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By: Pat Whitfield
For: Red Rock News
Date: April 22, 2011

Easter Traditions Around the World

As Easter approaches, Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. In many countries where Easter is celebrated, the season is a time for observing traditions at home as well as at church.  Certain of these traditions, however, predate Christianity. In fact, some believe that Easter derives its name from Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring. Some connect Eostre with Ishtar -- the Babylonian and Assyrian goddess of love and fertility -- based on the similarity of their names, although there is no solid proof for this theory.

What seems likely, however, is that some time in the second century A.D., Christian missionaries trying to convert northern European tribes noticed that the Christian holiday commemorating the Resurrection of Jesus roughly coincided with the Teutonic springtime celebration, which emphasized the triumph of life over death.  Consequently, Christian Easter gradually absorbed the traditional symbols. The Library offers some insights into these traditions in “Christianity: the Origins of a Pagan Religion”by Phillipe Walter and “Understanding the Bible: an Introduction for Skeptics, Seekers, and Religious Liberals”by John Buehrens.

Of  Easter symbols, eggs are the most prominent. Eggs laid in the early spring were often boiled or otherwise preserved. They became a mainstay of Easter meals and a special gift for children and servants. Furthermore, eggs have long been viewed as symbols of new life and fertility. For this reason, it is believed that many ancient cultures, including the ancient Egyptians, Persians, and Romans used eggs during their spring festivals.

Many traditions and practices have formed around Easter eggs. The coloring and decorating of eggs is a long-established art. Orthodox Christians in the Middle East and in Greece painted eggs bright red to symbolize the blood of Christ. In Armenia, hollow eggs (created by piercing the shell with a needle and blowing out the contents) were decorated with pictures of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and other religious figures.

Germans gave green eggs as gifts on Holy Thursday and hung hollow eggs on trees. Austrians placed tiny plants around eggs and then boiled them. When the plants were removed, white patterns were created.

The most elaborate Easter egg traditions seem to have developed in Eastern Europe. In Poland and the Ukraine, eggs were often painted silver and gold. Pysanky (derived from the Ukranian verb for “to design” or “write”) eggs were created by carefully applying wax patterns to an egg. The egg was then dyed, wax would be reapplied in spots to preserve that color, and the egg was boiled again in other shades. The result was a multi-color striped or patterned egg.

Latvians play an Easter egg game in which each player begins by taking a hard boiled, colored egg. Players then form pairs and tap the ends of their eggs together. First the wide ends of the two eggs are tapped  together, then the narrow ends, and finally one wide and one narrow end. When a player’s egg breaks, he or she leaves the game, which continues until one player is left with an unbroken egg.

The Sedona Public Library has 118 volumes, predominantly children’s selections, relating to Easter. Of those pertinent to eggs, parents might enjoy reading to their children “The Easter Egg” by Jan Brett, “Henri, Egg Artiste”by Marcus Pfister, “The Best Easter Eggs Ever!”by Jerry Smath, and “The Great Easter Egg Hunt: a Look Again Book” by Michael Garland, especially suitable for younger children.

Of course, the most elegant of eggs are those created by Faberge, and the Library has several books on those gorgeous creations: “Faberge and the Russian Master Goldsmiths” by Peter Carl Faberge and “Faberge Eggs: Imperial Russian Fantasies”by the Faberge firm.

The Easter Bunny is the most enduring figure for American Easter celebrations. Hares and rabbits have long been symbols of fertility. The inclusion of the hare apparently originated in Germany, where tales were told of an Easter hare who laid eggs for children to find. German immigrants to America -- particularly to Pennsylvania -- brought the tradition with them and spread it to a wider public. Children enjoy tales about the Easter Bunny, and the Library offers for children “The Story of the Easter Bunny”by Sheila Black (1988) and another by the same name, written by Katherine B. Tegen (2005), among others.

Other interesting Easter customs include that of Norway, where reading detective novels and crime thrillers has become a popular Easter pastime. Paskekrim (Easter crime) refers to the new crime novels available at Easter. Scholars believe that the tradition of reading about crime at Easter may stem from the violent nature of Christ’s death. The period from Holy Thursday through Easter Monday is a public holiday, and many Norwegians take vacations to the mountains or to the coast at this time. Check out the British mystery “Cue the Easter Bunny” by Liz Evans for a seasonal read.

For a vivid pictorial glimpse into Easter traditions from other cultures, try DeGrazia’s “DeGrazia Paints the Yaqui Easter; Forty Days of Lent in Forty Paintings, with a Personal Commentary.”Or, for enlightenment about our own Hispanic culture, peruse “The Latino Holiday Book: from Cinco de Mayo to Dia de los Muertos – the Celebrations and Traditions of Hispanic-Americans” by Valerie Menard.

Whatever your reading choices, whether for yourself or the young people in your life, be assured that there is a wide selection awaiting you at your Sedona Public Library. And, to all, a very Happy Easter!

Pat Whitfield
Library News appears each Friday in the Red Rock News and is also presented on: Gateway to Sedona and Sedona Biz.
Pat Whitfield is a member of the Board of Directors of the Sedona Public Library.