Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Easter - The Most Confusing Holiday

We all enjoy the annual Easter holiday in our various ways, but if you take a moment to reflect on what Easter is about you can be excused for quickly becoming confused.

Easter is mainly a Christian religious festival, celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ after he died on the Cross. For many Christians, Easter is the most important time in their year, because it deals with matters that lie at the very heart of their faith.

So what has that got to do with Easter bunnies?

And how come a celebration of Christ's Resurrection features painted and chocolate Easter eggs so prominently?

To add to the confusion, have you ever tried to plan an Easter holiday away, only to discover it is celebrated at a different time this year from the date it was held last year? Easter Sunday computations can see it fall anywhere between March 22 and April 25. It falls on March 23 in 2008, making this year's celebrations an exceptionally early Easter. It will next fall on the 23rd in 2160 and on the 22nd in 2285.

The Christian Easter festivities owe much, including the date they are celebrated, to the earlier Jewish Passover festivities, which are based on the Hebrew lunisolar calendar. The complications come from the translation of dates based on the cycles of the moon and the sun to our Gregorian calendar.

For many, Easter is also a time to celebrate the new life and renewal of growth that is associated with Spring. This idea is part of a more recent move to secularize the holiday, including suggestions to rename Easter as Spring Holiday. But what if you live in the Southern Hemisphere where Easter is celebrated as leaves fall and Winter approaches?

Other regional oddities associated with Easter can also be confusing to travelers. In parts of Eastern Europe you might encounter an Easter tradition of men splashing women with water, and giving them a symbolic whipping. In parts of Scandinavia, Easter resembles Halloween, with children dressed as witches going from door to door exchanging candy for decorated branches of sprouting pussy willow.

Such traditions, and the link between Easter and Spring, are unrelated to Christian traditions. They owe more to the older pagan celebration of the end of a long hard winter and the beginnings of renewed growth and new life. This tradition is symbolized by the giving of Easter eggs, which still remains extremely popular, especially in today's popular commercialized form of the chocolate Easter egg.

The idea of the Easter Bunny is believed to have descended from a pagan association between Easter and the sight of male hares facing off in the fields as part of their Spring mating rituals, which also gave rise to the common saying, "mad as a March hare". The Easter hare, along with the Easter egg, became a symbol of fertility and new life at Springtime. Somewhere along the way someone must have decided cute little bunnies were more commercially appealing than cavorting hares.

Confusing though this mix of traditions may seem, we all choose how to celebrate Easter in our own way, as a holiday with its origins merged from many cultures and from long ago.

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