The mythical figure Eostre is said to be the goddess of the sunrise and spring, the direction of the sunrise in the East is named after her. She is also the German goddess of the dawn. In Norse mythology, Eostare (also spelt Ostara) is the goddess of spring. Rituals relating to the goddess focus on new beginnings and fertility, symbolised by the egg and rabbit or hare. Over the centuries many popular customs have arisen from the springtime fertility celebrations of European and Middle Eastern pagan religions with eggs and rabbits becoming the most widely-used symbols for new life and fertility.
What is the legend of Easter Bunny?
One Anglo-Saxon legend tells how their pagan goddess Eostre found a wounded bird and transformed it into a hare, so that it could survive the winter. The hare found it could lay eggs, so it decorated these each spring and left them as an offering to the goddess.
Another version says that the goddess Eostre found a wounded bird in the snow. To help the little bird survive the winter, she transformed it into a rabbit, but the transformation was incomplete and the rabbit retained the ability to lay eggs. In thanks for its life being saved, the rabbit decorated the eggs and left them as gifts each year for Eostre.
How is the date of Easter Sunday decided?
This is a confusing one. Easter is a moveable feast, meaning it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar. It is thought that in 325 AD the Roman Emperor Constantine I established the date in an effort to settle the confusion and disagreement within the church about when Easter should be celebrated. Easter was set as the first Sunday after the Paschal (Passover) Full Moon following the northern hemisphere’s Vernal or Spring Equinox, which was reckoned to be on 21 March, although astronomically this falls on 20 March in most years.
Now it gets even more complicated…! The astronomers of 325 AD approximated astronomical full moon tables calling them Ecclesiastical Full Moon dates. The lunar month beginning with an ecclesiastical new moon falling in the 29-day period from March 8 to April 5 inclusive was designated as the paschal lunar month for that year. The Paschal Full Moon was set as the 14th of the paschal lunar month, although this may differ from astronomical full moon date by up to two days. The Paschal Full Moon must therefore fall between March 21 and April 18 inclusive, with Easter being on the Sunday following this full moon date. The date of Easter can therefore vary between 22 March and 25 April.
What are the earliest and latest dates for Easter?
Easter (using the Gregorian Calendar introduced in October 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII) can fall on 35 possible dates between 22 March and 25 April inclusive. It last fell on 22 March in 1818 and will not do so again until 2285, and on 23 March in 2008, the next year being 2160. Easter was on the latest possible date, 25 April, in 1943 and will next fall on that date in 2038. Last year (2011) Easter was on 24 April, just one day before this latest possible date. The cycle of Easter dates repeats after exactly 5,700,000 years, with 19 April being the most common date, happening 220,400 times.
This year (2012), the Equinox was 20 March, the next full moon following it is on 6 April, which is a Friday, and so making Easter Sunday 8 April.
What is the link between Easter and the Jewish Passover?
While Easter can be linked to the Jewish Passover by much of its symbolism and its position in the calendar corresponding to the beginning of spring, confusion in translation of the word for the two different events has arisen over the centuries. Prior to setting the Easter date calculations, Easter Day was celebrated either on the first day of the Jewish Passover, no matter which day of the week, or on the Sunday closest to the first Passover day.
Pesach is the Hebrew word for Passover which takes place on the 15th day of the month of Nissan. In most European languages the word Easter is derived from this word, for example: Pascua in Spanish, Pâques in French and Pasqua in Italian. In the older English versions of the Bible, the term Easter was the same term used to translate the word Passover – hence any confusion.
How did the Easter Egg of today evolve?
Eggs have been viewed as symbols of new life and fertility through the ages and for this reason, it is thought that many ancient cultures, including the Ancient Egyptians, Persians, and Romans, used eggs during their spring festivals.
The egg became an appropriate symbol for Easter because as well as signifying fertility and the arrival of spring, it can also have a Christian meaning, representing the resurrection and re-birth of Jesus, some believing it is a symbol of the stone blocking the Sepulchre being ‘rolled’ away.
The first Easter eggs (goose, duck or hen) were painted red to represent the blood of Christ, a tradition which continued and became more elaborate through the centuries. Decorating and colouring eggs for Easter was a common custom in England in the middle ages. Eggs were brightly coloured to mimic the new, fresh colours of spring. The practice of decorating eggs was made even more famous by King Edward I of England who ordered 450 eggs to be gold-leafed and coloured for Easter gifts in 1290. By the end of the 17th century the process had become commercialised and it was possible to buy pre-painted eggs.
During the next two centuries hollow cardboard or papier-mâché eggs became popular and were filled with presents. Sumptuously decorated eggs came into existence and this tradition culminated in the incredible jewel-encrusted Easter eggs created by the French master craftsman Fabergé in the late 19th century.
The first chocolate eggs originated in Europe in the early 1800s, although the nature of chocolate at that time made creating a hollow egg something of an achievement. A hundred years later, the improved chocolate making process and modern manufacturing methods gave rise to the commercially produced, relatively low cost, moulded chocolate Easter Egg. Cadbury’s made the first mass-produced eggs in England in 1873 and within the next one hundred years, it had become the most popular Easter gift.
What is the story behind painting Easter Eggs red?
The orthodox origin of giving red coloured eggs to friends is thought to derive from a biblical event. After the Ascension of Christ, Mary Magdalene supposedly went to the Emperor of Rome and greeted him with “Christ is risen”, whereupon he stated, “Christ has not risen no more than that egg is red” (pointing to an egg on his table). After making this statement it is said the egg immediately turned blood red. This came to represent the blood of Christ shed on the Cross and the egg shell represented the sealed tomb of Christ, the cracking of which symbolised his resurrection from the dead and the new life sealed within it. Red has always been a colour associated with Mary Magdalene and most modern icons show her holding a red egg.