Easter - A Little History and Folklore
- The name is believed to have derived from the a
Pagan festival paying respect to 'Eastre' the Pagan goddess of
Spring and fertility. The celebrations focused around the vernal
equinox in honour of the goddess. It is based on the cycle of life
(rebirth/regeneration) which begins in the Spring after the long
Winter. This festival was a time of great celebration. It is then
believed this festival was replaced by the Christian Festival which
acknowledged Christ's Crucifixion which preceded the Resurrection
and so enforced the idea of rebirth/regeneration.
- The Christian Church does not have sole ownership
on the Easter celebration. It is believed many of the Christian
festivals merely replaced Pagan festivals. In the Christian belief
the Easter period is when Christ was crucified on the cross, later
placed in a tomb but then rose from the dead and so fulfilled the
prophecies of the Resurrection and life eternal. The crucifixion is
believed to symbolize Christ's personal sacrifice for man's
salvation and redemption. The religion of Christianity brings people
together to celebrate Easter, celebrating the Resurrection and so
reaffirming the belief in life everlasting and the Holy Trinity.
- It is believed by some that the Christian church
established the symbolic story of Resurrection by means of
substituting the story of Christ and the Resurrection following the
story of Adonia originating from the Middle East, Judaea, Syria,
Egypt, Persia, Cyprus, Rome and Greece. Adonia was also believed to
have died and risen again (Ezekiel, viii, 14 referred to as Tammuz).
The mourning women were said to be desolate with grief and then
rejoiced at this resurrection. A festival to commemorate Adonia is
still celebrated for eight days, in these countries and in
Alexandria and Assyria called the 'Festival of Adonis'. The Adonis
River is a stream near Byblos and is said to have run red, most
likely with the soil brought down from the Lebanon.
- An ancient belief follows that Christ suffered on
the cross on the 25th March and so some Christians remember the
crucifixion on this day, irrespective of the state of the lunar
cycle at this time, although in the UK today Easter celebrations
vary slightly to the nearest Sunday of that date.
'Maundy Thursday' is the Thursday before Good Friday when in the Roman
Catholic faith, the preparation of washing the feet begins.
Traditionally those of high office within the church, including royalty,
would wash the feet of the poor on this day. In John, xiii, 34, the
ceremony is outlined with 'Mandatum novum do vobis' meaning 'a new
commandment I give unto you'. The washing of the feet is associated with
the parable of Jesus washing the feet of the poor, and also too of Mary
of Magdala washing and drying the feet of Jesus.
The Friday preceding Easter Day. This is the believed day of the
Crucifixion when Jesus Christ died upon the Cross. One of the many
rituals connected with this Church festival was that people would not
use nails or iron tools. This was to symbolize recognition for their use
on Calvary (the hill on which it is believed the crucifixion took place
and He was nailed to the cross). It was, and still is by many, believed
to be an unlucky day because of the event that took place. 'Good' in
this instance means 'Holy'.
Many fishermen will not set out for catch on this day.
It was also believed that bread or cakes baked on this day would not go moldy.
The planting of crops is also not advised on this day as an old belief
says that no iron should enter the ground (i.e. spade, fork etc.).
According to tradition, misfortune will come to anyone
who washes clothes on this day as it is associated with the story of
Christ who whilst carrying the cross to Calvary had a woman wave wet
garments in his face. It is said that Jesus proclaimed 'Cursed be
everyone who hereafter shall wash on this day'.
Good Friday is alternatively believed to be a good day
to start weaning a baby as they will grow strong, healthy and prosper.
'Long Friday' was another name given to Good Friday by
the Saxons. It is thought that the name derived from the fact that this
was a day of abstinence.
The day when Jesus Christ rose from the dead, as prophesied in the
writings of the Bible. Mary of Magdala and Mary, mother of James and
Salome, went to the sepulcher two days later. When reaching the place
where Jesus had been laid to rest on Good Friday they found that His
body was not to be seen. Only the linen cloths that He had been wrapped
in were found (later in history referred to and disputed as the linen
named the Turin Shroud). Whilst grieving at the tomb an angel appeared
to them. Some teach that it was Jesus himself in disguise and they were
told to spread the word to the disciples that Jesus had risen from the
dead in accordance with the prophecies (Ascension) and would meet them
The custom of women 'lifting' or 'heaving' men was a common practice in
the British Isles on this day which was reversed the following day. This
custom, that paid no regard to rank, is documented to have been
practiced up until the late nineteenth century, and is believed to have
signified the opening of the tomb. The practice was also believed by
rural folk in Worcestershire, England (UK) to ensure that crockery
breakages would be reduced the following year.
SHROVE TUESDAY, PANCAKE DAYEggs - Creation
The three days preceding Ash Wednesday and Lent were traditionally
called 'Shrovetide' culminating in 'Shrove Tuesday' or what has become
more commonly known as 'Pancake Day'. This was a time for people to go
to church and seek absolution from sin with penance. Pancakes were and
still are believed to be of good luck in many areas of the world as they
contained many herbs and food stuffs associated with the promotion of
prosperity and longevity. Made from batter and fried like a thin cake in
fat the ingredients symbolize four crucial points of significance at
this time of year :
Flour - The staff of life
Salt - Wholesomeness
Milk - Purity
All herbs and spices are believed to evoke good or
lucky qualities. Pancake Day falls on Shrove Tuesday and was associated
with misfortune although today the reverse is true as it is believed to
eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday means that you will not go without food
during the coming year. In order to ensure that this will occur the
pancakes must be eaten before eight in the evening (20.00hrs.) or bad
luck will ensue. This day became one of celebration announced by the
'Pancake Bell'. The sounding of this bell meant that villagers could
return home and prepare the pancakes, and join in games and general
merriment (pancake races and tossing the pancakes are just two examples
of common traditions). In some areas of England (UK) the sounding of the
bell is documented as far back as 1450, with the most well known being
in Olney, Buckinghamshire.
The custom itself can be traced back several centuries
when Shrove Tuesday was the last day that any form of festivities could
take place before the period of Lent (see also Lent). The actual word
Shrove derived from the word 'shrive' which meant 'confession through
penance'. This original meaning was symbolic of the time when
festivities would take place to purify the individual and area with the
eating of pancakes. Later this day was also known as 'Derby Day' and in
some instances (UK) more extreme displays of such confessions and
driving out of evil forces abounded such as identifying prostitutes and
cock fighting. The authorities eventually declared these practices to be
outlawed and so people took to tossing the pancakes instead of fighting
cocks or the humiliating of prostitutes. This practice of cock fighting
was also known as 'threshing the hen' and was purely a Shrovetide sport
which involved throwing cockerels with tied wings and feet as far as
possible. In Somerset, England (UK) it later became common practice for
daffodils to be thrown instead, these being called 'Leny-cocks'.