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April 11, 2006 > Easter

Easter

by Arathi Satish

Easter is one of the most important and festive of Christian holidays; the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord. As with any other festivals, Easter is also associated with certain traditions. Easter is an annual festival and the date of celebration shifts every year. It does not fall on a fixed date in the Gregorian or Julian calendar that follows the motion of the sun and seasons, but is based on the lunar calendar. The exact date has been a subject for discussion. As a rule, Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after March 21.

In western Christianity, Easter marks the end of 40 days of Lent when fasting and penitence is observed beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending Easter Sunday. The week before Easter is very significant. The previous Sunday is Palm Sunday and commemorates Jesus' entry in Jerusalem. The last three days before Easter are Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday that commemorates the last Supper, Good Friday that commemorates the crucifixion and finally Holy Saturday or Silent Saturday that is the day before Easter. Many churches start celebrating Easter in the evening of Holy Saturday by holding Easter Vigil.

According to eastern Christianity, Palm week is after the fifth Sunday of Great Lent that ends with Lazarus Saturday. After that comes Palm Sunday, Holy week and Easter or Pascha. The fast is discontinued after Divine Liturgy. During the Bright week after Easter, there is no fasting, even on Wednesday and Friday.

The two Easter Symbols, eggs and rabbits have ancient spring association. The eggs commemorate the suffering of Christ. They are a symbol of his miraculous resurrection from the dead and his redemption for the sins of man. The egg is also considered to be a symbol of the world reborn in Christ. It is also symbolic of birth and fertility in many cultures. Romans, Russians, Egyptians, Persians and others have colored, dyed, decorated and painted eggs. They were used in ancient spring festivals to represent the rebirth of life and later on became symbolic of rebirth of man rather than nature.

In the 4th century, consuming egg during Lent was forbidden. People started to cook eggs in shells for preservation purpose, as the availability of eggs was high during this season. This gradually led to decorating and hiding of eggs and the birth of the Easter egg hunt, egg tossing and egg rolling. Easter bonnets and new spring clothes also symbolized the end of cold winter and the beginning of fresh spring. Bonnets used to be worn by people as they had denied themselves the pleasure of wearing finery for the duration of Lent. The Easter baskets they carried were made to look like bird's nests.

The origin of Easter Bunny is vague. According to ancient Egyptian legends, the hare, which comes out in the night to feed is connected with the moon. Other cultures have used rabbits as a fertility symbol. A German book, published in 1682, mentions a story of a bunny laying eggs and hiding them in the garden. As per Ostara, the Anglo-Saxon myth, Ostara, turned her pet bird into a rabbit, which proceeded to lay colorful eggs that she gave the children to play with. Now, the bunny is a cute rabbit that hides eggs for children to discover during Easter.

Easter traditions vary around the world. Polish folktale tells the story of Virgin Mary giving eggs to soldiers at the cross as she asked for mercy. The tears she shed dropped on the eggs, mottling them with different colors. In Europe, different colored eggs were taken from nests to make talismans. They were also eaten ritually. According to this theory, the search for the eggs through the woods gradually led to Easter egg hunt. The wild birds' eggs were eventually replaced by colored eggs and probably the Easter baskets were supposed to resemble birds' nests. Easter baskets also show roots in a Catholic custom. Baskets filled with food were taken to Easter morning mass to be blessed. This gave rise to baskets filled with stuffed bunnies, chocolate bunnies and eggs, jellybeans, and toys.

Eggs were decorated in different ways. In the beginning, they were brightly colored to represent spring. In medieval Europe, as eggs were forbidden during Lent, they were given as gifts to children and servants. Orthodox Christians in Greece and the Middle East painted them red to resemble the blood of Christ. In Armenia, hollow eggs were decorated with religious themes. Germans give green eggs as gifts on Holy Thursday and hang hollow eggs on trees. The eggs were pierced by a needle and the contents were removed before display. The Slavic people decorate their eggs in special patterns of silver and gold.

Austrians place tiny plants before boiling the eggs. This creates patterns when the plants are removed. Pysanky (to design or write) are masterpieces created by applying wax in different patterns on the eggs. It is then dipped in successive baths of dye. After each dip, wax is painted over again where the preceding color is to remain. This results in a complex work of art. It is interesting to note that hot cross buns were one of the earliest Easter treats that were made by monks in Europe and given to the poor during Lent. It is also said that pretzels were also associated with Easter and the twists of a pretzel were supposed to be similar to arms crossed in prayer.

Faberge eggs are well-known and were first created around 1885 by Russian jeweler Peter Carl Faberge for Czar Alexander III to give his wife Marie. Throughout Alexander's reign, only one egg was made and presented to the Czar for Easter. Two eggs were made during the reign of Nicholas II, one for the Czar's wife and one for his mother. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Faberge collection was dispersed and the eggs were sold in the west.

Two traditional games are the Easter Egg Hunt and Easter Egg Roll. One of the most well-known egg hunts takes place on the White House lawn. A large, some say the largest, Easter Egg Hunt was on March 20, 1999, during Vision Australia Foundation's annual Easter Fair at Kooyong, Victoria, Australia, where 150,000 solid chocolate eggs were hidden by army troops and were found by 3,000 children.

Below is a listing of local Easter events:

Aqua Egg Hunt
Friday, April 14
7 - 9 p.m.
Pick eggs out of the water or find eggs hidden around the facility.
Silliman Aquatic Center
6800 Mowry Ave., Newark
(510) 739-2620

Brunch with Bunny
Saturday, April 15
9 - 10 a.m.
Special Easter breakfast, craft project, and picture with the Easter Bunny.
Silliman Activity Center
6800 Mowry Ave., Newark
(510) 742-4400

Warm Springs Easter Egg Hunt
Saturday, April 15
2 - 4 p.m.
Coloring pages for the kids face painting, and games.
James Leitch School
47100 Fernald St., Fremont
(510) 676-8521

Spring Egg Hunt Extravaganza
Saturday, April 15
8:30 a.m. - Noon
Ages 1 - 10, egg hunts, carnival, DJ, pancakes, games and prizes.
Kennedy Community Center and Park
333 Decoto Rd., Union City
(510) 489-0360

Easter Egg Roll
Sunday, April 16
2:30 - 3 p.m.
Bring a picnic and enjoy holiday fun.
Ardenwood Historic Farm
34600 Ardenwood Blvd., Fremont
(510) 636-1684

Egg Decorating
Sunday, April 16
Noon - 1:30 p.m.
Learn how natural dyes play a part in the history of egg decorating.
Ardenwood Historic Farm
34600 Ardenwood Blvd., Fremont
(510) 636-1684

 
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