Archive for Thursday, April 1, 2010

Easter traditions vary

April 1, 2010

While it is sometimes overshadowed by other special occasions, the observance of Easter is truly unique. It is an unusual combination of religious observances and secular celebrations that combines traditions taken from pagan cultures. Probably the most unique facet of Easter is its date changes every year.

In 325, the first Council of Nicaea set the observance of Easter on the first Sunday after the full moon following the Vernal Equinox. This means Easter Sunday can be celebrated as early as March 22 and as late as April 25. Several sources say the date was planned to replace some early pagan springtime celebrations by Teutonic tribes.

I found there are some very unusual ancient Easter traditions in parts of the world. In portions of ancient Sweden, it was believed witches flew into church steeples on Easter eve. There were some areas where children dressed up as witches and were given treats, which is a bit like the modern trick-or-treating.

Not to be outdone, neighboring Norway apparently still has a strange tradition during its rather long Easter holiday break. In that time, people read mystery or crime novels. One of the Easter celebrations in Latvia is a game where players toss eggs to each other, and the last one with an unbroken egg wins.

Easter celebrations as we know them were late additions in the United States. It wasn’t until after the U.S. Civil War that Americans became immersed in the observance of Easter. Most experts feel the bloodshed and death of the previous four years made Americans more interested in the true story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, it wasn’t long before secular traditions began to move into the observance.

The Easter Rabbit soon became the bearer of gifts to children. Both the rabbit and the egg were major parts of the Anglo-Saxon celebration of spring and fertility. The tradition of new clothes at Easter goes back to a European belief that new garments were symbolic of new life as a Christian. It wasn’t long before retailers got in on the act, and Easter bonnets, dresses and suits were heavily advertised.

The idea of an Easter parade dates back to the medieval times when members would march around the church following the Easter services. An English printer added a rabbit to stationary, and it wasn’t long before the Easter greeting card was on the market.

In general, Easter celebrations are a happy combination of religious observances and secular celebrations. Easter normally heralds the start of springtime with warmer temperatures and more opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.

That hasn’t always been the case in recent history. Probably the most somber Easter in the United States was April 16, 1865. President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on Good Friday, April 14, and the nation was plunged into deep mourning and fear. That Easter has often been called the saddest in our history.

One of the most violent Easters was in Ireland on April 24, 1916, when Irish militants launched a short but violent uprising. The Irish rebels took control of public buildings, but it wasn’t long before British troops came from the front lines in Europe, and the riot was quelled.

For most of us, Easter is a time for family celebrations in addition to special church services. It is a time to color boiled Easter eggs and to enjoy family fun. In our case, we still have a family Easter egg hunt in the backyard. We have gone from hiding eggs for young children to grandchildren.

I sincerely hope you have a great Easter celebration, no matter what you enjoy doing. Don’t forget Easter is a time of increased traffic on highways, and if you are taking a trip, please drive carefully. All I can add is: Happy Easter!


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