I really love spring in my town. (Yeah, I know it’s approaching autumn in the southern hemisphere, but bear with me, OK?) It means the renewal of life after the long cold winter. I eagerly await the crocuses pushing out of the ground (and sometimes through the snow) to let me know that spring is really here. Even if a snow storm returns, the crocuses don’t lie; spring is well on its way.
For a thousand years before Christ, pagans welcomed the spring as a time of renewal, rebirth and fertility. Two signs of this were the egg and the rabbit or hare. Rabbits and hares were among the most prolific creatures known to the pagans and so they became symbols of fertility. Eggs carry an unborn life and require only the warmth of its parent to incubate it and bring it to fruition. The egg represents renewal and rebirth.
The pagan goddess of spring and renewal has many names, depending on the legend you choose to believe. Among them are Ostra, Ostern and Eastre. The Phoenicians had Astarte. She was known as Ostrara in Europe. The Babylonians called her Ishtar (which is pronounced the same as Easter).
In Judaism, the spring religious holidays of Passover occur and they remember the 10th plague against the pharaoh, the Angel of Death killing the first born child in every home in Egypt. To avoid this, the Hebrew families marked their doorposts with lambs’ blood so the Angel of Death would pass over their homes. Passover is tied into the pagan spring celebration.
Christ was crucified on a Friday during the preparation for Passover. Saturday is the Hebrew Sabbath and Christ was taken down and buried in a hollowed out rock, before the Sabbath began at sundown on Friday. A large stone was rolled in front of the entrance to seal it. On the following Sunday many believe he arose. Easter Sunday is also tied in with the pagan spring celebration.
Passover and Easter are moving religious holidays. Passover is observed on the first full moon on or after the northern hemisphere’s vernal equinox – the pagans’ first day of spring. Easter is a bit more complicated. It falls on the first Sunday, on or after the first full moon, on or after the northern hemisphere’s vernal equinox.
The pagan customs are still remembered by most people in the Christian world. We still color Easter Eggs and feast on chocolate or marshmallow rabbits, the Easter Bunny.
This year in the northern hemisphere, March 20th marks the beginning of spring, and our trek towards summer. In the southern hemisphere, as the leaves begin to turn colors, it marks the beginning of autumn, and their trek towards winter. And so continues the never-ending cycle of the seasons.