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A goddess, new clothes and a handsome, big bird

Editor's Notes

Not so long ago I wrote about St. Nicholas, and how, through a seemingly magical mix of folklore, Christian tradition, advertising and good-old-fashioned gimme-gimme-ism, we transformed a real, historical do-gooder into a jolly old elf in a red suit with strangely named reindeer.

As I get older, I find that I'm becoming more like a 3-year-old, asking 'Why?' about pretty much everything. And now that Easter's less than a week away, I thought I'd figure out what all these bunnies, eggs and candy have to do with Easter. Heck, why is it even called Easter?

I found some answers with a quick Internet search, landing at Hallmark.com - specifically pressroom.hallmark.com/easter_symbols.html. Hallmark explained some of the symbols commonly used in our Easter traditions.

Have a happy Easter, everybody! May the holiday be filled with family, fun and faith and the promise of new life.

Easter

While some people think the name 'Easter' refers to the rising of the sun in the east - which is symbolic of the Christian holiday in that it represents the first sunrise after Jesus' resurrection - some historians believe it refers to a pagan goddess worshipped in Europe centuries before Christ. People honored the goddess, named Eostre (pronounced EE-ah-tra), with festivals at the end of March celebrating the end of winter and the birth of spring - the equinox. Eostre was the goddess of choice for fertility … we'll get to that later.

Easter eggs

More than 1 billion Easter eggs are hunted in the United States every year in back yards, parks, churches and on the White House lawn. People buy more than 100 million plastic eggs every year and thousands of chocolate and candy eggs.

Hallmark quotes a Latin proverb that says, 'All life comes from an egg,' indicating the fact that many, if not all, cultures believe the egg symbolizes the beginning of life or the universe.

Many of the great ancient civilizations dyed and ate eggs during spring festivals, and colored eggs were given as gifts. The egg became a religious symbol when Christians of the Near East adopted this tradition, likening 'nature's perfect container' to the tomb from which Jesus broke forth on Easter Sunday.

Easter Bunny

The Easter Bunny, unlike Santa Claus, doesn't have any roots in Christianity - there's no St. Bunny of Madrid or Holy Bunny of the Resurrection. Long ago, hares and rabbits served as symbols of abundant new life in the spring season. The thing is, the bunny should have actually been a hare, since hares were a symbol for the moon, and the first full moon after the vernal equinox determines the date for Easter. Sorry, a bunny wouldn't cut it.

One legend states that the Easter bunny was actually a large, handsome bird belonging to Eostre, before she magically changed her pet into a hare. Because the Easter Bunny is still a bird at heart, he continues to build a straw nest and fill it with eggs.

New clothes

Some people partake in the tradition of buying new clothes for Easter. I'm not one of them, but hey, whatever floats your boat, right? That tradition is said to come from the early Christian church, when those who were baptized at the Easter vigil service dressed in white robes - robes they wore during Easter week as a symbol of their new life in Jesus. People who had been baptized in previous years wore new clothes to share in that new life. New clothes became a symbol of Easter grace. These days, it might be a symbol of new credit card bills at The Gap.

Easter lilies

Lilies have been the flower of choice for Easter since Mrs. Thomas P. Sargent of Philadelphia brought them to the United States from Bermuda in the 1880s. The lily is said to be a symbol of purity because of its white petals and delicacy of form. Christians say it symbolizes innocence and the radiance of the risen Christ. It helps that the lily blooms in early spring, around Easter time.