A lot of approval and pleasure has centred around the Visitor Centre this past week, with egg-collectors cracking on with their egg hunting despite the chilly weather, while the volunteers have been on hand to help the staff with the distribution of the five thousand Easter eggs on offer.
Origin of Easter
Easter actually began as a pagan festival celebrating spring, long before the advent of Christianity. Since pre-historic times, people have celebrated the equinoxes and the solstices as sacred times. The spring equinox is the day when the amount of darkness and the amount of daylight are identical, with spring emerging from winter. Following the advent of Christianity, the Easter period became associated with the resurrection of Christ. Spring festivals with the theme of new life and relief from the cold of winter became connected explicitly to Jesus having conquered death by being resurrected after the crucifixion.
In 325AD the first major church council, the Council of Nicaea, determined that Easter should fall on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox, and that is why the dates vary and why Easter festivities are often referred to as “moveable feasts”.
There is a defined period between March 25th and April 25th during which Easter Sunday must fall, and that is determined by the movement of the planets and the Sun.
Pascha, Easter and the goddess of spring
In most countries in Europe, the name for Easter is derived from the Jewish festival of Passover, but in English-speaking countries, and in Germany, Easter takes its name from a pagan goddess from Anglo-Saxon England who was described in a book by the eighth-century English monk Bede. Eostre was a goddess of spring or renewal and that’s why the feast is attached to the spring equinox. The pasque flowers growing on Piccadilly Hill are so named since they are in bloom at Easter.
Rabbits and eggs as ancient symbols of new life
Many of the pagan customs associated with the celebration of spring eventually became absorbed within Christianity as symbols of the resurrection of Jesus.
During the Middle Ages, people began decorating eggs and eating them as a treat following mass on Easter Sunday, after fasting through Lent.
The custom of decorating hard-boiled eggs or blown eggs is still a very popular folk custom in Europe. Rabbits and hares were also associated with fertility and were symbols linked to the goddess Eostre. The first association of the rabbit with Easter, was a mention of the “Easter hare” in a book by German professor of medicine Georg Franck von Franckenau published in 1722. Folklore recalls that hares would hide the coloured eggs that children hunted for, which suggests that as early as the 18th century decorated eggs were hidden in gardens for egg hunts in Europe.
Commercialisation, confectionery and greeting cards
Commercialisation during the 19th century saw rabbits become a popular symbol of Easter with the growth of the greeting card industry. Postage services became affordable and people wanted to keep in touch with each other, so companies like Hallmark became big by launching images of cute little rabbits and Easter eggs on cards. The first edible Easter bunnies made from sugared pastry were made in Germany in the 19th century. The big confectionery companies started manufacturing chocolate eggs in Victorian times, the first being Cadbury in 1875.
Chocolate that used to be something that was bitter and drunk became something that was sweetened and turned into a confectionery treat, and Easter eggs were one of the areas of marketing for chocolate. Today, chocolate eggs and egg hunts are a popular part of Easter celebrations around the world.
All the while the chocolate bunnies and eggs serve as a reminder of Easter’s ancient origins and Christian traditions. In the event the Easter eggs sold out appropriately on Easter Sunday, much to the relief of Josh and the crew at the Visitor Centre.