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The festival of Easter, occurring near the vernal equinox, is of great antiquity. The word Easter does not occur in modern translations of the Bible [it appears once in the King James version], but this does not inhibit Christians from claiming Easter as the most important festival in the Christian calendar. The English name Eastre and the German one Ostern are said to derive from the name of the feast of the Teutonic goddess of Spring and the dawn, Ostera.

Hares have always been associated with Easter as the animal was sacred to Ostera. Ritual hare-hunts took place in England so that the goddess could be propitiated by a sacrifice.

In some countries it is said that the Easter bunny brings Easter eggs and children make nests for it in the garden. However the use of young rabbits as a symbol is probably as a substitute for hares.

At Easter, solar- and vegetation-gods were worshipped, with special mysteries to symbolise their death in winter, the search for, and the finding of, their bodies, and their resurrection at springtime.

For example, the vernal equinox was the period of the triumph and sacrifice of the god Mithras. He was a vegetation - as well as a sun-god, the two often being associated. In the case of Mithras a stone image was mourned, sepulchred in a rock tomb, and after an interval, restored as reliving. In the interval he had descended into Hades. The same form was followed with the gods Osiris, Attis, Adonis and Dionysus.

The Christian 'gospels' of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible give conflicting accounts of the supernatural life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ at Easter. The identities of the actual writers of the stories, and the original editors, are entirely unknown, and the tales no doubt come from different sources.

Prior to Easter, Christians observe Lent, a word from Old English, 'lencten', meaning 'spring'. For them it is a period of fasting, apart from Sundays, and it begins on Ash Wednesday (40th weekday before Easter Sunday).

Humanists enjoy public holidays without needing excuses provided by myths. Colourful traditions, like decorating eggs and eating chocolate Easter Eggs, can be enjoyed for the pleasure they give, and as symbols of a welcome change in a season of the year.

The opportunity to hold fairs and markets proved popular for centuries at this time of year. A famous one held in Norwich was called Tombland Fair. Horses, cattle and general merchandise were on sale as well as clothing and hats There was a tradition of wearing some item of new clothing on Easter Day. This was considered lucky and may be where the Easter bonnet idea comes from. For those who like to dress up there are traditions of Easter parades, these are another way of welcoming the arrival of Spring - a chance to wear Easter bonnets! I hope you like mine.

Roy Saich
Spring Into Life at Easter
Celebrations at Easter Time