How Spring was celebrated before the observances of Easter
Can spring be far behind?
Easter, a time of reflection. According to the the Christian faith a time to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his death by crucifixion.
Long before the Christian observances of Easter this lunar festival celebrated the arrival of the northern spring.
Cards portray fluffy yellow chicks, bob-tailed rabbits, lambs gambolling, fragile pastel blossom.
Rabbits symbolize fertility while eggs represent new life. Both have been a symbol of spring since ancient times.
Over the years many spring and Easter customs became intertwined.
Spring heralds lightness and hope after the darkness of winter. Poets wax lyrical: ‘In spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.’
In the northern hemisphere the world is waking and warming up.
Trouble is, it doesn’t work in the southern states of Australia. You’ve got to admit it’s different. Our lightness is turning into dark. Falling leaves. Flannelette PJs and thermals are frantically being bought.
Birds have nested and flown the coop. Sadly, ducks are ducking bullets and the only lambs and chicks you’ll see are sizzling on the barbeque.
Still, no one can accuse us of not getting into the spirit of things. Hot cross buns and chocolate eggs appeared in the stores on Boxing Day.
Bunny versus Bilby
There’s also push to have our very own symbol – an egg delivering bilby to replace the Easter bunny.
For the record, bilbies are desert dwelling marsupial omnivores; small, furry, cute and, sadly, an endangered species.
The bilby seems preferable because once introduced to the antipodes the rabbit took over with a vengeance causing untold damage to the continent.
The Easter Bunny though, is reportedly miffed. A bilby does not have the rabbit qualifications.
Superstitions concerning rabbits reach back to very early times. Born with their eyes open they are purported to ward off evil. Being such a prolific breeder their creativity heralds success and prosperity.
Carrying a rabbit’s foot around – preferably the left hind one - is still considered to be good luck. I bet the rabbit disagrees with this theory.
Hot buns were always around at spring festivals. Only with the arrival of Christianity was the cross added.
One old adage suggests hot cross buns will cure stomach complaints, coughs and colds. They are also credited with the power to last indefinitely without going mouldy. My supermarket doesn’t seem to stock this brand.
Another theory - hang a hot cross bun in the house and you’ll be protected from fire and evil. It’s probably wise not to try this at home as an alternative to insurance.
The ancestors certainly had intriguing habits. Consider the Easter proposal. A suitor sent his girlfriend a pair of gloves. If she wore them to church on Easter morning she’d accepted him as her future husband. Cold hands, cold heart, you might say.
Growing up in England a new coat was a must for Easter Sunday morning. This was followed by a visit to neighbours who would put coins in my pockets to symbolise prosperity.
In Cyprus, it’s customary for to light fires, huge ones made of scrap wood gathered by local children. Fires are also traditional in the Netherlands and North Germany.
Salzburg celebrates with a musical celebration honouring Mozart who was born there. Ireland and Britain begin the spring horse-racing season while Lapland offers the ultimate - reindeer racing.
And what about the ancient Scandinavian custom of children beating adults with birch twigs until they were given a ransom of eggs?
Around the world Spring/Easter is celebrated in style. In New York and London you’ll find the Easter Parade. The brilliant and zany display of new clothes and Easter bonnets are considered unequalled.
In Russia the eggs that fascinate were those designed by Peter Carl Faberge. The Easter eggs he crafted for the indulgent Czar and family are truly exquisite. Crafted in gold and silver, encrusted with precious stones
There is magic in such intricate pieces.
I’d really like to ask a favour of the Easter Bunny/bilby. I’m not into chocolate but I’d be really grateful if he’d leave me a decorated egg.
Just one small Faberge one. Well, it is Easter – a time of hope.
As the dark nights deepen and autumn turns to winter, I’ll give the last word to the poets: ‘If winter comes, can spring be far behind?’
Good positive thinking, Shelley.