Easter – A Celebration 

Of Re-birth For Everyone! 

The other day I read a rather disturbing forum thread about  Easter. It began with someone complaining about they considered the alarming commercialisation of Easter, moved to a debate about Paganism versus Christianity, featured a self-purporting Christian who suggested wicked things should happen to someone who so much as licked a chocolate egg, an atheist  who mocked the believers, and ended in an all-out slanging match and the subsequent removal of the thread. I long ago decided never to pass comment publicly on such contentious issues, although the fact that different people believe (or disbelieve) different things never struck me as especially contentious. But this rather nasty debate made me consider our approach to Easter in its entirety. 

You can't, of course, consider Easter without mentioning Christianity. One of the two most important days in the Christian year, for devout believers Easter is a vital part of their religion. but like Christmas, Easter finds itself linked to a pre-Christian festival and so elements of both have become entwined in our modern celebration. In this case, the entwining is coincidental. The date of Easter is supposed to be fixed to the Jewish Passover celebrations, which are believed to have been under way at the time of Christ's Crucifixion. However, since the Jewish and Christian faiths have different ways of calculating their individual moveable feasts, the two don't always coincide. But modern Easter is always in Spring, hence its association with the pre-Christian festival from which we get the name. There's a bit of a debate about the precise origin of the name (those Pagans didn't tend to write everything down in a big book like the Christians seem to have done!), but the general consensus is that it was named either after a goddess of fertility – and that sounds commonsense enough when you think about the new life that is bursting out all around us at this time of year. And only in English-speaking countries is Easter so-called. Elsewhere it usually takes its name from the local name for the Jewish Passover. But this association with other faiths upsets some people and it seems that, in the United States, there are Christian groups that refuse to refer to Easter, preferring to call it 'Resurrection Sunday'.

But there shouldn't really be anything controversial about Easter. It really is a time for everyone because, regardless of the religious aspect – and I know that's a big 'regardless', it's a celebration we can all appreciate. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that it doesn't really matter whether you believe in God or not, either to live your life well or to enjoy Easter. It's full of freshness, cheerfulness and hope. It looks forward with positivity and optimism. And there are  huge elements of the modern Easter that having nothing whatsoever to do with religion of any kind.

So I think that, rather than debating it, it's time for all of us to embrace Easter. And, you know what? I reckon most of us already do! I'm not just talking about having lots and lots of chocolate to eat. But while we're on the subject of those yummy eggs and bunnies, even they have mixed meanings. Supposedly the eggs were used by early Christians as a symbol of Christ's Resurrection. The egg, while inactive, held the promise of new life and a new beginning. Some say the hard shell represents the sealed tomb while the hollowness of the egg represents its emptiness. But eggs were used commonly in the Passover celebrations and in the ancient Zoroastrian new year which fell on the Spring Equinox. As for bunnies? Well they began life as the not quite so cute hares. Hares, and rabbits as it happens, were always associated with the Pagan Easter celebrations. And were regarded as the most significant symbols of fertility (no need to explain why that might be, now is there?) and so became very much a part of modern Easter. In the US, the Easter Bunny has slightly different roots. German settlers there brought with them the tradition of the hare who laid coloured eggs for the children. It wasn't long before the hare became a rabbit and the eggs became sweets, allowing another aspect of modern Easter to fall into place.

But, while most of us love a bit (okay, a lot) of chocolate, a slice or two of simnel cake and the odd hot cross bun, it's the symbolism of Easter that can offer all of us, regardless of our religious philosophy, a fresh start. A clean slate. There's a reason that this time of year is associated with all sorts of renewals and fresh beginnings. People think about spring cleaning (not for too long, in my case!). They plant their gardens. It's coming up on wedding season too, and we're all changing over our wardrobes and buying new outfits for the season ahead. Nature's getting in on the act too.  All around flowers are at last blooming after a long and hard winter. There seems to be blossom everywhere and the days are getting lighter and lighter. So why not join in with the joy? Because Easter, indeed, marks the light at the end of the tunnel. And with it comes a bit of hope for better times to come. And that's something we can all appreciate, isn't it?