Friday, March 29, 2013

The Myths and Beauty of Easter

Spring has finally arrived with its natural wonders awakening all around after months of slumber under a Winter's blanket. The soil's crust beginning to thaw and crack open as new life reaches out for the comfort of the sun's warm embrace. With the awakening of life around him man's first celebration acknowledging the rebirth of nature hops to attention. Dusting off his furry coat, cleaning out his basket, the Easter Bunny is ready for duty.

Who is the Easter Bunny? Is it not simply a cute and gentle creature with long soft ears and whiskers? That he may be, but in the early days of Spring this gentle furball has a secondary role to play. He now delivers little treats to children, appears on greeting cards and on store window decals. But who is he really, and why is a rabbit delivering eggs?

The Easter Bunny has some similarity to Santa Claus, though he is way more cute than the old dude with the white beard. Our bunny also has a lower travel expenditure to report as the Easter Bunny has many more relatives around the world to help with deliveries unlike the bearded old dude. In fact there are hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of varying types of Easter Bunnies hopping around putting smiles on the faces of children and shop owners alike.

That in itself is a clue which helps to track down the origins and mystical allure of the bunny. Most of us have heard the saying “to breed like bunnies,” and female rabbits and hares, (it's enough to say that hares are simply another model of a bunny) sure know what that means. Female rabbits and hares can conceive a second litter of offspring whilst still pregnant with the first. This is scientifically known as superfetation, but science is too cold an explanation at such a time. It's enough to say that our bunny has become a symbol of fertility and of Spring.

The first mention of the Easter Bunny appears to come in Georg Franck von Frankenau's 'De ovis paschalibus' (About Easter Eggs) in 1682. Our Easter Bunny is no youngster, just like Santa. North America came face-to-face with the traditions of the gift bearing bunny in the 18th century. German immigrants in the Pennsylvania Dutch area retold stories about the “Osterhase,” and according to those legends only good children received gifts of coloured eggs.

Regardless of where the legend of the Easter Bunny comes from he is still always associated with eggs. Everyone knows rabbits do not lay eggs, so why the egg? As with the cute bunny the brightly decorated egg has been symbolic with Easter's celebration.

Today we have the traditionally decorated eggs, eggs coloured with edible food colouring, chocolate eggs, eggs filled with Smarties, and oh so much more. Ancient Egyptians, Persians, Phoenicians, and Hindus believed that the world began with an enormous egg, so much for the mumbo-jumbo of the Earth being flat. Hollywood brought an alien named Mork in a flying egg, and Carl Faberge turned them into jewelled treasures.

Eggs in general, were a traditional symbol of fertility, similar to the rabbit, though the practice of decorating eggshells is more ancient. Decorated Ostrich eggs that are 60,000 years old had been found in Africa. Ostrich eggs decorated in gold and silver were known to be placed in graves of ancient Sumerians and Egyptians as early as 5,000 years ago. Early Christians of Mesopotamia stained eggs red in memory of the blood of Christ, and the Christian Church officially adopted the custom of regarding the eggs as a symbol of the resurrection in 1610 AD, in a prayer by Pope Paul V.

Both Western and Eastern Christianity prohibited the consumption of eggs during Lent and other traditional fast days. Today fasting seems to be more a political diversion or a publicity stunt. Within the Christian faith fasting is held to symbolize the cleansing of both the body and soul in preparation for the celebration of Christ's resurrection. In the Eastern Orthodox faith baskets of coloured eggs and other Paschal foods such as paskha, kulich or Easter breads were brought to the Church for blessing.

Celebration brings with it in course joy and games, the traditional Easter egg hunt is a game where eggs may be hidden indoors and out for children to search out. The child with the largest number of eggs found wins a prize. Another traditional game played in many countries such as Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia, Ukraine, Russia, Serbia, and more, is the tapping of hard boiled eggs where each player hits the other player's egg with their own. The winner is simply the player with the last intact egg, and the prize is up to anybody's imagination. European settlers brought with them, as they populated the New World, a tradition of egg rolling, a game played by children who would roll eggs down hillsides at Easter. It is a tradition that continues to this day each Easter on the White House lawn. Later the egg shells are used as a carpet at press conferences.

Regardless of what country or tradition, eggs have been a part of Easter celebrations for centuries. Whether one prefers the brightly decorated Easter eggs or the cute Easter Bunny, it is the meaning behind such a celebration that we all share. To some it is a deep religious time symbolizing sacrifice and rebirth. Others simply celebrate the awakening of nature after Winter's slumber. In the end we all share in the commonality of celebration of life.

Yet one question remains unanswered, begging to be asked. Santa knows that each December 24th is the day he trains for all year. The Easter Bunny does not have that luxury, as Easter changes year to year. Research has provided this explanation, “Easter is the Sunday following the paschal full moon.” Mind you this explanation needs an explanation.

Wikipedia explains that the paschal full moon refers to the ecclesiastical full moon of the northern spring used in the determination of the date of Easter. It is warned on Wikipedia that the calculations to determine the date of the paschal full moon are “somewhat complex.” The brief description is as follows: “Nineteen civil calender years are divided into 235 lunar months of 30 and 29 days each (the so-called “Ecclesiastical moon.”) The period of 19 years (the metonic cycle) is used because it produces a set of civil calendar dates for the ecclesiastical new moon. Exactly one ecclesiastical new moon in each year falls on a date between March 8 and April 5, both inclusive. This begins the paschal lunar month for that year, and thirteen days later is the paschal full moon. Easter is the Sunday following the paschal full moon. In other words, Easter falls from one to seven days after the paschal full moon, so that if the paschal full moon is on a Sunday, Easter is the following Sunday.”

A slightly simpler explanation was found on, here it said “Easter is called a moveable feast because it is not celebrated on a fixed date every year. Easter falls somewhere between late March and late April each year, following the cycle of the moon. After several centuries of disagreement, all churches accepted that Easter is the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon which is the first full moon on or after March 21.”

Adding to the mix one cannot eliminate the fact that Eastern Orthodox Christians use a different set of arithmetical parameters in their calculations. In 2013 Easter Sunday for Eastern Orthodox Christians will be Sunday May 5th.

It is understandable why the Easter Bunny simply kicks back till he sees the red light blinking, and then he hops into action. So whether it is a spiritual emotion or simply a celebration of life, raise a glass, crack an egg, hug a bunny and enjoy.

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