Easter Symbols From The Past
by Lucille J. Goodyear
Customs and traditions play an important part in the observance of Easter, a time of renewal and strengthening of one's faith in God. The origins of some of these customs associated with the joyous season - secular as well as religious - have quite a background.
The Lenten season preceding Easter Sunday became official in the year 487 A.D., when Pope Felix II formalized the custom of setting aside a special period of solemn and meaningful preparation for Easter. Traditionally, the season recalls the 40 days of fasting and prayer that Jesus spent in the wilderness practicing self-denials in preparation for his duties to come. Good Friday was originally know as "God's Friday," and the traditional greeting of "peace be with you" was not used on this day and the day following (Holy Saturday) because Judas Iscariot saluted Christ with these very words when he betrayed him.
In addition to the religious ceremonies, many customs have come down through the years. The well-loved Easter lily actually holds no historical or religious significance, yet the sight of it immediately brings to mind this joyous season. Used to decorate church altars, greeting cards, and bestowed as a special gift of the season, the lily is a fitting symbol of Easter for it has always denoted purity and light. The egg, another Easter symbol, is said to have evolved from the ancient Egyptians, who believed the egg represented the world. As time passed the Christians adopted the egg as a sign of new life and, therefore, significant when commemorating the resurrection. The practice of exchanging eggs also dates back to the ancient Egyptians and Hebrews, who used them as gifts of "peace." It has since become a custom, the eggs being tokens of peace, affection for fellow man and new hope for the future. The "Easter bunny" was first known, as such, in Germany in the 1500's. According to old German folk tales, it was the hare who brought the many colored eggs to all good children at Easter time. When the mystical custom finally reached this country with the German settlers, the hare was changed to a rabbit - signifying fertility and new life in the coming spring season.
Though not as prominent these days as in days past, one still hears talk of the annual "Easter Parade"; for this milady prepared a new outfit and highlighted it with a new hat or bonnet. The "Easter Parade" comes from an old European custom called the "Easter Walk" which always occurred after Easter Sunday church services. The townspeople would walk about the village square or nearby fields and woods greeting each other, exchanging news of the winters' happenings, and extending wishes of good will for the year to come.
To many the Easter lamb symbolizes Christ. A seventh century prayer for the blessing of lambs was later adopted by Rome, and for many centuries following, roast lamb was the main part of the pope's Easter dinner. And, it was because of a pope's decree that "hot cross buns" came to be. In the sixth century Pope Gregory decreed that only salt, bread, and vegetables should be eaten on Good Friday. Loves of bread were marked with a "cross" before they were put in to the oven, to indicate that they might be eaten on that day. And, these marked loaves were the forerunners of our present day hot cross buns!