunday is the Sunday following the Paschal Full Moon, the first full moon occurring on or after the spring equinox.
Easter follows a period of fasting called Lent, a period of six weeks. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, a Christian holy day of prayer and fasting, and ends on Good Friday.
The week leading up to Easter is called the Holy Week or Passion Week. It includes Palm Sunday (the day Jesus entered Jerusalem), Maundy Thursday (commemorating the Washing of Feet and the Last Supper, where Jesus met with his disciples to observe Passover), and Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus.
Easter Sunday is celebrated as the day Jesus rose again. This is the day you’ll get Easter eggs.
The resurrection of Jesus is then – from Easter Sunday onward – celebrated for 50 days during a time called Easter season or Eastertide.
In many countries, Easter Monday is a public holiday (but not in the United States). In the Eastern Orthodox Church and Byzantine Rite Catholic Churches, Easter Monday is also called “Bright Monday” or “Renewal Monday.”
Fish on Good Friday
For centuries, Christians have abstained from eating meat (or meat from any warm-blooded animal) on Good Friday to acknowledge and do penance for the death of Jesus. Catholics are required to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and each Friday in Lent.
Fish, on the other hand, are cold-blooded and therefor is the traditional dish on Good Friday.
Fish are given symbolic meaning several times in the Gospels and the “sign of the fish” or the “Jesus fish” – in the form of two intersecting arcs, known as the ichthys – was a secret symbol used by early Christians.
Hot cross buns
The word bun is derived from the Saxon word “boun” (pronounced “bo-han’) which means “sacred ox.” At the ancient Celtic feast of Eostre, an ox was sacrificed with the ox’s horns becoming a symbol for the feast. They were carved into the ritual bread, thus “hot cross buns.”
Initially, the cross on the buns represented the moon, the heavenly body associated with the goddess Eostre, and its four quarters. Today, the cross on hot cross buns represents the cross of Christ and therefor hot cross buns traditionally are eaten on Good Friday.
But since hot cross buns they are so delicious and so popular, they are enjoyed throughout the Holy Week. Some supermarkets start stocking them the day after Christmas while some stock them throughout the year.
Wishing you a Happy Easter!