It’s likely that you’ve been to the grocery store lately and seen the shelves of chocolate eggs and smelt the familiar smell of spicy hot cross buns. The appearance of these treats seems to get earlier and earlier every year, and signals the impending arrival of the Easter holiday.
A long weekend? An opportunity to indulge in chocolate treats without guilt? Perhaps you have your own family traditions. Or is it something that holds much more spiritual or religious significance to you? While retailers have conveniently transformed Easter into a commercial event, and most of us get to enjoy a couple of extra days off work, the real meaning of Easter is still held with high importance for many. So, whether you’re curious yourself, or you find that your own children are asking ‘What is Easter?’,
Let’s take a look at what celebrating Easter means:
The oldest Christian Festival
Easter is the oldest and most important festival in the Christian calendar. Even if you’re not Christian or religiously affiliated, it can be interesting to know a little about the Easter story and why it is celebrated, as it provides historical insight into what life was like over 2000 years ago. Encourage your children to research the Easter story, and learn more about Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
You might have colleagues or friends who have been participating in lent and been wondering what the significance of this is. Lent is the forty days before Easter where Christians focus on simple living, prayer and fasting. You might see them giving up something of significance in their life – such as going without TV or alcohol or soft drinks. Be supportive of those around you who have chosen to participate in lent, ask questions, and be understanding of their beliefs.
The origins of Easter traditions
Most of us are more familiar with popular Easter traditions such as chocolate eggs and the Easter Bunny. And while these might have become commercialised, they actually have their origins way back in history. Here are some common theories:
● The Bunny
In Anglo-Saxon times, the hare was a symbol of fertility and played a role in the pagan festival of Eostre. This hare could lay eggs, and were given as gifts to the goddess who protected him – hence the tradition of the Easter Bunny was born.
● Chocolate eggs
Eggs have always been associated with new life, and early Christians used them as a visual symbol of the resurrection of Jesus. Painted eggs were given as gifts at Easter time, and over time these have evolved until eventually chocolate eggs were given – as early as the 1800s – and the tradition then quickly spread across the globe.
● Hot cross buns
That unmistakable smell of hot cross buns is hard to resist. But these tasty treats actually have their roots further back than early Christianity. Buns marked with crosses were eaten by the Saxons during their spring celebrations to with a cross to symbolise the quarters of the moon. Christians continued the tradition, however the cross represents Jesus’ crucifixion.
Although the true meaning of holiday remains at the heart of the holiday, many of us have created our own traditions to celebrate. From family chocolate hunts, egg decorating, family meals and marathon-movie-watching sessions, we each have our own way of enjoying an extra long weekend.
In a changing society, we are increasingly sensitive to other cultures and the religions of our fellow countrymen, and while we may not all celebrate Easter as a religious festival, it’s important to respect traditions and celebrate growing diversity. In Australia and New Zealand Easter is largely viewed as secular holiday, but a welcome break from work that allows us to spend time with family and friends!
How do you answer the question ‘what is Easter’ in your household? Do you have traditions that you and your family follow? Do you think the traditional meaning of the holiday has been lost? Share your views below.