Or the pastel, egg-shaped jelly beans. Or the Peeps. Or the decorated, hard-boiled eggs - though the advertising world would have you think otherwise. Easter is the second best candy selling holiday in America. Over sixteen billion jelly beans are made for the US market at Easter time each year. Easter greeting cards and decorated baskets and egg dyeing kits and chocolate bunnies and Easter outfits and Easter bonnets and, of course, Easter lilies. According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, consumers will spend $1.2 billion on flowers for Easter 2017.
In New York City, the Easter Parade tradition dates back to the mid-1800s, when the upper crust of society attended Easter services at various Fifth Avenue churches, then strolledoutside, showing off their new spring outfits and hats. Average citizens started showing up along Fifth Avenue to check out the action. But Easter parades may date back at least as far as the Emperor Constantine. Legend tells us he told his servants, court attendees and subjects to dress in their finest and parade up and down the city in celebration of the resurrection of Christ. This might also indicate where dressing in new clothes on Easter began. The most prominent secular symbol of the Christian holiday, the Easter bunny reportedly was introduced to America by the German immigrants who brought over their stories of an egg-laying hare. The decoration of eggs is believed to date back to at least the 13th century. Other traditions, such as the consumption of Easter candy, are among the modern additions to the celebration of this early springtime holiday.
Bunnies, rabbits and lambs are often associated with Easter because most babies of theseanimals are born in Spring around Easter time. Many different cultural Easter traditions evolved from ancient, sometimes pagan, celebrations of changing seasons. Springtime has long been acknowledged as that time of year when our planet renews itself – new animals, new plant life, new colors, warmer weather, refreshing rains replacing ice and snow. Whether they were hunter-gatherers or farmers, early civilizations recognized “springtime” by observing the changes in the natural world around them, and welcomed this time of year with celebrations of gratitude and of hope. Today's Easter celebrations do the same.
Eggs have stood for new life and fertility throughout the ages. Christians see it as a symbol of the new life brought to them with the resurrection of Christ. During the Middle Ages, decorated eggs were said to have been given as gifts. The ancient Persians decorated eggs to celebrate their New Year that occurred during the Spring Equinox. For Jews, Easter coincides with the Passover and eggs dipped in salt water represent new life. Hot cross buns may taste delicious on Easter morning but they too, are rich in traditions. In pagan ceremonies, that cross on the buns was said to represent the quarters of the moon, or in some cultures the crossed horns of a bull. To Christians the cross icing represents the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
The lamb has remained a secular and religious symbol for centuries. In ancient Jewish traditions, the lamb is the first choice for religious sacrifices and for ceremonial meals. The Old Testament instructed the people: Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. Exodus goes on the provide detailed instructions for the preparation and consumption of a memorial meal, celebrated annually for all generations, of roasted lamb to remember the people's freedom from slavery. The lamb came to symbolize innocence and the ultimate in terms of sacrifice. The New Testament continues that tradition with the innocent Jesus, sacrificed for the people's freedom from sin and death – his death being the “ultimate sacrifice” of laying down one's life for a friend.
The secular world treats Easter much like it does Christmas. There's money to be made. High-priced lilies and chocolate bunnies and chocolate cream or peanut butter eggs and brightly colored plastic baskets are prominent on store shelves everywhere. Gene Kelly is still dancing in the Easter Parade down 5th Avenue. And Charlton Heston is still pleading with Pharoah to “Let my people go”! Many Hollywood Biblical sagas reappear this time of year. Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth is my all-time favorite.
For Jews and for Christians, Easter is a time to remember and a time to rejoice, a time of gratitude and of hope.
(Susan Ruland is a near 40 year resident of Heber Springs. She contributes “Susan Says” each week and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)