Beyond Easter Eggs and Easter Bunnies… Meaning, Symbolism and Traditions

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Preceded by Lent (the 40-day period of fasting) and Good Friday, Christians around the world celebrate Easter as a cultural holiday dedicated to commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter Day, also affectionately known as Easter Sunday or Resurrection Sunday, is celebrated not only by Christians but by non-Catholics as well. But, contrary to popular belief, it’s not just a day of great celebrations, masses, Easter eggs and Easter bunnies. There are symbols deeply rooted in these traditions.

“Easter comes etymologically from the Latin root ‘Pascha’ and in Greek, Pascha symbolizes passing. Historically, it refers to the passage of the angel of the Lord. This symbolic aspect of the passage is represented as a reality in the life of Jesus who, for us, passes over death and darkness and leads us all to light and life. Although he was condemned, crucified and put to death, he rose again and gave us life. Thus, it is a celebration that affirms the life of Christians. History testifies to this fact that from the 2nd century AD, Easter is celebrated,” says the father. Dr. Prakash Louis, Jesuit priest.

According to Fr. Joseph Ivel Mendanha, C.Ss.R, a preacher of retreats for bishops, priests and people from all over India and abroad, the significance and relevance of this glorious day lies in the fact that Jesus rose from the dead and continues to live in a new way in our lives. He believes that the resurrection of Jesus (alongside his crucifixion) is the central historical event of the Christian faith. Without the resurrection, there would be no Christianity.

Meaning and symbolism

Easter, for the most part, resonates with Easter eggs and Easter bunnies. Interestingly, both have a reason to be associated with the festival. Another symbol, less known, is the Easter Lamb.

Pr. Ivel reveals: “Easter eggs symbolize new life. Easter bunnies, Easter lilies and daffodils symbolize spring. The winter of death is over and the new life of springtime is to be celebrated…this is the central message of Easter. All creation rejoices in new life… Resurrection of Jesus. The Easter Lamb, which symbolizes Jesus, the Lamb of God, who gave his life for us so that we might have life and be freed from sin. Jesus is symbolized in the lamb offered for the sins of the world.

Customs and traditions

Easter customs can vary across the world, but each celebration includes sunrise services, midnight vigils, exchange of greetings, decorations, and the communal breaking of Easter eggs.

Prof. Ivel shares, “Easter traditions in our church consist of a night vigil service of lighting the fire and blessing the new fire, lighting the Easter/Pascal candle from that fire and taking the candle in procession and proclaiming the faith three times, Jesus is risen! The Easter candle represents the risen Jesus among us. Song of the Easter Proclamation, the Blessing of Water, which will be used throughout the year for blessings, especially of homes at Easter, renewing the vows and promises of our faith.

Many churches in Mumbai and Goa recreate the crucification of Jesus on Friday and then the resurrection on Sunday. The boy

chosen to play Jesus during these three days feels venerated. Proud mom of Rejoice Cakes, Joyce Fernandes ardently shares, “Easter eggs symbolize life. Christ has risen from the dead and I pray that all men will rise from all their difficulties to live a life of happiness and joy. His quaint little confectionery has stood next to Mount Carmel Church, Bandra for 15 years and is a sight to behold.

Celebration time

We never tire of Easter and its celebrations. For many, it is the day to welcome change and let go of the past.

Proud mom of Rejoice Cakes, Bandra, Joyce Fernandes ardently shares, “Easter eggs symbolize life. Christ has risen from the dead and I pray that all people will rise from all their difficulties, thanks to the pandemic, for a life of health, happiness and joy. His quaint little confectionery has stood next to Mount Carmel Church, Bandra for 15 years and is a sight to behold.

For many, it’s a time for family reunions and a time to dwell on cultural memories. Monarose Sheila Pereira, known as India’s Enid Blyton, says, “Easter is a time to go beyond the commercial aspect of Easter eggs and bunnies. It’s time to rise above our narrow mindsets. It’s time to reflect on our culture. I cherish the memory of my parents who gave us a big marzipan Humpty Dumpty. Easter, like Christmas, is celebrated by many, regardless of religion. Framroz Ghaswala, a Parsi who has been celebrating Easter for about 40 years, says he is drawn to Easter celebrations because of the underlying message. “The most important message of Christ is to RISE with HIM. Rise above our petty mindsets and have a peaceful, happy and better world. Religion should not have unnecessary boundaries.

Anugrah Singh Pundir, a 22-year-old Delhi-born shopkeeper and storyteller, prefers the subtlety of Easter over the more commercially popular boisterous Christmas. “There is a certain subtlety to Easter that I love, compared to the red, hairy, loud capitalist jazz that Christmas has become. My Church in Delhi (BBCF) holds a sunrise service and as the sermon progresses the sun rises upon us. A beautiful moment that shakes the morning sleep out of you. After the sermon we greet each other with happy smiles saying ‘He is risen’, greeted with the response ‘He is risen indeed’.

father speaks

Prof. Francis Gonsalves, Catholic Jesuit priest, shares an interesting Easter anecdote close to his heart. “Many years ago, as I was rushing from the metro station to the cathedral in Delhi for an Easter celebration, I saw an autorickshaw driver stop his vehicle next to a sleeping old beggar on the sidewalk and cover him with his sweater. He then walked away quietly. For me, it was a beautiful example of what Easter means: promoting love, life and liberation”, says- he.

Easter traditions around the world

Bermuda: The day before Easter, Good Friday, is celebrated by flying homemade kites. This tradition began when a teacher used a kite to explain the concept of Jesus’ resurrection to his Sunday school class.

Regions of North West Europe: Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are observed by lighting large bonfires, also called Easter fires. Originally it was a way to chase away winter, but now it has found its purpose in bringing communities together.

Sweden: This tradition is similar to Halloween, as Swedish children dress up as Easter witches and walk around their neighborhood. The twist to this Halloween-like tradition is that they trade artwork for candy.

Haux, France: Easter Monday in Haux is celebrated in a unique way. Legend has it that more than 4,500 eggs are used to feed up to 1,000 people.

Australia, United Kingdom, United States: If you are in one of these countries for Easter, you will be able to witness the magnificent parades of Easter bonnets. Bunny ears, chicken eggs, chocolate or flowers are just some of the usual beanie embellishments.

Florence, Italy: Locals carry on this 350-year-old Easter tradition by gathering for a fireworks display. People dress up in 15th century costumes and gather around an ornate carriage filled with fireworks to take part in the tradition.

Corfu (Greek Island): Traditionally known as “pot throwing”, Greeks celebrate Easter by throwing pots, pans and other pottery filled with water out of their windows into the streets. Some believe that tossing pots welcomes the season of spring, symbolizing the new crops that will be gathered in the new pots.

Czech: Czech boys tie ribbons to a willow branch whip and gently “whip” girls to wish them good luck and good health. Some women are against this tradition, but some consider it an important part of folklore and culture.

Norway: Easter in Norway is popularly known as a day to relax in a hut, ski, and read crime novels (or indulge in watching crime shows). The tradition is said to have started in 1923 when a book publisher promoted his detective novel to the front pages of newspapers.

Papua New Guinea: On Easter Sunday, trees and branches in front of churches in Papua New Guinea are adorned with packets of tobacco and cigarettes. These packets of tobacco are then given to the faithful after the religious services.

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Posted: Sunday, April 17, 2022, 07:00 IST


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