A lot of people are concerned about our holidays. They say Christmas and Easter are so commercialized that we have taken the religious significance out of the celebrations. But is that really right? Or has the religious significance always been there and we simply fail to see it. If we take a closer look at the symbols of Easter we might be surprised to find Christ everywhere.
Easter - It was St. Bede, in the 8th century, who proposed that the name Easter is from the Scandinavian Ostra and Teutonic Ostern or Eastre, both names for the Goddess of mythology signifying spring and fertility whose festival was celebrated on the day of the vernal equinox. Early Christians and Jews referred to the Easter as “Passover.” Passover is celebrated for 8 days and commemorates the flight and freedom of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
Date of Easter - The date of Easter is determined by the moon. The first Sunday following the full moon that occurs or follows the spring equinox (March 21) is Easter. So it falls on different days between March 22 and April 25, depending when the first full moon occurs after March 21st.
Rabbits - The hare or the rabbit is a symbol of the moon. So, it became associated with Easter since the moon is used to determine the date of Easter. Some early Christians used the rabbit as a symbol of Christ after his resurrection. You see, rabbits can be seen, and then they disappear and begin being seen somewhere else. So that reminded them of the Risen Christ.
Easter Baskets - Now why would a rabbit have eggs in an Easter basket? Well, there was a legend about how Eastre, the goddess of spring, changed an Eagle into a hare (a rabbit). The rabbit could not forget his old habits, however, and the changed rabbit kept on building nests and filling them with eggs.
Easter Eggs - Eggs, of course, are a big symbol of Easter. Even before Jesus walked the earth, Eggs were a symbol of creation, fertility and new life. For Christians it represents a new beginning. The shell can be seen as a nurturing, life-giving tomb. The hatching chick represents the emerging of Christ from the tomb.
Chicks - In early times, people were mystified by eggs. They felt the hatching of a chick was a miracle. From out of a lifeless shell, a tiny beak would appear, then a fuzzy head, and then the small warm body of a living baby bird. The miracle of this birth represented the miracle of Christ leaving the tomb and being re-born in resurrection.
Flowers - Flowers are another sign of spring and of new life. From an ugly bulb or boring seeds comes beautiful flowers.
Easter Lilies - One flower, in particular, really reminds of us Easter. It is the Lily. Look at the Lily! It’s flower is shaped like a trumpet, and in Jesus’ time trumpets were used to announce extremely important news. The trumpets were used to call people to come to the worship. It even says that when Jesus comes back, great trumpets will blow loudly. So the trumpet or the Lily announces that Jesus has risen.
Butterflies - Butterflies are also a symbol of Easter. The caterpillar goes spins a cocoon. The cocoon reminds us of a tomb. After a while, it emerges from the cocoon to new life. It is resurrected and it is beautiful just like Jesus.
Death to Life - Nature helps us to understand Easter. In winter, the world is a tomb for countless living things. Lovely wild flowers wilt and die and drop their seeds upon the earth. Barren tree branches reach to the sky, without leaves and without fruit. Butterflies, bees, spiders and flies, and all sorts of insects disappear. What was alive before seems dead. But then, Wake up! Spring has come. It is a time for new life to begin. Green sprouts peek out of the earth. Sleeping buds burst into bloom. Tiny leaves appear on branches. Insects buzz and crickets chirp, breaking their long winter silence. What was dead before is now alive. That reminds us of Jesus, who died and then rose again to new life!
The Cross - The Cross, of course, represents the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But it has a special meaning to Christians. Early Christians never had Jesus hanging on the cross. The cross was bare. It is not a symbol of death, but a symbol of Christ’s victory over death. It reminds us of our hope, our faith, and the promise of Eternal Life.
Lamb - The Last Supper was the Passover. It commorated when the Jews were getting ready to leave Egypt. Every family sacrificed a lamb and put the blood of the lamb over their door so that the Angel of Death would “pass over” the Israelites. Lambs were sacrificed in the temple for the forgiveness of sins. John the Baptist called Jesus “The Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world.” We say that during mass. The Lamb represents Jesus who was sacrificed for our sins.
Easter Parades - In the early church, those who were baptized at the Easter Vigil were dressed in a white robe. They would wear that robe throughout the whole Easter week as a symbol of their new life. Those who had already been baptized in prior years, did not wear white robes, but would wear “new clothes” to indicate their share in the new life of Christ. So, wearing of new clothes at Easter was an external profession and symbol of the Easter grace. People would take a long walk through town in their new outfits after the Easter Mass. That eventually evolved into the Easter Parade.
Sunrise - The sunrise is a symbol of a new day. Jesus' death was like the night, but His resurrection was like the sunrise of a new day - the Day of the Lord.
Rejoice (Lataere) - One particular Sunday in Lent is called Rejoice Sunday or Lataere Sunday. It is the fourth Sunday. It is because people are to rejoice because Easter is almost here. It is the same as the Third Sunday during Advent when we light the pink candle. That Sunday is called Joyful Sunday or Gaudete Sunday. Pink is the color of Joy or Rejoicing. That is why twice during the year the priest wears pink: on Joyful Sunday during Advent and on Rejoice Sunday during Lent.
We will rejoice even more when we celebrate Easter Sunday. That reminds us that Jesus rose from the dead, conquered death, and gave all of us Eternal Life.
So our faith is all around us during this Easter season. If you feel that Easter is too commercial, then look around you, and appreciate the symbols. There is Christ in this season. Some of us simply fail to see it. Easter can be commercial or it can be spiritual. It is what YOU make it!