Symbols of renewal that underscore the religious observance of the Easter season align with similar hopeful, secular images of spring.
Christians are in the midst of the 40 days leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This Lenten observance goes hand-in-hand with the preparation of Easter baskets with chocolate and stuffed bunnies and chicks and pastel-colored hard-boiled eggs, the buying of Easter lilies and greeting cards and planning for the holiday’s dinner centerpiece of an Easter ham or lamb.
“There are a number of different symbols that point toward rebirth and new life,” said Pastor Johanna McCune Wagner, who is excited about celebrating her first Easter at First Presbyterian Church in Concord since assuming the role of spiritual leader in September.
When churches embrace the secular symbols of the season, like hosting egg hunts for children and displaying Easter lilies, she said it is a way to both acknowledge their importance and allow adults and children to see Easter in a concrete way.
“We are trying to find ways to meet people where they are at,” Wagner said of the challenges facing churches today, especially during holidays like Easter.
Like others in her position, she will use the next few weeks to hone her Easter sermon. In addition, she and her peers are developing a special message to share with children in their congregations.
“It’s important to make it accessible to the kids, so I can ask them about the symbols,” said Wagner. “That way, I can get them thinking about Easter.”
The date on which Easter is observed varies between Western and Eastern Christianity. The Council of Nicea in the 4th century decided that Easter in Western Christianity would be determined by the first full moon of spring, the Paschal Moon. Easter Sunday can fall anytime between mid-March and mid-April, thus putting the date this year as April 12.
For Eastern Christianity, the Orthodox Christian Church calculates the date for Easter following the same formula of the ancient Christian church dating back to the early 4th century. That is why those attending St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Concord observe Easter a week later.
Eggs hunts, colored eggs hardly new
Local churches representing the various Christian denominations – from St. Agnes to First Lutheran, New Hope and First Presbyterian, to name just a few – will host egg hunts to correspond with Easter observances.
“While many people connect Easter egg hunts to the secular and commercial side of the holiday, Easter egg hunts have been part of many Christian traditions since at least the 16th century,” said Pastor Andy Jones of First Lutheran Church in Concord. “Even Martin Luther is said to have championed them and hosted them. Many Christians have said Easter eggs are symbolic of the tomb Jesus was buried in.”
The coloring of Easter eggs has a connection to both the secular and spiritual. Father Michael Slate of St.
Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Concord noted that dying the eggs red is one of the highlights of Orthodox Easter.
“The ancient Christian church had appropriated the egg and imbued it with new religious significance, symbolizing new life in our resurrected Lord. We dye the eggs red to symbolize the blood of Christ,” he said.
Not only is there the joy in coloring and consuming the eggs, but they are used to play a traditional game too. Two people, both holding eggs, lightly tap the ends of their respective eggs together as one person says “Christ is Risen” and the other responds “Truly, He is Risen.” The person whose egg remains intact wins.
“Because of their symbolism, we’ve included the use of eggs in our tradition for millennia,” Slate said. “It’s not that far of a departure for us to include additional games and enjoy such activities as an Easter egg hunt or an egg toss.”
For many Catholic children, it’s traditional to spend a quiet afternoon coloring eggs on Good Friday. Come Easter morning, the eggs adorn baskets hidden by their parents. They also use the eggs in eggs fights, similar to the traditional game described by Slate, in a bid by the combatants to see whose Easter egg reigns supreme before finally being eaten.
Cascarones are a Mexican tradition during various celebrations, including Easter, in which an egg is cracked over someone’s head – showering them with confetti hidden inside.
Graciela Blum, who teaches Spanish at St. Francis of Assisi School in Concord, recalls their use as a child in Villa Jimenez in Mexico and plans to introduce the custom to her eighth-graders in the lead up to Easter.
First, you must carefully make a small crack at the top of each egg so the contents can be removed. After all the yolk and egg whites are shaken out, rinse the insides with water.
Next, dye the eggs in festive colors. Once completely dry, stuff them with confetti. Then cut small square pieces of tissue paper to fit over the holes. Mix water with flour to make a traditional paste or use regular white glue to attach the paper over each egg opening.
Blum said the last thing left to do with the eggs is smashing one over the head of that special someone as a sign of affection and friendship. But, she emphasized, don’t smash too hard.
Sweet, savory tastes of Easter
As a balance to the sugar rush of marshmallow bunnies and chocolate, foiled-wrapped eggs, there are recipes online galore to help with preparing all the trimmings for a feast to punctuate the holiday.
During the 40 days of Lent and the Holy Week leading up to Easter, Orthodox Christians typically abstain from all meat and dairy as a form of spiritual preparation for the Lord’s resurrection. In the Western church, many individuals choose to give up something like coffee or chocolate, or a regular pastime they enjoy.
After the midnight service for Easter at St. Demetrios, parishioners usually gather in the church hall for a meal of mayiritsa, or lamb soup. On Easter Sunday, roasted lamb is the order of the day along with tsoureki (sweet bread) and hard-boiled eggs dyed red. Other traditional Greek cuisine for the day includes feta cheese, olives, Greek salad, roasted chicken, orzo, spanakopita and tiropita, said Slate.
Hot cross buns are a favorite at Easter feasts. The soft, slightly sweet, spiced yeast rolls are speckled with currants and often candied citron, then marked with a cross made from icing – signifying a crucifix. These are typically served on Good Friday, the Friday before Easter Sunday.
Flora represent natural reminders, with the Easter lily a common sight at churches and homes. The Bermuda lily has replaced the Madonna lily as the latter does not always bloom during the Easter season.
One of the parallels between the resurrection of Christ and the Easter lily is the way the flower blooms. The bulb grows by water bodies, deep beneath the soil damp from water sprays. While there is no observable activity above the ground, the bulb grows hidden from sight and then one day, suddenly shoots up and blooms. The imagery is akin to the manner in which Jesus rose from his tomb.
The dogwood is another important symbol, though maybe not as well known as the Easter lily. It is widely believed that the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified was made of the wood from a dogwood tree. It blooms during spring and is a living memory of the event that took place centuries ago.
Jesus’ cross is represented by the dogwood flower’s four petals. The flower’s center often looks like a crown, which symbolizes the crown of thorns worn by Jesus. And the red color of dogwood berries represents the blood of Christ.