Legend tells of the Saxon goddess Eostre, who found a wounded bird when she was out walking through the English countryside. The bird could not fly and so she turned it into a hare so that it could survive the snow and rain of the English Winter (although lately it could have been the Spring). The hare found, rather uncomfortably, that it could lay eggs and so every Spring it decorated the eggs and left them as an offering to the goddess.
It is from the traditional Pagan rituals performed for goddess Eostre to celebrate new beginnings, symbolised by the egg, which gave us the word Easter. It essentially replaced the word “Pascha” as the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Christ, which itself was derived from the Jewish festival of Passover.
The hare, as the symbol of fertility, became the Easter Bunny and, although Easter is still a very important Christian Festival, it is now enjoyed by children all over the world as a time when the Easter Bunny brings chocolate eggs.
France is known for its cuisine and French chocolatiers create some incredibly artistic chocolate eggs around Easter time. The Easter Eggs (les oeufs de Pâques) are displayed in shop windows and often sit alongside the poisson d'Avril or April fish – chocolate treats that are actually enjoyed throughout the Easter season and are linked to another French tradition that involves children sticking paper fish onto the backs of unsuspecting adults.
Another French tradition at Easter is the game of egg rolling, which is also enjoyed in parts of America, whereby raw eggs are rolled down a gentle slope – the aim being to get to the bottom first without breaking. It is thought to symbolise the stone being rolled away from the entrance to the tomb of Jesus.
Perhaps the most famous tradition in France is the ringing of the church bells. Although bells can be heard in many countries on the morning of Easter Sunday, the French twist is that the bells are what make the chocolate eggs appear by magic.
Bells play an important part of Austrian tradition at this time of year. No bells are rung between Holy Thursday and morning mass on Easter Sunday, as they fly to Rome. Consequently, altar boys are forced to use wooden rattles or Ratschen during this time.
Many countries celebrate Easter with the egg hunt. It is supposed to have started in the United States but for me, nowhere does this better than in one of my favourite places to spend Easter – the South of Germany. I love the tradition of making Easter branches – twigs and bushes that are covered in colourful hanging decorations and brightly painted eggs.
Children that build a nest from twigs in their gardens will often find that in the morning it has been filled with sweets and gifts by the Oster Hase (Easter Hare) – the most important Easter icon after the egg itself.
The Easter egg hunt is an important part of Easter Sunday morning, children hunting for colourful hardboiled eggs, chocolate bunnies and more sweets. After attending the Easter service the traditional meal is served of lamb, potatoes and fresh vegetables.
Poland has one of the funniest traditions that I have heard of – the Easter Monday water fight. Apparently this started when men would sprinkle their lady friends with perfumed water but over the years it has evolved to include the use of water bombs and water guns and the streets can become witness to full scale water fights.
Of course, for funny Easter traditions we don’t have to travel that far. Although not as common these days, you can still find Morris Dancing in rural parts of England. This traditional form of folk dance goes back to the Middle Ages and involves men with bells around their ankles dancing with ribbons and sticks.
Like the April fish of France, the English enjoy Hot Cross Buns throughout the Easter period. These buns, originally eaten on Good Friday, are filled with dried fruit and spices and are delicious when served warm with butter. The cross on the bun symbolises the crucifixion.
And of course, we like our chocolate eggs at Easter as well. You can help us celebrate Easter by joining in with our egg hunt or you can head over to our Face Book page and tell us how you like to celebrate Eostre.
So Happy Easter to you all, or as they say in Germany, Frohe Ostern.