Sunday, April 4, 2010

Why it feels like Easter time

Two quick Easterly follow-ups to the thought a few days ago on April Fools' Day as a holiday in celebration of the vernal equinox (i.e. spring).

  • The vernal equinox, I've since learned, can be considered either the 'first day of spring' or the 'middle of spring' for the northern hemisphere depending on your perspective (ground temperature change versus scientific equinox of when sunlight is at a precise midpoint on the earth's surface, respectively).
  • It's Easter! Why is it "Easter"? Easter is a critically important religious holiday for Christian faiths. So why not call it Resurrection Day (a few do), or the Festival of the Ascendance, or Jesus April Fools Day? According to the Oxford English Dictionary's AskOxford.com: "Etymologically, 'Easter' is derived from Old English. Germanic in origin, it is related to the German Ostern and the English east. [Bede] describes the word as being derived from Eastre, the name of a goddess associated with spring." So, at least in name if not spirit, Easter has strong ties to the season of spring.

Ok, one more:
  • Easter Bunnies and Easter eggs came into the picture about a millennium and a half after the holiday got its roots, around the 1600's in medieval Germany (the Holy Roman Empire). Originally, the German tradition of bringing eggs was not linked to Easter, nor were the eggs edible. America especially liked the tradition and adopted it from German immigrants (similar to the idea of Kris Kringle) and in the modern era the Easter bunny and colorful eggs are the ubiquitous symbols of a secularized Easter. This linking of imagery was not threatening to the Christian churches because bunnies and eggs are ancient symbols of fertility. From Wikipedia: "Eggs, like rabbits and hares, are fertility symbols of extreme antiquity. Since birds lay eggs and rabbits and hares give birth to large litters in the early spring, these became symbols of the rising fertility of the earth at the Vernal Equinox."
I'll close with an intriguingly opposed perspective (so to speak) from an Australian social researcher, Hugh Mackay, on Easter:
"A strangely reflective, even melancholy day. Is that because, unlike our cousins in the northern hemisphere, Easter is not associated with the energy and vitality of spring but with the more subdued spirit of autumn?" - Hugh Mackay
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