During this period commonly called Easter, I thought it would be a good time to consider the Easter story, and how it has evolved through time by those in power. If we think back to European Paganism – Europe being an epicentre of power, the ruling class was the priests and priestesses who told the population that their power was invested to them by the gods and goddesses. The naming of the celebration Easter seems to go back to the name of a pre-Christian goddess in Germanic Europe- Eostre, who was celebrated at beginning of spring. Spring was known as the coming back to life of plants and trees that have been dormant for winter, as well as the birth of new life in the animal world – and the symbols of the times have shown this.
There came a time when imperial Rome enforced Christianity on the pagan population. Taking the symbolism of the natural world of new life and rebirth, it was only natural to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at this time of the year. Imposing one form on religion on another through shared symbols and meaning.
Decorated eggs had been part of the Easter festival at least since medieval times, given the obvious symbolism of new life. A vast amount of folklore surrounds Easter eggs, and in a number of Eastern European countries, the process of decorating them is extremely elaborate. Several Eastern European legends describe eggs turning red (a favourite colour for Easter eggs) in connection with the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection.
From the 17th century onward, there was an increasing recognition of childhood as as time of life that should be joyous, not simply as preparatory for adulthood. This discovery of childhood and the doting upon children had profound effects on how Easter was celebrated.
As the modern age of capitalist consumerism developed – the prime focus became the commodification of this historical legacy. With symbols of eggs (rebirth) and fertility (breed like rabbits) now being sold all over the world. Parents buy easter hats for easter parades, they buy abundant chocolate eggs, material items to wear or play with or eat that have nothing to do with spring, or fertility or christianity. For many, it is now simply a weekend of consumption.
As we celebrate this easter festival this autumn in Australia (note the transference of culture through imperialism) the familiar sights of the Easter bunny and Easter eggs serve as a reminder of the holidays very ancient origins. Whether it is a symbol of the will of the gods or it is the will of the princes of capitalism, whoever has the power can shift the story to suit their own purposes. So as we recover from a weekend of feasting and chocolate eating, remember that the power of story is the connection of shared meanings. As we can see in the easter story – evolving shared meanings in a cultural narrative is so much more powerful than trying to impose a brand new story.