Well, tomorrow is Easter and I’m sure most of us know why we celebrate this Day. For Christians, Easter commemorates the resurrections of Christ three days after his death by crucifixion. Easter is also the end of Lent, a time of penitence and fasting. Over the years though, there have been a number of traditions that have come to be associated with Easter. I figured, it would be worthwhile to delve into some of these traditions to see how they originated and why they came to be celebrated at Easter time.
- Consuming Fish During Lent:
I don’t know about you, but Lent is one of the most inconvenient times to go to the fish market in my neighborhood. Suddenly the lines are very long, and it seems everyone is buying fish. So, what is the real reason behind this increased fish appetite? There are a few explanations on this. One suggests that in the spirit of Lent we are encouraged to give up a “luxury” or vice during this period of repentance and fasting. In ancient times, meat was considered a luxury but not fish, hence fish was accepted as the “food” of choice. The tradition has continued today although I’m not sure the premise still holds. Today with the price of fish, one could say it’s now a luxury. Another more conventional explanation suggests we abstain from eating red meat during Lent, primarily on Fridays, since Friday was the day Christ was crucified. Therefore, it’s only appropriate that we abstain from the shedding of blood on that day.
2. Painting Eggs and Participating in Easter Egg Hunts:
Eggs represent new life and rebirth, similar to what occurred in the life of Jesus after his death. Early Christians dyed eggs during the period after easter, a practice that was later adopted by the Orthodox churches and eventually spread all over Western Europe. In medieval times, for whatever reason, maybe signifying a period of sacrifice for the poor, the eating of eggs was forbidden during Lent. Therefore, after the Lenten season it was a real treat to finally “knock back” a few eggs. Villagers were also known to give eggs to the church as Good Friday offerings. Today painting Easter eggs and egg hunts are simply a pastime that children and adults alike enjoy primarily during Easter.
3. Welcoming the Easter Bunny:
Don’t judge me, but am I the only one who thinks the Easter Bunny is just a little creepy? Sure, he’s cute and cuddly and some kids love and even fear him, but what is his relevance? The very first documentation of the Easter Bunny was in the 1500s. The earliest story was about a rabbit laying eggs and hiding them in a garden. What!!! These stories were brought to the United States by German immigrants in the 1700s. Soon there was a full-blown tradition of building nests for rabbits to lay their eggs. Eventually nests were replaced by colorful baskets, but one is still left to wonder how the Easter Bunny came to be associated with Easter. As I mentioned before, in ancient times eating eggs was forbidden during Lent; after Lent it became a real treat to hide colorfully decorated “Easter Bunny” eggs and have the children search for them. As for the Easter bunny himself? He simply evolved into a “mascot” used as a means of improving the Easter experience for small impressionable children.
4. Wearing Flamboyant Hats to Church During Easter:
While not exclusive to African Americans, a flamboyant hat to church is primarily an African American Woman’s tradition. This tradition carries both spiritual and cultural significance. Traditionally American Christian women covered their heads during worship. For early African Americans, the church was not only a place of worship and sanction from the everyday world, but it was also a place where they were able to assume positions of importance and leadership. Church was therefore a place where they could celebrate their independence hence there was no better place or time to look the part. Women traded in their rags and drab head wraps for straw hats decorated with fresh flowers and other ornaments. It has been said the height of the hats were designed as such to “catch the eye of God”, so he would answer their prayers. So, the tradition, even though a little “distracting”, continues to this very day.
5. Eating Bun and Cheese during Easter (In case you Jamaicans ever wondered):
Now, if you’re a Jamaican you would know that for us, no Easter is complete without our bun and cheese. Not just any old bun but one baked with fruits, raisins, cherries, some Guiness Stout and the sweeter the better. It’s also not eaten with just any old cheese; it has to be a thick slice of Jamaican cheese. So how was this started? It is believed that the Jamaican bun and cheese started with the hot cross bun. The hot cross bun was introduced by a 12th century Anglican monk who baked the buns and marked them with the cross symbolizing the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday. Over the years the buns grew very popular and became a symbol of Easter. This tradition made its way to Jamaica when the island was colonized by the British in the mid 1600’s. Now if you know us Jamaicans, you will know that we will take any item, tradition or whatever and it’s a given that we will bump it up a notch or four. Hence the birth of the hot cross buns on “steroids” aka the Jamaican Easter bun.
So, there it goes, some of our Easter traditions and how they came to be. So “if you don’t know, now you know…” Have a good Easter all and don’t forget the true meaning of Easter…Sincerely Jan!
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