There’s no question that there is something confusing in the symbolism and tradition surrounding the Easter holiday.
We have the torturous bloody death of a young man, a rabbit running around with a basket of colorful eggs, some chocolate and a resurrection.
Every year there are plenty of jokes made about it, but none of us really take it that seriously. Most people are just relieved for a couple of extra days off work – maybe we get the chance to go away and spend some time with the family or squeeze in a camping trip before the winter closes in.
Surprisingly, there are actually good reasons for many of these traditions – what’s interesting is the way they have been adapted or appropriated into the forms we see today.
The word “Easter” is derived from the name of Eostre, a goddess in Germanic paganism who represented fertility. Eostre was believed to return to earth every year, bringing with her the spring. So the pagans would hold a festival on the equinox in the hope that she would come and breathe new life into the land.
The pagans also held hares to be symbols of fertility – at the time they were thought to be hermaphrodites – as well as, yep, eggs. So Easter is traditionally a celebration at the start of spring, it represents new life and is also supposed to ease people’s fear about their impending death.
As Christianity began to rise around Europe, they adopted the festival, kept the practices, changed the date a little bit and made it into a celebration of, uh, the resurrection of Jesus.
This all happened about 300 years after Jesus’ death and there is zero mention of Easter in the bible.
So, let’s be clear. In Australia we celebrate a spring festival at the start of winter, that is actually named after a pagan goddess…that we use to honour the death of a son of the Christian God, easing our fear of impending death by giving each other chocolate in the shape of ancient fertility symbols.
Why do we persist with a holiday that clearly makes no sense? Is it just that it’s now so culturally ingrained as a tradition that it would be impossible to imagine it any other way? What kind of outcry would there be if we tried to cancel Christmas on similar grounds? Couldn’t we just all have a long weekend off for the hell of it? Call it the big chocolate weekend or something? Why do we persist in doing something that’s totally nuts?
How much is this one?
Easter eggs are expensive – they seem to be a bit more expensive to me than what you’re actually getting, chocolate-volume-wise. Traditionally you were supposed to give people boiled eggs that had been painted decorative colours. (Ed’s note – this is still done in Greek Orthodox culture…OK, there MIGHT be some chocolate too…)
So then what, the family sits around eating boiled eggs together?
Not quite as exciting as what you get these days, I suppose.
The commercialisation of the holiday is an obvious thing to point out, I know, but I think what is interesting in this example is the way that non-traditional images are used to sell the idea of a Christian holiday. I guess somewhere along the line the image of a bloody savior with nails through his hands became something that people didn’t really want to spend a whole long weekend thinking about.
They needed a different angle.
So instead, why not have everyone focus on the Easter bunny; a friendly guy that carries none of the not insignificant historical stigma of Jesus and the cross and the God stuff . And we Aussies also get Easter Bilbies! The bilbies began as a kind of genius way of raising awareness about the environmental damage that feral rabbits cause – by making the choice to buy a chocolate native animal, consumers can remember the sacrifice that Jesus made but also give some money to an environmental organisation. A rare example of a positive and forward thinking idea surrounding the holiday. The bilbies proved so popular that Cadbury also started to produce them, although they decline to support any conservation projects.
It’s much easier for non-believers or members of other races and religions to get involved with the whole thing when they are not obliged to get involved with Jesus talk. This has all become more important as the number of religious people is dwindling, but these holidays are still so prominently fixed in our calendars. We all know the Easter story – and yes a (significant?) portion of the country still takes it seriously, but for the most part it’s not all up in our grill, we never really have to think too much about it.
Anyway, who cares where he got those eggs from – he looks delicious.
And of course it’s mostly for the kids. Give the kids what they want so they’ll shut up and the parents can get a little bit of peace on their precious few days off.
Good news for the status quo
The Easter holiday – along with Christmas and, to a certain extent, the Queen’s Birthday holiday – basically serves to reinforce the ideology of the ruling class. It’s white Christian men who run the show, especially now, and despite the diverse cultural make-up of this country when we take time off together, it is in recognition of conservative ideas and values.
I hope this doesn’t ruin it for you, but face it – Easter is basically a tool of oppression.
Remember that the namesake of the holiday is a woman and the traditional symbols are all to do with female fertility. If for some reason a rabbit were to lay eggs, it would at least have to be a lady rabbit. But when I was growing up I always considered the Easter Bunny to be a boy rabbit – I even referred to it as “him” just a few paragraphs ago.
And, of course, Jesus is a fairly obvious symbol of male dominance.
Despite its origins, in today’s popular conception of Easter, there is no representation of women at all.
So what would it take for a change?
Can we think about having a holiday that is more relevant or representative of where our society is now?
What would that look like?
Whatever happens, we should keep the hot cross buns though – they’re great.