When I was a young child Easter was an exciting time. I got to wear new clothes and a big straw hat. I remember one with a pretty grosgrain ribbon around it. The ribbon hung down in the back and in my memory it is blue. At Christmas and Easter we attended my father’s church as well as my mother’s. I liked his best. Not only did they sing hymns but also at Easter geraniums lined the church driveway for children like me to take home after the service. Then we would go to a relative’s for lunch and there would be candy after dessert. My mother did not approve of candy so we seldom had it at home unless someone brought it. That was my Easter celebration.
Easter and spring are synonymous. From time immemorial people have found ways to celebrate the coming of the warmer, lighter days and the passing of the dark, cold ones. When primitive cultures worshipped personalities that embodied seasons, they honored their gods and goddesses of spring, summer, fall and winter. Celebrations throughout the world centering on spring, especially in cold climates, had much in common with today’s Christian Easter.
The rising of Christ from the dead ends the period of self-deprivation or fasting known as Lent. The rebirth of the garden and the growth of new life is echoed in the Christian Easter observance. In the days before refrigeration and supermarkets, because the garden and the fields were bare and brown Lent was observed willy-nilly. In the cold climates all there was to eat were stored, dried vegetables, roots and grains. Nothing green was available. The growth of the first plants was something to be hailed as individuals foraged and found fresh vegetable matter to eat after the long winter months.
There was great cause to rejoice in the coming of the longer light and the warmer days. Different cultures evolved their own observances centering around their own deities and beliefs. Many of these customs have come down to us and are part of our observances today. The ways we celebrate our Easter, similar to our Christmas celebrations have become a conglomeration of the various cultures from which we derive our present day civilization. However they are all a reflection of the original reasons to celebrate: the coming of a time of growth and renewal after a period of hardship and sacrifice.
These customs all contain the affirmation that growth and change will proceed uninterrupted, and that the ultimate harvest will be a good one. The bunny that brings the Easer basket is Germanic in origin, a favorite of the goddess of spring. The symbolic eggs too come from there, as well as from other places representing symbols of new life. When you buy marshmallow Peeps or chocolate eggs, you echo the innocence of that beginning. The purchase of new clothes too is symbolic as is the Easter feast common to most families. What seems meaningful is not how we celebrate but that as from time immemorial we acknowledge the wonderful coming of warmer weather and brighter days for all.