I was just reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and guess what? I thoroughly enjoyed it. Being a nut case when it comes to mythology (especially ancient Greek Mythology), I tottally gobbled down all the information and referrences I could get on ancient world mythology – and believe me, Gaiman drew on a lot of mythologies – from Norse, to Greek, Russian, Mayan African, Egyptian, all of it! It’s just nice to recognize an ancient god being described. For example, there was a character there named Mr. Jacquel who worked as a mortician (is that the right term?) in his very own funeral home along with his partner Mr. Ibis. I immediately drew up the connection between him and the god Anubis. Is this shameless plugging or what? Neil Gaiman should be paying my part of his royalties for advertising how good a read his book was for someone like me.
So, you can imagine my surprise when “Easter” was brought to the scene sometime in the middle. I’ve always associated the day with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, though I know that it was adapted or incorporated from a pagan practice during spring time. Duh, hehe! Why do you think people hunt painted eggs and little children hope to see the Easter Bunny so they can have sweets to eat, etc.
History of Easter
“Eostre is the name of a putative West Germanic goddess. The Venerable Bede described the worship of Eostre among the Anglo-Saxons as having died out by the time he began writing his Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum. Jacob Grimm referred to Bede when he proposed an equivalent Old High German name, *Ostara, in his Deutsche Mythologie.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eostre)
According to a Benedectine monk named Bede, the people of the old world used to name the months after the moon (because one full cycle was measured according to the waxing and waning of the moon). And so, the Anglo-Saxons, like their Greek and Hebrew counterparts, named their months like this: February was Sol-monath (“monath” means month while “mona” means moon), March was Hreth-monath, April was called Eostur-monath. Eostur-monath was named after their goddes Eostre whos festival coincided with the Gregorian month of April.
Jakob Grimm (yes, as in from the Brothers Grimm)
“In 1835, Jacob Grimm (1785–1863) published Deutsche Mythologie, a collection of German myths and oral histories, including a commentary on a goddess Ostara.
Grimm recalles Bede’s account of Eostre and states that it was unlikely that the man of the church would simply have invented a pagan goddess. From the Anglo-Saxon month name, he then reconstructs an Old High German equivalent, *Ostara:
‘This Ostarâ, like the AS. Eástre, must in the heathen religion have denoted a higher being, whose worship was so firmly rooted, that the Christian teachers tolerated the name, and applied it to one of their own grandest anniversaries.’
He also notes various accounts of the name of the Easter festival in Old High German, like ôstertagâ or aostortagâ. According to Grimm, these were plural forms of Ostara, since the festival would have been celebrated on two days.” More at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eostre
What about the colorful eggs and the hare?
I’ve always wondered why Easter has a bunny as its mascot. Why do people hunt for eggs? Why are candies associated with this feast? But let’s define some terms first:
What are Easter Eggs? “Easter eggs are specially decorated eggs given out to celebrate the Easter holiday or springtime.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_egg) They used to use real eggs and dye or paint them. But since the modern age, people have started using confectionary or other candies like chocolate eggs, etc.
The connection of colorful eggs to Easter only started in the 18th Century, when Jakob Grimm theorised it, this time with Ostara (see above) who might be the German version of Eostre.
“At the Passover Seder, a hard-boiled egg dipped in salt water symbolizes both new life and the Passover sacrifice offered at the Temple in Jerusalem. The ancient Persians painted eggs for Nowrooz, their New Year celebration falling on the Spring Equinox. This tradition has continued every year on Nowrooz since ancient times.” More at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_egg
As for the Easter Bunny, like eggs, he symbolizes fertility and life. “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.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Bunny)
The Christian Easter does not have a fixed date. Instead, “Easter and the 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 Jewish Calendar.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter)
… still to be finished