Monday, April 5, 2010

Cross Cultural Easter Celebrations: The Easter Bunny, His Eggs, and Chocolate!

Easter Sunday

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

Baby chicks

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!

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

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


Sham El-Nessim Greetings to Egyptians Everywhere!


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?


Susanne said...

Aw, what lovely pictures! I am a big fan of spring flowers - how wonderful to see such fantastic colors after winter months! Sooo cheery and bright - yay! (Can you tell I like color?) Cute rabbits at the church...hehehehe. Adorable. Great old-fashioned Easter greeting card, too.

Many churches have egg hunts for the children. I remember my days of decorating hard-boiled eggs to take to egg hunts at church. My dad would have a hunt for us, but he would use full-sized Baby Ruth and Butterfinger candy bars instead of eggs! (Not sure why those two kinds, but maybe those were his favorites and he hoped we'd share. ;-)) My nephew enjoys the hunts my sister makes up for him where she leaves a clue for him to follow to find the next clue and the next and next until he finds his Easter basket. I hope your nephew enjoyed dyeing eggs and lots of yummy chocolate!

Enjoyed this post. It was neat seeing some of those fancy eggs and reading where some of the traditions of secular Easter symbols came from and how they traveled across the ocean to America mostly by German settlers. It seems we got a lot of things from Germany as it seems you mentioned a few things in the Christmas post that also came from there. Thank you for sharing this. Great post as always!

Eager to see what is next! Have a joyful day!

Qusay said...

Easter, does that mean it comes from the east? Since we do not celebrate easter, but I do remember coloring eggs and looking for them when I was in kindergarten in the US when I was little.

My memories of it are of the celebrations televised on Egyptian television (we used to get a couple of Egyptian TV channels in Jeddah before the satellites) and they have a famous fish they ate.

Happy easter to you and your family.

ellen557 said...

Thank you for that lol! I still don't quite get it but I'll stick with this post a bit more - atm I'm getting symbols of fertility and new life? Lol.

As for secular celebrations - we had a few eggs on Sunday, just to go back to the roots, so to speak... but it was nice.

Yes, Australia is such a practicing Christian nation that we really did have a public holiday yesterday for Easter Monday... where most of us spent it lying around in bed :P hahah.

Chiara said...

Susanne--thank you for your kind words and sharing your experiences. I love the tradition you described of your church's Easter egg hunt. Unfortunately, in Canada, Easter weather is unpredictable, from snowy to balmy, and of course is more difficult to predict because of the range of dates from March to April in a given year.

The Easter Bunny was very good to my nephew, this year, as each year. This year, he seems to believe my nephew that he doesn't like jelly beans, and refrained from hiding those, or (alas for auntilary interests) the wonderful candy coated small chocolate eggs. This year it was mini chocolate bars (of the auntilary boring kind), the chocolate bunny, and a gift certificate.

Later my nephew coloured a dozen hard boiled eggs while we oohed and aahed. He used the wax crayon in the kit to keep part of his second creation white, then at our suggestion wrote his name on egg #3. Then of his own accord he did mine, grandma's, his mother's, and the dog, Whisper's. My sister said "Why don't you do one for Grampa?", but he shook his head no, and she added "oh, you should...", whereupon he did and added to that egg only 2 hearts above the name. When he showed us the finished blue coloured egg he said "Now don't start crying!" looking at each of us in turn. Good thing we didn't! Though we exchanged "looks" when he wasn't looking!

He likes to hide the eggs he colours and make us hunt for them. My sister wins every year... :( :( LOL :)

Thanks again for your comment. I am glad you had a good Easter!

Chiara said...

Qusay--thanks for sharing your experiences and memories! I think it is wonderful you had this egg colouring and hunting experience in kindergarten in the US, but then I am biased. I am thinking of buying my own dozen eggs for colouring next year, but I am afraid of freaking out my family (more than usual).

Thank you for reminding me by your comment that I had left out the Egyptian celebration of Sham El-Nessim, which was part of the draft that got inadvertently cut, in the wee hours of the immediate pre-posting. I did a little more research on it and revised the post accordingly.

I must have been very enriching to have had satellite channels from other countries previously in Saudi--if only to see how other Arab Muslims live!

Thanks again for your comment and reminder.

I hope there was at least a chocolate feast for your family, as chocolate goes well with any day! :)

Susanne said...

Chiara, thanks for sharing about your Easter and your nephew's egg decorating. It was really touching what you shared. If if makes you feel "good," I was just outside mowing the grass ten minutes ago and prayed for you and "Little Paul." I find mowing and walking good times for praying for blogging friends and I know you all are still grieving.

And, I think you SHOULD indulge your secret passion and buy a dozen eggs next year and decorate them! Maybe you can hide them, invite your sister over and finally beat her in "finding" the most. Hehehehe...wonder if she'd be fooled. ;)

Chiara said...

Ellen--thanks for your comment. It also caused me to mildly revise the post to be more explicit about the relationship of Pasqua to Ostara (religion to Easter/crucifixion to bunny)and to be more explicit that bunnies chicks and eggs were all conflated as fertility symbols.

Hard boiled eggs and chocolate are universal enough that celebrating Spring with them seems totally reasonable to me.

What no egg racing while attending a music concert? I'm SHOCKED! LOL :)

Thanks for your comment, and I am glad you and M took Easter Monday as a "family day". :)

Chiara said...

Susanne--it does make me feel good to know we are in your prayers, and I agree that walking outdoors is a spiritual time, even walking behind a lawnmower.

As I wrote in my rather long double comment (he asked for it! LOL :)) on Murtadha's March 2010 Panorama, I can still get caught off guard, though thankfully that was a unique "downer" that I wrote about.

My mother is probably the most affected and has the most daily reminders. She is "using supports appropriately" as I say in my professional life, but it will be a while before she feels less "abandoned". Fortunately her social supports are intact and she is a very busy and responsible grannie.

Thank you again for your prayers, and for your always kind and sensitive comments! :)

oby said...

This year we did things a bit daughter and I were invited to one of the last days of Passover and shared a lovely meal including all the attendant Hebrew prayers prior to the feast. I came with wine which my daighter didn't want to drink but did take the tiniest sip to be polite and respectful to their custom.

The next day we invited the girl who shared her Passover to our house and she and my daughter dyed two dozen hard boiled eggs. They had a great time doing it. It is always more fun when you have a friend to share. We sent her home with the dozen eggs that she had created.

I really liked the idea of my daughter getting to see someone else's holiday.

On Easter she hunted for the eggs and enjoyed the items from her Easter basket. Then we all went out to dinner(so mom didn't have to cook.) All in all a nice day.

Chiara said...

Oby--Thank you for your comment and for sharing a lovely interfaith Easter. I know Jewish and Christian families who do this sort of thing and I think the children are very enriched by it.

Nice dinner move! The new dishwasher (to replace the one that was broken over Christmas) was out of commission over Easter. My nephew came up with the idea of a very nice Chinese buffet for Easter dinner, and for once I agreed to so out of family tradition, and for once my sister balked at the idea. She even volunteered to do all the dishes (my mom and I cooked). I think she thought my dad would disapprove. She was probably right, and he would have done the same. Since he always helped with the cooking he would have volunteered to do all the dishes as well.

Thanks again for your comment! :)

single4now said...

That made me extremely hungry! I've never eaten an easter egg other than the kinder variety. :P

Love the egg decoration. It looks so brilliant, mashaAllah. But the coloured chicks - that's not right. I feel they tend to get sick and die quicker. :(

I don't see how putrified fish can be in such demand. It doesn't even look good. Then again, I was never a big fan of seafood. :P

Happy easter to you hun.

Susanne said...

Chiara, three words:

Can I come??


Anonymous said...

I LOVE chocolate Easter eggs! I don't know what it is about them, but they seem so much cooler compared with plain old chocolate bars.

I remember one Easter when I was a kid and an American family opposite the street held an Easter party for all the children with fun games and some not so very subtle proselytising :). We all enjoyed it though and I got to paint hard boiled eggs. Unfortunately, the family moved back to the States.

Chiara said...

Single4now--Thanks for your comment.

I am wondering if fiseekh is similar to the fruit durian, which smells foul but tastes wonderful as afficionados tell us. Somehow though I was happy to try durian (tastes infinitely better than it smells) I'm thinking if I were in Egypt for Sham El-Nissem I'd be skipping the fiseekh, and if at home preparing bacalao (salted cod) from whatever Italian grocer in some mediterranean recipe, my nonna's or some other grannie's.

I am hoping these chicks were dipped in harmless food colouring long enough for the photo shoot, and then carefully washed to their natural fluffy yellowness.

We must remedy that Easter Egg deficiency in your diet and artistry!

Emboldened by Susanne and Oby, I am reviving an old fantasy and planning how to enact it:
a 3 day Easter egg party for adults only.

Day 1 colouring hard boiled eggs, everything from PAAS Classic colouring kit for children to Ukrainian friend teaching the secrets of Eastern Europe.

Day 2--Easter egg hunting of the aforementioned eggs along with the chocolate variety from around the world, and some egg shaped treats for the non-chocolaholics, or the allergic.

Day 3--Egg eating

First course: entrees of egg salad, egg and potato salad, rice salad with vegetables, tuna, and hard boiled eggs, deviled eggs, eggs with your choice of seasonings--salt, pepper, paprika, cumin--eggs with balsamic vinegar;

Second course: Chicken mains of chicken marengo, chicken kabsa, arroz con pollo, roast stuffed chicken, chicken tagine with lemon and green olives, chicken parmigiana, braised rosemary chicken;

Third course egg desserts of chocolate eggs, chocolate mousse in an egg shaped cup, egg custards, trifle in an egg-shaped goblet, mascarpone, nougat, meringue, more chocolate.

Somehow I'm thinking the men will skip day 1 and maybe 2, but I hate to be sexist...

Anyone have any impressions or thoughts?

(yes I know about cholesterol--this is a 3 day break and Lipitor is available from an MD LOL :) )

Thanks again for your inspiring comment! :)

oby said...


Your menu sounds unbelievably yummy!!!! It is lunch time at the moment and I have not eaten yet today and now I am thinking I will go down and peel and Easter egg and make an egg salad sandwich!

I didn't mention in my post that my daughter and I dyed another dozen eggs so that she would have two dozen to hunt for. Well, Easter evening I went into the fridge to look for something and I noticed that only one dozen eggs were there. Over the course of the day she had systematically "snacked" on almost a dozen eggs!! The kid is 11 and skinny and has a good appetite, but a dozen eggs? Thankfully she doesn't like the yolk and had thrown away the center of each egg and had eaten only the white albumin part. It was a waste but, I can't imagine that she might not have keeled over from cholesterol poisoning! LOL! I don't know why, but those Easter eggs are so addictive. Maybe it is the bright colors!

Jay Kactuz said...

I can't believe you would write about bunnies and not mention the most famous, most feared and most historic of all the Leporidaes:

The "holy" Bunnny!

Chiara said...

Susanne--I assume you refer to the 3 day Easter Egg party, as noted below (poofed and added to from a previous version you probably read). Of course you can come! Bring Andrew and Samer, they can be part of the alternate Y-chromosome activities and join in the feasting or any other aspect they like! :)

Shafiq--thanks for sharing your experiences. I am glad they were so positive, and that the proselytizing was light. That reminds me of another fantasy: an Easter Egg party for children of a variety of backgrounds and faiths, involving colouring, hunting eggs, and chocolate. No proselytizing allowed. The invitation would include reassurances to parents and an invitation to attend as Easter Bunny helpers so they might be more reassured and have some fun too! :)

Thanks for your comment.

Jay--It is just tooooo scary to talk about the "Holy Bunny" LOL :) :P
Thanks for your comment and link. I wasn't aware of this Monty Python clip. I have a rather narrow set of Monty Python favourites. This is a good one!

Chiara said...

Oby--thank you! I think it needs some spring vegetables with the mains, and some berries with the desserts just to not clog the arteries too badly.

Thank you for sharing more about your daughter's adventures. Eating the whites only makes her nibblings more digestible! Nice source of albumin! Today I ate one of the boiled eggs that had cracked during the dying. They dye made a beautiful pink marbling effect through the cracks right on to the egg white. I agree, that is part of the addiction to Easter eggs! :)

Usman said...

Even though I am living in Canada for years, but I still didn't know anything about Easter except that Easter comes after Good Friday, and Good Friday is a Friday when we have a holiday :)

Chiara said...

Usman--Welcome to my blog, and thank you for sharing your experience. I think many are similarly bewildered but happy for the time away from normal routings.

I look forward to your comments on older and newer posts as well. Thanks again!

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