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Easter's Oddities: Why bunnies? Why colored eggs? Why the date moves?
In Mar. 22 issue, Russell County News



3-year-old Carley Nicole Williams gets excited over all the fun involved with Easter. Chocolate rabbits, hunting for funny colored eggs, marshmellow chicks and all the colors after a winter of browns and greys.

It won’t be long before she’s capable of beginning to comprehend the promise of the season, the true meaning behind the celebrations for the Christian world.

At her period of life, with all her worldly future ahead of her, the promise of resurrection and infinite glories is something those of her years will be learning as time marches inexorably onward.

But now, Nicole, her parents Jerry and Carolyn Williams and their extended family, get to revel in not only the ultimate Christian story, but the enjoyment of celebrating life and the annual rebirth of the natural world.

That is the merger of the Holy and our time on Earth that the season of Easter has become.

To the early church leaders, the death and resurrection of Jesus was merged with the most potent visual symbol of rebirth, the coming of spring and the renewal of species, when flowers begin to color the land and many animals renew their lines with offspring that begin to arrive in a rush.

From robins to rabbits, the season of new generations is upon us. Eggs will soon be tended in nests, and baby animals will be entering the world, all with the promise of a golden summer ahead.

This is why — besides the Cross — that the season is celebrated with symbols from colored eggs to bunnies.

THE NAME

The name “Easter” itself is considered by most sources to come from a Germanic goddess which was celebrated as the return of spring.

The modern English term Easter developed from the Old English word Eastre, which itself developed prior to 899. The name refers to the Eostur-monath, a month of the Germanic Year which may have been named for the goddess Eastre in Germanic paganism.

There are those who argue the point, but the early historian-monk Bede wrote the following in the 8thCentury: “Eostur-month, which is now interpreted as the paschal month, was formerly named after the goddess Eostre, and has given its name to the festival."

In other parts of the world, particularly the Eastern Christian churches, the period is called under a different name: Pascha, which is derived from the Greek name, which is itself derived from Pesach, the Hebrew festival of Passover.

Passover and Easter, by whatever named, are very closely linked in history and custom.

THE DATE

Easter and the various church holidays that are related to it are moveable feasts, in that they do not fall on a fixed date in the Gregorian or Julian calendars (both of which follow the cycle of the sun and the seasons). Instead, the date for Easter is determined on a lunisolar calendar, as is the Hebrew calendar.

The calculations for the date of Easter are somewhat complicated. In the Western Church, Easter has not fallen on the earliest of the 35 possible dates, March 22, since 1818, and will not do so again until 2285.

It will, however, fall on March 23 in 2008, but will not do so again until 2160. Easter last fell on the latest possible date, April 25, in 1943 and will next fall on that date in 2038. However, it will fall on April 24, just one day before this latest possible date, in 2011.

The cycle of Easter dates repeats after exactly 5,700,000 years, with April 19 being the most common date, happening 220,400 times, or 3.9% compared to a mean for all dates of 162,857 times, or 2.9%.

BUNNIES & EGGS

Throughout North America, Australia and parts of the UK, the Easter holiday has been partially secularized, so that some families participate only in the attendant revelry, central to which is (traditionally) decorating Easter eggs on Saturday evening and hunting for them Sunday morning, by which time they have been mysteriously hidden all over the house and garden.

Chocolate eggs have largely supplanted decorated eggs in Australia.
In North America, eggs and other treats are delivered and hidden by the Easter Bunny in an Easter basket which children find waiting for them when they wake up. Many families in America will attend Sunday Mass or services in the morning and then participate in a feast or party in the afternoon.

In the UK children still paint colored eggs, but most British people simply exchange chocolate eggs on the Sunday.

The egg is widely used as a symbol of new life just as a chick might hatch from the egg. The Easter egg tradition may have celebrated the end of the privations of Lent in the West, though this is speculation.

Eggs were forbidden during Lent as well as other traditional fast days.

Eggs, like rabbits and hares, are fertility symbols of extreme antiquity; since birds lay eggs and rabbits and hares give birth (to large litters) in the early spring, these became symbols of the rising fertility of the earth at the Vernal Equinox.

Rabbits can conceive a second litter before giving birth to one currently being carried.

It is therefore not surprising that rabbits and hares should become fertility symbols, or that their springtime mating antics should enter into Easter folklore.

As for rabbits laying eggs, one possible explanation arises from the fact that hares use a hollow called a form rather than a burrow. Lapwing nest on the same sort of ground, and their nests look very similar to hare forms. So in the Spring, eggs would be found in what looked like hare forms, giving rise to the belief that the hare laid eggs in the spring.

OTHER CUSTOMS

The Easter season celebrations, like nearly all human events, have developed different aspects in other parts of the world.

One of the more unusual would appear to be in the country of Norway.

In addition to cross-country skiing in the mountains and painting eggs for decorating, a contemporary tradition is to solve murder mysteries at Easter. All the major television channels show crime and detective stories (such as Agatha Christie's Poirot), magazines print stories where the readers can try to figure out who did it, and many new books are published. Even the milk cartons change to have murder stories on their sides. Another tradition is Yahtzee games.

In Finland, Sweden and Denmark, traditions include egg painting and small children dressed as witches collecting candy door-to-door, in exchange for decorated pussy willows. This is a result of the mixing of an old Orthodox tradition (blessing houses with willow branches) and the Scandinavian Easter witch tradition.

In the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, a tradition of spanking or whipping is carried out on Easter Monday.

In the morning, men throw water at women and spank them with a special handmade whip called pomlázka (in Czech) or korbác (in Slovak). The pomlázka/korbác consists of eight, twelve or even twenty-four withies (willow rods), is usually from half a metre to two metres long and decorated with colored ribbons at the end.

It must be mentioned that spanking normally is not painful or intended to cause suffering. A legend says that women should be spanked in order to keep their health and beauty during whole next year.

An additional purpose can be for men to exhibit their attraction to women; unvisited women can even feel offended. Traditionally, the spanked woman gives a colored egg and sometimes a small amount of money to the man as a sign of her thanks.

In some regions the women can get revenge in the afternoon or the following day when they can pour a bucket of cold water on any man.
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