BY GIANNA STANLEY
There are different interpretations surrounding the origin of the name ‘Easter’. St Bede the Venereable argues that it derives from the name Eostre – the Anglo-Saxon God of Spring and fertility. This would make sense considering the timeline of Easter – when all natural things are given life and this rebirth is welcomed and celebrated. It can be seen to mirror the origins of the Christian idea of Easter with Jesus’ resurrection and rebirth as a Holy being. In many European countries, ‘Easter’ originates from the Jewish festival of Pascha/ Passover. Passover commemorates the Hebrews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt. Therefore, they are celebrating their newfound freedom and life. Other historians have pointed out that ‘Easter’ derives from a Latin phrase ‘in albis’ which translates to eostarum in Old High German. This interpretation is pretty similar to the previous ones, with eostarum meaning dawn, new life, and new beginnings. No matter which origin of the name we choose to accept, it is what we take from them that is important. It is clear that the origins of Easter came about as a celebration of rebirth and new life, so let us look closer at the traditions themselves.
On Easter Sunday, a world-renowned bunny is set to deliver chocolate eggs to households across the world. What a wonderful bunny, eh? Have you wondered where the tradition of this bunny came to be though? Long before Christian celebrations, Pagans celebrated the Spring equinox – the day when the amount of darkness and daylight were exactly balanced, signifying the end of winter. Their god of fertility, Eostre, was depicted as a bunny – an animal known for its breeding and traditionally symbolising fertility. According to some sources, the bunny gained its delivering abilities through German folklore. It was said that an egg-laying hare named Osterhouse would lay its coloured eggs. Of course, this became commercialised and the coloured eggs became chocolate ones, but we’re not complaining! In addition, the eggs are a symbol of Eostre’s legacy. The eggs mark the equinox as Spring is the peak season for chickens laying eggs. Therefore, these coloured eggs are meaningful as they bring protein, strength, and new life.
Their god of fertility, Eostre, was depicted as a bunny.
Easter is a very significant celebration for Christians, and you could argue that the foundation of the religion is based on the events that occurred during Easter. Jesus was arrested by the Roman authorities for claiming to be the Son of God, so he was sentenced to death. His crucifixion is marked by Good Friday, with his resurrection three days later symbolising that he was, in fact, the Son of God. Abstaining from eating meat on Good Friday (or every Friday during Lent) is something a lot of Christians and Gibraltarians do in honour of Jesus’ sacrifice. Even if you do not believe in religion, it is admirable to view the dedication and symbolism behind these events. Perhaps, Jesus having conquered death by being resurrected after the crucifixion is the ultimate display of new life, which is what Easter is all about.
In western Christianity, the period before Easter holds a lot of significance. Lent is a period of fasting and repentance which begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts for forty days. You may remember creating palm crosses when you were little for the school or for the church for Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem where people laid out palm crosses for his entrance. By participating in the forty days of Lent, people aren’t just giving up chocolate – they do this to replicate Jesus’ sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for forty days. Many people have a problem with the idea of correlating ‘New Years Resolutions’ with Lent because it takes away the significance of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. Ultimately, losing weight or giving up alcohol does not compare. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of what Lent really means to Christians, but incorporate their traditions into your own respectfully!
As Gibraltarians, we always remember the food that comes with celebrations.
As Gibraltarians, we always remember the food that comes with celebrations, and Easter is full of culinary traditions! Though it may not top chocolate eggs with popularity, lamb is one of the most traditional Easter foods. It dates back to the Pagan concept of a sacrificial lamb; it signified Spring, as that was when lambs were ready for slaughter. Bollos de hornazo (Easter bread) is an Easter favourite, as are hot cross buns, and the practice of eating special small cakes or buns dates back to the Ancient Greeks. Of course, the cross symbolises Jesus’ crucifixion, but it also commemorates the Pagans who ate buns to honour the God Eostre. These food traditions can be appreciated thoroughly during Easter whether you choose to admire the new sense of life, nature, and the end of winter, or commemorate Jesus – appreciate the meals you have during this time!
The beauty behind modern celebrations is that you cannot define them with one singular origin. Our contemporary society have such diverse cultural beliefs that we cannot just confine Easter to being solely about the resurrection of Christ, fertility and birth, or the welcoming of Spring. Perhaps the most special thing about Easter is that we can take aspects of different celebrations and incorporate them into our own unique traditions, ultimately culminating in the awakening of Earth after a cold winter and witness the budding flowers and trees; a rebirth.