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Friday, April 10, 2009

Amazing customs

The Encyclopedia Britannica wrote in its 27th edition, 1959, volume 7, about Easter:

"The English word, 'Easter'... corresponding to the German Ostern, reveals Christianity's indebtedness to the Teutonic tribes of central Europe. Christianity, when it reached the Teutons, incorporated in its celebrations of the great Christian feast many of the heathen rites and customs which accompanied their observance of the spring festival... The customs and symbols associated with the observance of Easter have ancient origins, not only in the Teutonic rites of spring but also far back in antiquity... the conception of the egg as a symbol of fertility and of renewed life goes back to the ancient Egyptians and Persians, who also had the custom of colouring and eating eggs during their spring festival... Like the Easter egg, the Easter hare... came to Christianity from antiquity...

"And those families who, by custom, eat ham on Easter Sunday are unwittingly following an old practice of the Roman Catholics of England, who ate a gammon of bacon on Easter to show their contempt for the Jews, to whom pork is forbidden...

"In England... the Puritans... refused to celebrate Easter. Thus at first in the U.S... Easter was not observed. It was not until the latter part of the 19th century, particularly during the Civil War, that the Protestant churches, other than the Lutheran and the Episcopalian, began to mark this day by special services... The Protestant churches also followed the [pagan] custom of holding sunrise services on Easter morning."

The Reader's Digest Publication, "Why in the World," copyright 1994, states the following about Easter and its customs, on pages 199-201:

"Originally, Easter had nothing to do with the Christian calendar. Our word for the festival comes from Eastre or Ostara, the goddess of spring among Germanic tribes of northern Europe. Pagan tribes rejoiced at the coming of spring, which is why many of our Easter customs, such as the giving of eggs, have pagan not Christian origins...

"Hares are born with their eyes open and are nocturnal. Because of this, the Egyptians made them sacred to the Moon. Later, ancient Britons gave the hare magical powers, using it in rites such as fortune-telling. Some villagers in Ireland refused to kill or eat hares, believing that they carried the souls of their grandparents. Later, Germanic tribes who worshipped Eastre (or Ostara), associated the fecund hare with her, their goddess of life and spring...

"Just as pagan customs figure in our Christmas festival, so too they have become associated inextricably with Easter. Long before the beginnings of Christianity, Egyptians and Romans gave gifts of eggs as symbols of life. Easter was originally a pagan festival to celebrate the coming of spring, which marked the rebirth of life in plants, a time when many birds mated and produced young. The hen's egg, from which new life could spring, was a potent sign of regeneration. Often its shell was decorated with colours representing certain flowers and aimed at encouraging their regrowth...

"Traditionally, hot cross buns are eaten on Good Friday, but their origins, like many Eastertide and Christmas customs, go back to pagan times... The baking of special bread, flavoured with spices, was part of pagan celebrations to greet the spring and worship the sun. The ancient Greeks stamped their festival bread with a horned emblem in honour of Astarte, their goddess of love and fertility. The word 'bun' comes from 'boun,' an ancient word for a sacred ox. Cakes stamped with horns became buns marked with a cross."

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