Spring has sprung, the holidays are just around the corner, and the shops are all full of seasonally themed motifs. Bunnies, butterflies, chicks and eggs can be found printed on fabrics, stamped on flatware and hung as decorations everywhere you look.
My house is rammed full of chocolate eggs, I have a bright yellow pair of cockerels adorning my mantelpiece, cute woven baskets have been made and brought home by my children from school, and I’m preparing to dye four dozen eggs bright red in a few days. So I started to wonder where do all these themes come from, and why are they the symbols of Easter?
To start with, I should mention, that Easter, although nowadays a predominantly Christian holiday, also has pagan origins. Easter occurs in the Spring, and traditionally pagan festivals were also held at this time to celebrate a period of renewal after a long cold winter. Many of the symbols we now use, are a mashup of these two occasions, but all essentially symbolise rebirth.
Eggs – Egyptians, Persians, Phoenicians and Hindus all believed the world began with one enormous egg, and most cultures around the world use the idea of an egg as a symbol of new life. Christians, use the cracking of eggs to symbolise the resurrection of Christ and his emergence from the tomb. In the Orthodox religion, eggs are traditionally dyed red at Easter to represent the blood that Jesus shed. Chocolate as an Easter tradition only became popular in the late 1800’s when Cadburys created first dark, then milk chocolate eggs at their factory to mark the occasion.
The Easter Bunny – No one knows exactly when or how this tradition started, but many fanciful stories were woven, one of which was that the goddess Eastre/Ostara transformed her pet bird into a hare, but the change was incomplete, so the hare still laid eggs. It is also thought to have originated as a pagan symbol for fertility and new life, as rabbits and hares are known to be prolific procreators.
Animals – The Butterfly is one of the significant symbols for Easter. Its life cycle – the caterpillar, cocoon and butterfly represent Jesus’ life, crucifixion and rebirth.Chicks, lambs and all young creatures also represent new life and new beginnings, and as such are popular themes at this time of year.
So this Easter, having learnt a lot, I will remember what is really important and say a little thank you to Mr Cadbury, who in my opinion we all have much to be grateful for. Oh, and if you are interested, mine will be a cream egg please!
Images as they appear: Emma Bridgewater, Oka Direct