Hello and a very Happy Easter to you!
When I was a child my parents were extremely strict about observing the Catholic faith. Nowadays my siblings and I don’t so much observe it as comment absent-mindedly when we catch a glimpse of it, but it hasn’t always been that way.
I am grateful for the thorough religious education my parents gave me, although I must confess that I absolutely hated it at the time, and that a lot of it made no sense to me. With the exception of a few small things, I think I’ve grown out of my aversion to and confusion over Christianity.
What are these few small things? Oh, nothing, just, you know…Easter. I’m sorry, I know lots of people love it, and I don’t hate it or anything; I just don’t understand it. We have a rabbit delivering eggs – not even real eggs, but eggs made of some fancy Aztec concoction called “chocolate” – to small children. Let me try to disentangle this ridiculous chain of tradition:
- Sometime between 33 and 39 AD: Jesus and the disciples are celebrating the Jewish festival Passover when Jesus decides to turn the whole shindig into the Last Supper. He is crucified, resurrected three days later and has fun for a while reappearing and scaring the crap out of his mournful disciples. At the same sort of time Pliny, Plutarch and that whole ancient intellectuals gang are going around thinking that hares are hermaphrodites, and can therefore have babies without losing their virginity.
- Sometime between 100 and 200 AD: Earliest Christians are recorded as celebrating Easter the same way as Jewish holidays are celebrated, i.e. based on a lunisolar calendar. This makes sense, since a lot of early Christians were converts from Judaism. Oh, also, Mesopotamians start staining chicken eggs red to symbolise the blood shed by Jesus at the Crucifixion.
- 325 AD: First Council of Nicaea (i.e. a party of head honcho-type bishops) decide that Easter will always fall on the first Sunday after the full moon following the March Equinox. Good for them.
- Sometime between 500 and 1500 AD: Plutarch and his gang’s belief that hares could reproduce without loss of virginity has led to hares being associated with the Virgin Mary, and so images of hares sometimes show up in illuminated manuscripts. There is also an argument that hares and rabbits are a symbol of fertility pre-dating Christian times, which is why they get a look in on this festival, but I prefer the idea of Plutarch and that lot having their crazy theories accidentally adopted into lore.
- 1610 AD: Pope Paul V officially adopts the Mesopotamians’ egg-staining thing, making eggs a Christian symbol of the resurrection. Didn’t he have better (or less weird) things to do in his papal capacity?!
- Sometime during the 18th century: German immigrants in Dutch Pennsylvania tell their American hosts about the “Osterhase”, a hare which brings those traditional (by now) coloured eggs to good children at Easter. Some regions of Germany also had an Easter Fox (“Osterfuchs”) for the same job. The Americans pick it up and run with it.
- Modern day: Despite the traditional coloured eggs being perfectly edible, we live in a world where things made of chocolate are infinitely superior to all others. Hence: Easter stuff is made of chocolate.
I hope that you enjoyed your crash course in Easter history, and that you have a brilliant time eating your Osterhase (or Osterfuchs) goodies.