Getting the two bank holidays of Good Friday and Easter Monday means that families have the chance of a long weekend together, with time to enjoy all the usual activities that the holiday brings. Easter Eggs and all of the events that stem from them, Easter cards and gifts, special meals out and religious celebrations are all part of this annual season.
However, what do the kids know about Easter? We could ask the same question about Christmas, Ramadan and all the other days and events of the year that we celebrate. Do we just leave them to enjoy the presents and eggs without knowing why or should we broaden their knowledge with the background?
The word Easter is commonly believed to be an Anglo-Saxon word, so maybe dating back as far as the 5th century. The Anglo-Saxon word for April was “Eostre-monath” (the month of openings). Christians celebrated the resurrection of Christ long before the word “Easter” was used, and the word they used for the celebration was “Pascha”, which is derived from and linked to the Jewish festival of Passover. Because Pascha was most often celebrated in Eostremonath, the English Christians began calling it “Easter”. According to the Venerable Bede, the month was also named after the Anglo-Saxon goddess Esostre. Rituals related to the goddess Eostre focus on new beginnings, symbolized by the Easter egg, and fertility, which is symbolized by the hare (or Easter bunny).
So we have the meeting point of religious and secular Easter traditions. Easter is the oldest and the most important Christian Festival, the celebration of the death and coming to life again of Jesus Christ. For Christians, the dawn of Easter Sunday with its message of new life is the high point of the Christian year and eggs represent the new beginning of life. The first eggs given at Easter were bird’s eggs. These eggs were painted in bright colours to give them further meaning as a gift. We still paint bird eggs today but usually only chicken eggs.
An Anglo-Saxon legend tells how the Saxon goddess Eostre found a wounded bird and transformed it into a hare, so that it could survive the winter. The hare found it could lay eggs, so it decorated these each spring and left them as offering to the goddess. A tradition that has been translated through the centuries to enable the cuddlier Easter Bunny to take its role in the celebrations.
Decorating and colouring eggs for Easter was a common custom in England in the middle ages. Eggs were brightly coloured to mimic the new, fresh colours of spring. The practice of decorating eggs was made even more famous by King Edward I of England who ordered 450 eggs to be gold-leafed and coloured for Easter gifts in 1290.
Other egg traditions are Egg Rolling where Hard-boiled eggs are rolled down a hill. Customs differ from place to place. The winner’s egg may be the one that rolls the farthest, survives the most rolls, or is rolled between two pegs. This may have started as a Christian belief that it represented the rolling of the stone from the tomb of Jesus.
Another activity that takes place on Easter Day is the playing of a game with the eggs known as “jarping”, It’s a bit like playing conkers, with players tapping their opponents’ eggs until one breaks. The winner goes through to the next round, and so on until there is only one egg left unbroken. A good hit by a jarper is called a “dunch”. The game is popular in County Durham, where it is played on Easter Sunday.
We usually eat special foods at Easter, although many are sold all year round. Hot Cross Buns are perhaps the most well known and traditionally were eaten over the Easter Weekend. The cross being symbolic of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Boiled eggs for breakfast feature heavily at Easter and roast lamb for lunch on Easter Sunday is linked to the Jewish Passover feast. Simnel cake is another traditional food with religious links. The cake is a fruitcake decorated with marzipan, having 11 marzipan balls on top that symbolize the 12 apostles minus Judas.
Easter cards were first sent in Victorian England after a printer added a greeting to a drawing of a rabbit. They proved so popular that they became a stock item for all greeting card retailers.
So this Easter, if the kids are at a lose end, why not get them to delve into the history of Easter. There are plenty of web sites to check out and you could even set them a quiz or get them to locate Easter events in your area being run by local youth groups, museums and churches.