The Easter Bunny is one of those weird traditions I could never get my head around. Why does a cute little bunny go around delivering chocolate easter eggs? Donning my clever bunny detective outfit, I hopped and snooped trying to uncover the secret. Alas, I could not find a definitive answer. It seems the origins of how the cute bunny came to be delivering chocolate eggs still remains somewhat of a mystery.
This is one explanation. Easter IS celebrated at the time of the Vernal Equinox, when day and night are equal in length. Easter, as many of the Christian traditions, has connections to ancient holidays and pagan traditions that have been around for thousands of years. Over time they have merged and morphed, often with the origins shrouded in mystery.
Modern witches and Pagans honor the vernal equinox in a celebration known as “Ostara“. She is a little known Germanic goddess of Springtime. This holiday, much like the Christian greatest story ever told, centres on resurrection, birth, growth, death, and renewal.
According to the Encyclopedia Mythica:
“In ancient Anglo-Saxon myth, Ostara is the personification of the rising sun. In that capacity she is associated with the spring and is considered to be a fertility goddess. She is the friend of all children and to amuse them she changed her pet bird into a rabbit. This rabbit brought forth brightly colored eggs, which the goddess gave to the children as gifts. From her name and rites the festival of Easter is derived.”
But it may all have been a joke. Some research suggests that the Ostara myth was invented by a mischievous monk, the Venerable Bede, back in 750 AD. Despite extensive research no evidence of her has been found prior to that date. So, did a famous monk make up a weird story about a non-existent goddess who turns a bird into a rabbit that lays coloured eggs – and it then becomes linked to the chocolate commercialised Easter celebrated the modern world over? Maybe. But I bet the chocolatiers of the world are not complaining.
Our family Easter celebrations in Finland certainly included the painting of boiled eggs. It also included growing grass seeds in a plate of moist cotton wool. Planting was timed so that the seeds had sprouted into fresh green growth by Easter Sunday when the eggs and tiny Easter chicks were added to the plate. It was fun and magical. We also eagerly looked out for the ‘mouse ear’ buds of newly sprouting willow signalling springtime and new life. They felt so soft and smooth to the touch.
We stopped short of dressing up as Easter witches, however. Not dissimilar to Halloween, children would go door to door with brightly decorated willow twigs to drive away evil spirits in return for treats. The treats of course, being Easter eggs. As they stand at the door, they recite a traditional rhyme – Virvon, varvon, tuoreeks terveeks, tulevaks vuodeks; vitsa sulle, palkka mulle! (I wave a twig for a fresh and healthy year ahead; a twig for you, a treat for me!)
The other Easter treat was Mämmi. I remember Mum and Dad making it days before. It was quite the task. It took hours of cooking, stirring, baking. I have an abiding memory of a huge pot akin to a witches cauldron containing a dark brown gooey sludge boiling and bubbling over. Made of dark malt, dark rye flour, orange zest and raisins, it is traditionally served in birch bark trays with cream and sugar. Admittedly it does not look very appetising. But it tastes good. Well, I think it does. I had the fortune of getting some a couple of years ago from Finlandia Village in Brisbane. There is no way I am going to make it just for me. No-one else will touch it! Not even to taste.
I recall the solemnity of Holy Week. It included devotional services every evening, a service on Maundy Thursday evening when the church was stripped bare of all decorations and the altar draped in black cloth. Some people held an overnight vigil. Good Friday morning service was sombre with no music accompanying the hymns and the congregation leaving the Church in absolute silence. Easter Sunday of course celebrated the resurrection. The early birds attended an outdoor dawn service.
Whether you celebrate this four day weekend as a holiday or follow a deeply spiritual tradition, may your hearts be blessed with joy and love.