Friday, April 6, 2012

Fun Friday Facts #33: Easter Edition

According to my downloadable desktop calender, it's Easter Weekend all weekend this weekend. It lists all the holidays in every country of the world and I haven't figured out how to make it stop doing that, so this is what I get to see:

Good Friday. ALL DAY.

Just so you know, that goes all the way down the page, until it gets to Sunday, and then it says “Easter Easter Easter Easter Sultan of Johor's Birthday.” That one's Malaysian, in case you're wondering.

1) According to the Venerable Bede, a 7th Century Christian scholar and historian known as the Father of English History, Easter takes its name from the old English “Eostur-monath” or “Easter month,” named after the Anglo-Saxon pagan goddess Eostre. Eostur-monath, which corresponds with the modern month of April, saw various festivals celebrated in Eostre's honor, along with the exchange of eggs and the baking of cakes, two traditions shared by numerous pre-Christian cultures. She was named after the Old English word for spring, “eastre,” and her symbol was a rabbit.

I always wondered about that bunny thing.

2) Most pagan religions celebrated a spring equinox holiday featuring a resurrected deity. In Sumer (modern Iraq) the goddess Ishtar was hung, nude, from a stake until her death, after which she was resurrected from the underworld. The ancient gods Horus, Mithras and Dionysus were killed and resurrected in their respective mythologies. I know lots of people who like to point out these cross-cultural mythological similarities as if they're shockingly important (“Look, you guys! Horus was JEEESUSSSS!”). These people have obviously never heard of an archetype.

3) Many of early Christianity's best converts came from religions or cults that had strong springtime resurrection myths. The Roman cult of the Sol Invictus, or InvincibleSun, appeared near the end of the Roman Empire, probably as a re-establishment of one of the older sun-worshiping cults. The cult began in 274 AD, well after the birth of Christ, and continued into the 5th Century, so long that early church leaders had to start warning against its dangers. There is some evidence, as suggested by Roman mosaics depicting the Sol Invictus, that they had him mixed up with Christ a little.

Hint: That's not Jesus.

4) Religious historians believe that the death and resurrection stories, and ancient pagan traditions, were added to the story of Jesus's life to help Christianity compete with other religions when it was still in its infancy. That's what they say now. I doubt there was a group of guys sitting around somewhere, 1800 years ago, going, “Man, Christianity just isn't gaining any ground. What do you think we should do? I know, let's use that egg-laying rabbit thing. That's good stuff.”

"Let's give 'em chocolate, everybody loves chocolate."

5) According to this website, the Easter bunny makes it into Christian mythology because Jesus, at some point, befriended a rabbit. No, I don't remember that being in the Bible, either.

Legend has it that, from Black Friday to Easter Sunday, the little rabbit waited for Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, cause I guess they had a date, or something. Most people would wait for about half an hour, realize they'd been stood up, and go off in a huff, but not this little rabbit. It waited faithfully for its friend Jesus, until, on Sunday morning, the resurrected Christ appeared to do whatever Jesus Christ did with the pet rabbit I didn't even know He had.

6) Now, if you're anything like me, you're still wondering why the Easter bunny lays eggs. After all, rabbits don't lay eggs. That doesn't even make sense.

This picture is a hoax. ~ Gerbil

Eggs, of course, are a fertility symbol, and part of traditional Easter dishes for Catholics who are forbidden to eat eggs during Lent, the forty days of fasting immediately prior to Easter. During Lent, eggs that weren't hatched would have been hard-boiled and saved.

The dyeing and eating of the eggs came to be symbolic with the resurrection of Christ, with the eggs originally dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ, and the cracking of the egg symbolic of Christ's escape from the tomb. So where does the rabbit come in?

It's said that the idea of the egg-laying Easter Bunny originated with German Protestants who wanted to keep the Easter egg tradition, but ditch the Lenten-fasting tradition. That ultra-reputable website that gives us the legend of Christ's pet rabbit also gives us a pre-Christian origin for the Easter bunny myth. Apparently the goddess Eostre rescued a bird from the freezing winter snows. The bird was injured and Eostre healed it, out of either compassion or boredom; it's not entirely clear. In the process, for some reason, she also turned the bird into a rabbit. Out of respect for the rabbit's true nature as a bird, Eostre gave it the ability to lay eggs, but only on one day out of the year. Cause that was easier than just letting it stay a bird in the first place, I guess.

Boredom, I vote she did this out of boredom.