Easter is a time of springtime festivals. In Christian countries Easter is celebrated as the religious holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the son of God. But the celebrations of Easter have many customs and legends that are pagan in origin and have nothing to do with Christianity
The name Easter is thought to come from the Scandinavian "Ostra" and the Teutonic "Ostern" or "Eastre," both Goddesses of mythology signifying spring and fertility. Their festival was celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox.
Traditions associated with the festival survive in the Easter rabbit, a symbol of fertility, and in colored Easter eggs, originally painted with bright colors to represent the sunlight of spring, and used in Easter-egg rolling contests or given as gifts
The Christian celebration of Easter embodies a number of traditions with emphasis on the relation of Easter to the Jewish festival of Passover (Pesach). Pasch, another name used by Europeans for Easter, is derived from Pesach.
Some Easter Symbols and Legends and What They Mean
Legend of the Dogwood
An old and beautiful legend says that, at the time of the crucifixion, the
dogwood was comparable in size to the oak tree and other monarchs of the forest.
Because of its firmness and strength it was selected as the timber for the
cross, but to be put to such a cruel use greatly distressed the tree. Sensing
this, the crucified Jesus in his gentle pity for the sorrow and suffering of all
said to it: "Because of your sorrow and pity for My sufferings, never again
will the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used as a cross. Henceforth it
will be slender, bent and twisted and its blossoms will be in the form of a
cross ~ two long and two short petals. In the center of the outer edge of each
petal there will be nail prints ~ brown with rust and stained with red ~ and in
the center of the flower will be a crown of thorns, and all who see this will
The Easter Lily
One of the most famous biblical references to the lily is the Sermon on the Mount, when Christ told his listeners: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."
Often called the "white-robed apostles of hope," lilies are said to have been found growing in the garden of Gethsemane after Christ's agony. Tradition says that the beautiful white lilies sprang up where drops of Christ's sweat fell to the ground in his final hours of sorrow and distress. Christian churches continue this tradition at Easter by filling their altars and surrounding their crosses with masses of Easter lilies to commemorate the Resurrection and hope of life everlasting.
The pure white lily has long been closely associated with the Virgin Mary. In early paintings, the Angel Gabriel is pictured extending to Mary a branch of pure white lilies, announcing that she is to be the Mother of the Christ child. In other paintings, saints are pictured bringing vases full of white lilies to Mary and the Infant Jesus.
In yet another expression of womanhood, lilies had a significant presence in
the paradise of Adam and Eve. Tradition has it that when Eve left the Garden of
Eden she shed real tears of repentance, and from those remorseful tears sprang
The Legend of the Butterfly
The life-cycle of the butterfly is used to symbolize the three stages in the life of Christ and the Christian. The caterpillar's incessant crawling and chewing reminds us of normal earthly life where people are often preoccupied with taking care of their physical needs. The chrysalis or cocoon resembles the tomb and suggests the empty grave clothes of the risen Christ. The butterfly represents the resurrection into a new and glorious life, free of material concerns and restrictions.
Early Gnostics portrayed the Angel of Death as a winged foot stepping on a butterfly. This insect is also found in paintings of Mary and the Christ Child.
Almost in opposition to its resurrection symbolism, the butterfly is also a symbol of frail humanity and the vanity and brevity of life. This delicate insect might even be torn apart by a hard rain. The dainty butterfly represents women, fickleness, autumn, joy, beauty, life, immortality, and new beginnings.
The Easter Bunny
The Easter Bunny is a symbol that originated with the pagan festival of Eastre. The goddess, Eastre, was worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons through her earthly symbol, the hare or rabbit.
The date of Easter is determined by the moon whose symbolism is strongly tied to that of the hare. In fact, the hare is the symbol for the moon. Ever since the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., Easter has been celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon after March 21st.
The Easter bunny was introduced to American folklore by the German settlers who arrived in the Pennsylvania Dutch country during the 1700s. The arrival of the "Oschter Haws" was considered "childhood's greatest pleasure" next to a visit from Christ-Kindel on Christmas Eve. The children believed that if they were good the "Oschter Haws" would lay a nest of colored eggs.
The children would build their nest in a secluded place in the home, the barn or the garden. Boys would use their caps and girls their bonnets to make the nests . The use of elaborate Easter baskets came later as the tradition of the Easter bunny spread through out the country.
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