The History of Easter

by Julie Ann

The story of "Easter" is really a very small part of a much larger picture of the social history of our ancestors for at least the last 5000 years and beyond, and should therefore be studied within this context.

The word "Oestre" and it's variations was the old Teutonic word for dawn/sunrise. This word is one of the roots of our word "east", and also the name of the female hormone "oestrogen".

The Teutonic peoples came from Jutland, a peninsular that extends into both Denmark and West Germany. It is known that some of them migrated further into Scandinavia, also Hungary and Austria.

Oestre became the personification of the rising sun. In that capacity, a fertility goddess associated with Spring.

The "bunny" the "egg" and Spring chicks: The hare was a fertility symbol used by many peoples dating back many thousands of years, as was the egg.

The Spring festival celebrated by Teutonic peoples and dedicated to the goddess Eastre, was also that of a lunar one. People at this time used the moon cycle to measure time, the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox was the start of their new year. It was thought that if an image of a hare could been seen on the disc of this full moon, it was a good omen indicating a good harvest to come.

The egg as a fertility symbol, was also important too, and as people started to keep domestic fowl, such as chickens, the observation of hen's eggs hatching bringing forth yellow coloured chicks was interpreted into their celebrations as the "sun" being re-born.

As the festival and it's imagery was passed from one generation to another, fanciful stories were woven around the original. One of which is that the goddess Eastre/Ostara transformed her pet bird into a hare, but the change was incomplete, the hare still laid eggs. The story was further embellished, by adding that these eggs were brightly coloured.

In more recent times, the hare was replaced by it's cousin the rabbit, probably because the rabbit became more prevalent than the hare.

Hot Cross buns: The two equinoxes were known as cross quarter days, as Spring was the start of their new year, they marked loaves with a cross (plus) sign to represent the four seasons of the year that were about to new cycle with their festivals. The Roman Church was unhappy about this as it wanted absolute control over the subjects of the "Holy Roman Empire". Instead it decided to "Christianise" all the old festivals. Easter became a celebration of the resurection of Jesus. People didn't immediately take to this as they, associated the festival with the feminine. In reaction to this, they created "Lady Day" 25th March, as a day to celebrate the anouncement by the angel Gabriel that Mary was to bring forth a new mesiah. So that people had "Mary" to replace "Oestre".

The Roman Church was unable to obliterate the old customs though, as even today, although many people think of these festivals such as Easter and Christmas as being Christian, all the symbolism associated with them predates Christianity by thousands of years!

The Jewish festival of the Passover (Pesach) is thought to have no connection with that of the Teautonic "Oestre". The Passover, although observed at Spring, marks the escape from Egypt of the enslaved Jews, led by Moses. Passover begins on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan. It is observed for 8 days starting at sundown.

Easter History

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