Captain's Cabin

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Myth Monday - Easter

Myth Monday Header

My Bean says there is something fundamentally wrong with a culture that celibrates it's major religious feast day by telling their children a large rabbit brings chocolate eggs in the middle of the night.

While some of the trappings of Easter are linked to the religious part of the holiday - lamb and eggs for example - others, like bunnies are symbols of the spring.

Religiously, Easter is linked to the Jewish holiday of Passover not only for much of its symbolism but also for its position in the calendar. The Last Supper shared by Jesus and his disciples before his crucifixion is generally thought of as a Passover meal, based on the chronology in the Synoptic Gospels.

As with many events in the Christian religion, the Jewish feast was taken over into the Christian Easter celebration.

The modern English term Easter developed from the Old English word Eastre, which itself developed prior to AD 899. The name refers to the Eostur-monath, a month of the Germanic calendar which may have been named for the goddess Eastre in Germanic paganism.

In all Romance languages the name of the Easter festival is derived from the Greek name, Pascha which is itself derived from Pesach, the Hebrew festival of Passover.

The observance of any non-Jewish special holiday throughout the Christian year is believed by some to be an innovation postdating the Early Church. The ecclesiastical historian Socrates Scholasticus (b. 380) attributes the observance of Easter by the church to the perpetuation of local custom, "just as many other customs have been established," stating that neither Jesus nor his Apostles enjoined the keeping of this or any other festival. However, when read in context, this is not a rejection or denigration of the celebration, but is merely part of a defense of the diverse methods for computing its date. Indeed, although he describes the details of the Easter celebration as deriving from local custom, he insists the feast itself is universally observed.

Perhaps the earliest extant primary source referencing Easter is a 2nd century Paschal homily by Melito of Sardis, which characterizes the celebration as a well-established one.

Easter is a movable holiday and does not actually fall on the date of the so called death and reserection of the Jesus Christ figure. It is in fact linked to Spring Equinox, which fell - this year - last Thursday.

The date of Easter, according to church law, is to be celebrated on the same Sunday throughout the world, and that this Sunday must follow the fourteenth day of the paschal moon. The moon was to be accounted the paschal moon whose fourteenth day followed the spring equinox, and that some provision should be made, probably by the Church of Alexandria as best skilled in astronomical calculations, for determining the proper date of Easter and communicating it to the rest of the world. It should also be noted that the full moon referred to is not an astronomical full moon, but an ecclesiastical moon (although I'm not really sure that the difference is).

However all of the dates preceding it, including the beginning of Lent, forty days prior during Ash Wednesday are tied into the fixing of the date of Easter.

Egging you on
Click to bigify the cute cat!

As with many other Christian dates, the celebration of Easter extends beyond the church. Since its origins, it has been a time of celebration and feasting. Today it is commercially important, seeing wide sales of greeting cards and confectionery such as chocolate Easter eggs, marshmallow bunnies, Peeps, and jelly beans. Even many non-Christians celebrate these aspects of the holiday while eschewing the religious aspects.

Throughout North America, Australia and parts of the UK, the Easter holiday has been partially secularized, so that some families participate only in the attendant revelry, central to which is (traditionally) decorating Easter eggs on Saturday evening and hunting for them Sunday morning, by which time they have been mysteriously hidden all over the house and garden. Chocolate eggs have largely supplanted decorated eggs in Australia.

In North America, eggs and other treats are delivered and hidden by the Easter Bunny in an Easter basket which children find waiting for them when they wake up. Many families in America will attend Sunday Mass or services in the morning and then participate in a feast or party in the afternoon.

English children still paint colored eggs, but most British people simply exchange chocolate eggs on the Sunday. Chocolate Easter Bunnies can be found in shops, but the idea is considered primarily a US import. Many families have a traditional Sunday roast, particularly roast lamb, and eat foods like Simnel cake, a fruit cake with eleven marzipan balls representing the eleven faithful apostles. Hot cross buns, spiced buns with a cross on top, are traditionally associated with Good Friday, but today are eaten through Holy Week and the Easter period. In the north of England and the north of Ireland, the tradition of rolling decorated eggs down steep hills is still adhered to.

There are many other practices in other countries. Eggs are specific to easter because they were banned during lent in the old roman church, and children were urged to give up candy during lent, which is considered to be a time of fasting and repentance. Since these restrictions were lifted on Easter, the celebrations began to revolve around these two things and eventually to merg (hence the chocolate eggs). Young chicks and rabbits are symbolic of spring and have also come to be related directly to easter.

In the modern-day United States, there have been instances where public mention of Easter and Good Friday have been replaced with euphemistic terminology. Examples include renaming "Good Friday" as "Spring holiday" on school calendars, to avoid association with a Christian holiday while at the same time allowing a state-sanctioned day off.

Around the net: Little Isis is our Featured Panther today on House Panthers. A great honor since it also Midnight Monday, the weekly celebration of all House Panthers. I have also started a two pieces series today on how music can sooth cats. Later in the week we are going to look at Feline orthopedic troubles (nearly 100% of all cats who radiographic evidence of arthritis in cats age 10 and over), as well as the use of acupuncture for the treatment of age related disorders.

My Midnight Monday entry is a little piece on the natural wild beauty of the House Panther at Digicats. Come on a Safari with me!

A note to Dave: My Bean says she couldn't have planned yesterday's game with Frankie on the mound and her in the fourth row if she'd tried. She got pictures and Buscher last week, and said that they won yesterday despite Buscher playing at first.

She did get you shots of Denard Span and Mike Lamb however. She should have them posted later today and will send you a link.


-d ma said...

can't wait to see the pictures. frankie looked pretty good yesterday although gardy has not been saying kind things about him the past few days.

Cheysuli and gemini said...

Very nice history of Easter.

Tybalt said...

Thank you once again, Diamond! I feel much more informed about Easter now . . . mommy told me that it was basically an old fertility ritual made into a Christian Holiday, but neither of us knew about the church banning eggs during Lent, or some of the other interesting stuff! You are one smart kitty.

jan said...

We really enjoy your Myth Monday. What a lot of research goes into those and well written.

Misty the alpha Poodle

jan said...

We really enjoy your Myth Monday. What a lot of research goes into those and well written.

Misty the alpha Poodle

Daisy said...

That's a lot of interesting facts about Easter. I am still trying to learn how big the Eastern Bunny really is. Do you think he is bigger than 3 feet tall?

Junior said...

Very interesting Easter facts! We didn't celebrate with any eggs at my house.

Scooby, Shaggy & Scout said...

What a wonderful essay on all things Easter & spring! Mom saw an article in the paper that Easter will not be this early again for a very, very long time.

snowforest said...

Fanks for this informative post ~ we learned alot about Easter :)

Name: Mr. Hendrix said...

what a pretty Easter collar you have! that purple looks great on you. thanks for all the great research you do into your subjects. we learn lots here.
i didn't see that bunny either. sigh. but at least it left treats!

Tesla said...

We do not see da bunnie as being 'fundamentally wrong' because, its a way of bringing Easter to kids that can't understand the full history as you have it here.

Da bunnie, is all about making something magical about a day. Bringing magic into children's lives.

Dats da whole point.

Cecil the Cougar: said...

I finks that young ones should be taught the real meaning of easter if it is part of their religion. My Mommie is Catholic and she has always known. I has not been blessed yet, but I will be this year I thinks. My Mommie took the kitty who came before me to the Blessing of St Francis. I think this is like a baptism for cats only!

Adan*Michico said...

Thanks for telling my the history of Easter :>

Dragonheart & Merlin said...

Thank you for sharing all that interesting information about Easter, Diamond. That is a lovely scrapbook page of you!