As addressed in the previous post, Passover, Pasqua, Pilgrimage: Yeshua, Jesus, and Isa, Easter Sunday closes out Holy Week as Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Traditionally the resurrection is celebrated with sunrise services, the sun ascending on the rebirth of Mankind through the sacrifice of the Messiah. Easter Sunday also opens the Octave of Easter, the 8 days between it and the Sunday following Easter, which is part of the Roman Catholic liturgy, and of Eastern Christianity. Easter Sunday is also the day when cultural and secular celebrations following the Resurrection begin. As Easter was the traditional end of the year and beginning of the new one, much like the Vernal Equinox, it is a celebration of Spring, and Rebirth.
The Resurrection of Christ is the rebirth of humanity and of human nature, heralding the newness of his message of love and forgiveness over the greater preoccupation of the old message and the Old Testament, with the message of law, obedience and punishment, as best symbolized by Moses and the 10 Commandments. Muslims join in believing that these are the 2 great messages from w of Allah’s messengers: the law from Musa; love from Isa. They believe though that a 3rd messenger, Mohamed, was needed to deliver the final message of submission to Allah, as a necessary corrective to return to the straight path, given that both Jews and Christians had strayed, and their Holy Books suffered from multiple manuscript errors.
Easter Sunday morning, while important to Christians for church services--in fact, many attend church only once a year, to do their “Easter duty”--is also an important time for secular and cultural celebrations of Easter, originally Eastre or Eostre, the Nordic and Germanic goddess of Spring, whose celebration Ostara was Christianized as Christianity spread northward throughout Europe. In many Christian homes, religious or not, the Easter Bunny has passed in the night, leaving hidden in the home, or sometimes in the yard, candy Easter eggs, and chocolates in the forms of eggs, rabbits, chicks, or baskets, as well as toys, and other gifts.
Some of the sweets are elaborate confectionary works of art, while others are fun, shiny, and highly coloured. Coloured plastic eggs may contain prizes or notes for gifts. The children rush about hunting for “Easter eggs” and parents give discreet hints, including “warmer” “colder” directions, especially for the youngest and most enchanted.
The Easter Bunny is somewhat of a mystery, since this seemingly male bunny lays eggs, or at the very least distributes them, with no Mrs Easter Bunny to be found. Sometimes he is accompanied by chicks but even then these baby birds are in no way responsible for the Easter eggs. The Easter Bunny or Easter Hare is, like many contemporary Easter traditions, a German one, pre-Christian one, that spread to other lands.
A window display of the Osterhasen Museen/Easter Bunny museum, at the Center for Extraordinary Museums, Munich
Yet, like bunnies, chicks, and eggs are ancient symbols of fertility, the fertility that is everywhere evident with the coming of "Eostre", Spring, and which combines in festivity these seemingly incongruous elements. For that reason, too, spring flowers are also symbols of Easter, as are bright “new” colours, and the pastels of youth.
Baby Chicks in the Easter Colours
As was elaborated in the post on the Vernal Equinox, festivals celebrating the arrival of spring are ancient and universal. As Christianity spread, Holy Week, the Passion, and the Paschal liturgy came to be associated with local pre-Christian spring rituals and symbols. As spring is a resurrection of nature from the death of winter, the symbols are not as inappropriate or contradictory as they may at first seem.
A Spring Bouquet
Spring Daffodils and Tulips
The Easter parade, and the Easter bonnet, once mainstays of Easter celebrations seem to be passing out of favour, but are still part of tradition:
An old-fashioned Easter greeting card
The song "Easter Parade", from the film Holiday Inn, note the Easter bonnet
The song "Easter Parade" from the film Easter Parade,
note the rapid gender role correction of the Easter bonnet!
note the rapid gender role correction of the Easter bonnet!
These days, Easter Sunday afternoon may be spent decorating hard boiled Easter eggs with coloured food dye, transferred images, stickers, crayons, or in the case of the traditional and famous Ukrainian Easter eggs with very elaborate high skill traditional and contemporary designs.
Easter time was also the inspiration for the famous bejeweled Fabergé eggs, originally created by the House of Fabergé as miniature egg-shaped gifts of jewels at Easter. The most famous larger, very elaborate eggs were created at the request of Tsar Alexander III for the Empress Maria Federovna, suggested by a jeweled egg her aunt owned. An annual tradition began with Carl Fabergé creating more and more elaborate designs which were a surprise even to the Tsar.
On the death of Tsar Alexander III, his son Tsar Nicholas II continued the tradition, and gave both his wife and his mother a Fabergé egg each Easter. Other eggs were made for notable families of Moscow and beyond, including the Rothchilds. Some examples are shown here, but the book which is well presented in synopsis online, Fabergé Treasures of Imperial Russia, is well worth reading and has very high quality pictures and descriptions of famous Fabergé eggs along with the history of their creation 1885-1917 when the Russian Revolution ended the lives of the Tsar and his family.
Other Easter Sunday afternoon activities are enjoying nature, gardening, and preparing Easter dinner. Traditionally Easter dinners celebrate spring as well: spring lamb, baby veal, spring chickens, ham; spring vegetables; greens; Easter breads, and cakes.
Italian Easter Bread
Greek Easter Bread
Hot Cross Buns
Greek Easter Lamb Dinner
Easter Monday is the second day of the Easter Octave. In Eastern Christianity, the religious prayers of Easter Sunday are repeated with minor variation, but in most of Christianity, Easter Monday is no longer a significant religious holiday. These days, Easter Monday, where it is a holiday, mainly in Catholic and Eastern Christian countries, tends to be the expression of the secular and cultural joy of the Easter/Spring season. Many of the traditions are Germanic or Anglo-Saxon, starting from the sphere of influence of Germany, into the Netherlands and Britain, then brought to North America by German settlers, and to Australian by the British. Thus Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and the US are among the countries where the celebrations are most marked, though are not the only ones to celebrate Easter Monday, nor is it a universal activity in those countries.
Walks through nature on Easter Monday celebrate both the walks of Jesus, after the Resurrection, and the rebirth of nature
While the links give more complete descriptions I will mention a few of the highlights here: Australia--music festivals, outdoor sports, and a chocolate bilby in place of a chocolate bunny; Canada--some have a statutory holiday for time with family, outdoors activities, and travel time; Germany--candlelit parades in the South commemorating the walks of Jesus after the Resurrection, walks in nature, egg races, and egg rolls; the Netherlands--a large festive breakfast, egg decorating and hunts, care of the home and garden, nature walks, celebration with spring flowers and spring bonnets; the United Kingdom--a statutory holiday so that people may be travelling or resting, caring for home and garden, participating in egg races, Morris dancing festivals, Easter parades with Easter bonnets; the United States--the White House Easter Egg Roll, the commemorative eggs decorated by an artist of each State and presented for the President's Easter Egg Collection, local Easter egg rolls.
Certain commonalities underpin these and other cultural celebrations of Easter Monday, which are essentially those of Spring, focusing on the new in nature, both animals and flowers.
Egyptians Celebrating Sham El-Nessim in 2009; photos by Sherif Sonbol, Al-Ahram Weekly Online
Egypt celebrates Easter Monday in a very special way, and one particularly relevant to this post, as well as the last one, and the Vernal Equinox one--as a national festival shared by Christians and Muslims: Sham El-Nessim, or Sham Ennissim ("Smelling the Zephyr or West Wind/Spring Air"). Originally a planting/ harvest festival, 4500 years old, this celebration of spring has evolved with the religious demographic of Egypt over the centuries, from pre-Christian to Christian, to Islamicized, and now a secular one for all Egyptians. Family, outdoor fun, and food predominate the festivities which are televised throughout Egypt and abroad to the diaspora, also celebrating.
According to Cairene blogger Zeinobia, of Egyptian Chronicles, in her greetings on Easter Monday/ Sham El-Nessim, it wouldn't be Sham El-Nessim without Souad Hosni's singing "Al Donya Rabi3"
Egyptians of all social strata picnic in the available green spaces, on a traditional meal of lettuce, onions, and fesikh (or feseekh)--one offered by the Ancient Egyptians to the gods, as recorded by Plutarch in his Annals. Fesikh is a specially prepared fish dish of grey mullet, left in containers to putrefy to perfection then salted, and left to pickle for months. It has a pungent odour, and fetches high prices from Egyptians eager to feast on it for Sham El-Nessim. Unfortunately, numerous cases of botulism, many fatal, occur each year as a result of over putrefication.
Preparing Fesikh, Feseekh, Fiseekh, Fiseekh
Some substitute other salted, non-putrefied fish, like sardine filets, or pickled herring. Coloured eggs (a pharaonic tradition), lupine beans, koshari (rice, macaroni, and lentils)and fuul(beans) are other favourite foods. Egyptian Chahira Daoud, of Chahira's Cuisine, offers recipes and photos of her family's 2009 feast. John Jensen of Global Post, writes an interesting article, Something Fishy Is Going On In Egypt, combining the near universal love of fesihk, last year's fatwa against eating it from Al-Azhar University, and current Egyptian elections, with a hope that ElBaradei's attempt to unseat Mubarak succeeds. The accompanying short video is well worthwhile.
Coptic Christians in a Cairene Church, for Sham El-Nessim/Easter
While colouring eggs is a traditional Egyptian activity since Ancient times, buying coloured plastic ones is becoming popular. An Al-Ahram Weekly article from 2009, Green and Savoury, provides insight into the festival from its origins to its contemporary manifestations, as does the feature story of a tourist magazine, Sham El Nessim Egypt Spring Festival .
Coloured eggs for Sham El-Nessim
HAPPY EASTER TO ALL WHO CELEBRATE!
What secular celebrations of Easter do you enjoy?
How do you blend those, or not, with the religious aspects?
If you are in a mixed family, whether cross-cultural or interfaith or both, how do you handle Easter celebrations, religious, cultural, and secular?
If you are living abroad as an expatriate or a student, what opportunities have you had to maintain your traditions, and explore others?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?