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28 March 2002

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Easter's Hidden Facts?
By Jordana Learmonth.

Easter:-  The word 'Easter' comes from the Old Saxon language 'Oster' meaning 'to rise' indicating the rising and rebirth of the sun. Celebrating the start of spring and end of winter, as part of the cycle of life (rebirth/regeneration). It is believed that the Easter festival is part of the old Pagan tradition paying respect to the Pagan Goddess of spring and fertility. The celebrations focused around the vernal equinox in honour of the Goddess. This festival was a time of great celebration.

Then later through time the Christian festival replaced the Pagan festival. In the Christian belief, the Easter period remembers when Jesus Christ (son of God) was crucified on the cross, later placed in a tomb and then arose from the dead. The idea of rebirth or regeneration is enforced by this resurrection. The crucifixion symbolizes Christ's sacrifice for man's salvation and redemption. An ancient belief is that Christ was placed on the cross on the 25th March so the Christians celebrate Easter on the Sunday nearest to that date. The whole Easter festival starts on Thursday right through to Monday. Where each day has some significant meaning or custom belonging to one or another religious belief.
 
Special Days:- 
 
Thursday:- Is known as 'Maundy Thursday'. It's the Thursday before Good Friday. The Roman Catholic faith exercises the tradition of preparing and washing feet. All those of high office within the church, including royalty would wash the feet of the poor. This ceremony is outlined with a phrase from the Bible in John, xiii, 34, 'Man datum novum do vobis' meaning 'a new commandment I give unto you'. The washing of feet is associated with Jesus washing the feet of the poor and Mary of Magdala washing and drying Jesus' feet.
Friday:- Is called 'Good Friday'. For Christians the word 'Good' means 'Holy'. It is known as the day of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ who was laid to rest in a nearby tomb. The crucifixion is believed to have taken place on Calvary hill. Many believe this day to be unlucky due to Christ's Crucifixion. This is the only day that Christians would not use nails or iron tools in respect of Christ's sacrifice. It is also not advisable to plant crops on this day, as your tools would be made of iron in the shape of a spade or fork. An old belief says that 'no iron shall enter the ground'. Many fishermen will not sail out on this day to catch, as it is unlucky. According to myth if anyone washes clothes on this day they will be cursed, the story behind this is that when Christ was carrying the cross to Calvary a women waved wet garments in his face. It is stated that Jesus said 'Cursed by everyone who hereafter shall wash on this day'. Some also say that it is unlucky to sweep dust out of your house as you may sweep any good luck out with it.

Even though some class this day to be unlucky it is believed that if you bake bread or cakes they will not go mouldy. The hot cross bun is a typical example of cake to have on Easter. In the pagan spring festival the cakes were made from wheat. It is believed that they would last up to twelve months without turning mouldy; this was great as storage of food was imperative for survival during these times. Another belief is that they would protect the kitchen from any evil forces. Then later the hot cross bun were used in the Christian Easter celebration. The tradition was to make them on Good Friday in Church with dough kneaded from the Host and marked with a cross to indicate the Crucifix. It is believed that these buns had special properties and would heal certain illnesses. Others class Good Friday as a good day to start weaning a baby, as it is believed that they would grow strong, healthy and prosper. 
 
Easter Sunday:- On this day Christians commemorate and read the stories of the Bible about Jesus' return from the dead. The story goes: Mary of Magdala and Mary, mother of James and Salome, went to the tomb where Jesus had been laid to rest two days before (On Good Friday). Upon reaching the place they found that his body was not to be seen. They only found the linen cloths that he was wrapped in. Whilst they grieved at the tomb an angel appeared. Some say it might have been Jesus himself, the angel told them to spread the word to the disciples that Jesus has risen from the dead and will meet them in Galilee, according to the prophecy (Ascension). 
 
Easter Monday:- In the British Isles it was custom practice for women to be 'heaved' or 'lifted' by the men and then reversed the following day. This custom is believed to signify the opening of the tomb. Some rural folks especially around the Worcestershire area believe this would reduce crockery breakage for the following year. This custom was practiced up until the late 19th century.
Easter Eggs:- A very common custom is to exchange eggs amongst friends and family. The Christians use the egg as a reminder of Christ's resurrection. Hard-boiled eggs were given to the children. These eggs would be painted red to symbolise the blood of Christ. Some think the decoration of the eggs started when the Virgin Mary (Christ's Mother) would paint the eggs green, yellow and red to entertain Jesus as an infant.
Roman Catholic Nuns would decorate hen's eggs and then take them to the church on Easter Sunday to be blessed by the priest. The eggs would then be distributed amongst the locals. Some believe the idea of exchanging eggs may have come from Roman and Egyptian times, as this symbolized the continuance of life after death. Yet many others say the custom of exchanging eggs stems from Pagan traditions. The eggs would be painted red and gold symbolizing the rising of the sun or birth of the new sun linking together the various Creation myths. These days' people around the world exchange eggs.
Some still indicate a religious signification or just because of friendship. The majority are made from delicious chocolate. You do get some made from pottery or carved out of wood. Some eggs are prettily decorated on the outside and others may carry inscriptions of poetry or a short message. Not forgetting that hens or other birds eggs can be used to make various delicious dishes i.e. scrambled egg on toast, omelets, pancakes and boiled eggs.  This was because storage of food was imperative for survival during these times. Another belief is that they would protect the kitchen from any evil forces. Then later the hot cross bun were used in the Christian Easter celebration. The tradition was to make them on Good Friday in Church with dough kneaded from the Host and marked with a cross to indicate the Crucifix. It is believed that these buns had special properties and would heal certain illnesses. Others class Good Friday as a good day to start weaning a baby, as it is believed that they would grow strong, healthy and prosper. 
 
Animals:- 
 
The Easter Bunny:- The image of the Easter bunny was originally a hare not a rabbit. The hare was the favourite animal of the pagan goddess. As she symbolized spring and Easter. The hare also became a well-known icon of Easter, hence Easter bunnies. The hare in Pagan animal mythology represented love, growth and fertility. 
 
In Germany children are told folklore about that the Easter hare lays Easter eggs for them. The children would make soup out of green leaves and leave it out for the hare. This encourages the Easter hare to come into the garden and build a special nest for the eggs. The folklore goes into detail about how the hare colours the eggs. The hare would light little bonfires to heat water up. Flowers or grass where added to the water to make the pigment. If the child were good they would find eggs in the nest. If they were lucky, 

the Easter egg found would hatch to reveal a bird with a hare's head. But if the child was bad all they would find was hare droppings. Nowadays in a lot of cultures, children go on egg hunts to find chocolate Easter eggs. 

The image of the Easter hare carrying a basket of eggs is still used today. The whole idea of the hare laying eggs in a nest may of come from the 'Plover' bird. The bird would make a nest on the ground near a deserted hare's form and lay its eggs.

Other animals that people associate with Easter are:- 
Chickens:- If they lay eggs on 'Good Friday' they will insure health and fertility. 
Magpie- Sometimes this bird is seen as bad fortune. In Scotland they believe the magpie carries a drop of the devils blood under its tongue. 
Pelican:- Some associate it with the death of Christ. 
Robin redbreast:- Legend has it that the Robin received its redbreast from trying to remove the bloody thorns from Christ's head. A small drop of Christ's blood fell on the bird staining his breasts forever. 
Sparrow:- If you notice the sparrow hops around as if his legs are bound together. According to some this is because he is being punished for crying 'He is alive, He is alive' when Christ was on the cross. This was a signal to the Romans to prolong his torture. 
Stork:- Is believed to have flown the cross of Christ with compassion and therefore unlucky to kill. 
Swallow:- Also known as the 'Svale' bird by Danish folklore. It got its name by crying 'svale, svale' which translated means 'cheer up, cheer up' in an attempt to relieve the suffering of Christ whilst on the cross. 
Donkey:- Beloved by many faiths but in Christianity it was the donkey that carried Christ triumphantly into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Animals are not the only things that hold special meanings for Easter. Trees and planet have a symbolic meaning to.
Mystical Trees:- 

Hawthorn- Many believed that the branches from this trees were used to make the crown for Christ's head at the Crucifixion and therefore seen as bad fortune. It is believed that if you bring any part of the tree especially the flowers into the house someone will dye. Attacking or cutting down the tree should not be attempted for the same reason. Others believe the hawthorn to be lucky was, some would place a piece above the door to worn off any negative forces. 
Oak:- It is said that when the Jews began to choose the wood for Christ's crucifix, they found that all the wood began to split and break, making it impossible to use. The only tree not to, was the 'Evergreen Oak' or 'Ilex'. This tree is seen as a traitor or another Judas and as a result it is said that Grecians will not have any part of the oak tree in the house. The tree is seen as eternally condemned like the Judas. 
Rowan:- According to legend witches fear this tree as it was believed to hold powers that counteracted the effect of negative energies. If pieces of branch were placed in the house or in the bed on Good Friday it would ward off such forces. Even wearing a sprig of the Rowan would protect against charm. It was advised to repeat the following prayer:-

"From Witches and Wizards, and long-tailed Buzzards, And creeping things that run in hedge-bottoms, Good Lord, deliver us!"

This would ensure that dark forces were aware the Lord was present.

Plants:- 
Tansy:- Traditionally the juice of leaves were extracted to flavor puddings and cakes for Easter. It has a bitter taste, but not unpleasant. 
Vervain:- This plant was used to staunch Christ's wounds at Calvary and was never gathered unless the sign of the cross was made. Roman soldiers would carry a piece into battle for protection. If you look you can see pale lilac flowers on the sparsely-leafed upright stem.

An Easter Traditional Game:-
 
Pace-egging:- An ancient custom, which is coming back into fashion. The word 'Pace' comes from the Latin word 'Pacha' which is another means for 'Easter'. This Easter custom is Lancastrian and is performed by a group of men called 'Pace-eggers' or 'Jolly-boys'. It is similar to the tradition connected to Morris dancing and Mumming. These are both still used in today's folk festival in England and parts of Europe.

Each man would dress himself in bright coloured ribbons, animal skins, Rags and strips of paper. The reason for this appears to relate back to the crusades. One of the men would blacken his face with coal or soot and carry a woven basket on his arm. The group of men then began to proceed through the village and rejoice, celebrating the Easter with the community. The idea of this procession was to encourage the villagers to toss eggs into the basket (Although money may be used as a substitute). The eggs were boiled and wrapped in onionskin to obtain a mottled affect, then eaten for breakfast on Easter Sunday. The man who paints his face black is known as the 'Old Tosspot'. Other characters in this procession are called 'Lady Gay', 'Soldier Brave', and 'Noble Youth'.

The Old Tosspot carries a long straw tail that has been stuffed full of pins, he would swing it wildly about and act as if he was drunk. Waiting for some poor unsuspecting fool to try and catch hold of the tail or be trapped by it. This was all in good humour and to encourage people to toss things into the basket. When there was either sufficient money or eggs in the basket the pace-eggers would temporarily stop and present a short play or dance. Sometimes they will be rewarded for this by a member of the public such as a glass of beer if performing outside a public house. Once the play was completed and everyone satisfied the procession would proceed continue through the village. And the pace-eggers would sing:-

"Here's one or two jolly boys all of one mind
We've come a-pace-egging, I hope you'll prove kind I hope you'll prove kind with your eggs and strong beer And we'll come no more nigh you until next year."



Other games that can be played during the Easter festival are egg hunts (mentioned earlier) and rolling your eggs down a hill is a favorite amongst the young. The rolling of the egg was a symbol of the rock closing the entrance of the tomb where Jesus was placed. I remember in primary school, the whole school would hold a competition to see who could make the most imaginative model using a hard-boiled egg as the main body. The eggs could be decorated with paints or added pieces of paper. If you can think of any other game to play on Easter, write in and tell me. 
Have a Good Easter Everyone.
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