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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 in Galilee.

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.


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 :

Eggs - Creation
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'.

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