the last time we tackled Easter we did the Bunny, so it is clearly
time to return and, finally, 25 years after our very first Easter
column, to contemplate the ancient mysteries of the Easter Egg.
25 years! It was for our April 1987 issue that I first delved
into the folklore surrounding Spring, concluding with the revelation
that the ancient Britons called their goddess of Spring "Eostre".
was enough for me for the next twenty-odd years, but by 2009 it
occurred to me that some of you might have been waiting for me
to finish the tale. Therefore, a Rabbit Tale was quickly produced,
and, though one hates to rush these things and I really should
wait till, say, 2031 to give you the third and final installment,
I am feeling a little giddy with early Spring Fever, so let's
have at it!
saved the oldest for last -- the ancient Celtic Spring rituals
were in high gear at least 2200 years ago, and probably a bit
longer, and although the Easter Hare was the earthly manifestation
of the Celts' Spring goddess, its springtime roots go back much
further, all the way back to the ancient Egyptians, who may have
been the first to bind that rascally rabbit to the vernal festivities.
the egg is an even older springtime symbol, and is specifically
a symbol of rebirth. Indeed, the most ancient civilizations had
a tradition that the earth and all initial life was actually hatched
out of a giant egg -- it is a tradition one finds in such remote
locales as Persia, India and China. In ancient Persia, perhaps
3000 years ago, the populace were already painting eggs to celebrate
the coming of Spring, which was also the beginning of their New
Year. So incredibly old are the sacred origins of the little rituals
we practice to this day!
is of course the Europeans who would take the ancient rituals
and merrily bind them so thoroughly to the New Faith, and it is
from Europe that we get the stories of how Mary Magdalene once
tried to convert the Roman Emperor. The Emperor in question, after
listening and (don't ask me why) contemplating an egg, retorted
that there was as much chance of someone rising from the dead
as there was of that egg turning red.
naturally, the egg turned a bright ruby red.
European Easter traditions are quite reminiscent of other holidays,
such as the custom of "pace egging", which consists
of groups of children wandering from house to house begging for
eggs -- in essence, trick-or-treating in Spring.
in England, we can actually trace the custom of Easter Cards and
even Easter Trees at least as far back as their far better known