Regardless of what spiritual or religious tradition you come from, here in the United States during the spring you’ll see all manner of colorful baskets filled with dyed eggs, green grass, and all sorts of sweets and treats. Communities host egg hunts and visits with a very special bunny – it’s Easter time. Although these traditions have been linked with the religious holiday of Easter, they have been practiced in various forms around the world as a celebration of spring for centuries before the association with the Christian holiday.
The symbol of the egg
We all know that Spring brings with it new life – flowers blooming, the “birds and the bees”, animals mating and new families beginning. Eggs are one of the most powerful symbols of that new life that have been revered for centuries.
Eggs could certainly be found in abundance in the Spring, and were a welcome supplement to the sparse left-overs from winter, long before we had high-tech farming and frozen food! Egg were ritually eaten and even used as talismans, to celebrate renewal, fertility, and the return of the seasons of plenty. They’ve been dyed, painted, and decorated by the Romans, Gauls, Persians, Ukrainians, and Chinese since ancient times.
We also often see little chicks, lambs, baby bunnies, and other young animals as popular stuffed toys around this holiday, celebrating the results of fertile life. It’s possible that the practice of making baskets and filling them with colorful eggs was born by watching the birds make their nests at this time.
About hard-boiling the eggs… apparently, in the 4th century it was considered taboo to consume eggs during lent. Hence, they were boiled in their shells in order to keep til after Easter, and eventually people began to color and hide them for children to find on Easter day – the beginnings of the Easter egg hunt. Some say that the tradition began from the hunt in the forest for eggs from bird’s nests at the beginning of Spring.
Easter and fertility
The word Easter comes from an ancient word, eastre, that meant spring, of course. It also is derived from Eostre, the Great Mother goddess of the Saxon people, and Ostara, a Teutonic goddess of fertility. So it’s natural that when Easter time comes along, we think of many natural fertility symbols – in fact, flowers are indeed an embodiment of fertility, as they are the “sexual organs”, if you will, of plants! Interestingly, the female hormone estrogen also gets its name from these same sources.
Speaking more of fertility, it’s no surprise that bunnies became associated with this holiday – after all, rabbits are known to multiply. Rabbits were not only seen as fecund but lucky and thus were revered, especially during springtime. We have seen this appreciation of the rabbit evolve into the chocolate bunnies in our Easter baskets and the coming of the Easter bunny, bringing us blessings and goodies.
No matter what religious or spiritual tradition you come from, we can all appreciate the new life that is brought to us through nature at this time of year, and these familiar symbols remind us of that renewal of the cycle of life. You consider what is coming alive, waking up, and being born in you, gently coming out like a chick pecking at its shell. Celebrate your own revival and enjoy the ancient festivities of Easter that honor springtime.
Copyright © 2004 by Constance L. Habash