Sunday, 13 April 2014

My Thoughts On Easter

One of the biggest celebrations is approaching out here in Bulgaria, and that is Easter. Many say that Easter is an even bigger celebration than Christmas. It is certainly a time for large family gatherings, which inevitably lead to parties. This year the Bulgarian Easter coincides with the UK one, which makes a change. This is because Western religions base their calculations on the Gregorian calendar, whereas the Eastern Orthodoxy utilises the Julian calendar. Easter is a moving celebration in that the date changes from year to year, unlike Christmas which is always focused on December 25th, the day when we are told that Jesus Christ was born.

Like many people of a similar age, when I was at school Religious Education was a compulsory subject, along with English and Maths. Most things that we were taught seemed either common sensically, or at least logically reasonable, and seemed to teach an ethical way to live. Now I might be in the minority here, but I have always had a problem with Easter. At school they tried to explain that Jesus Christ died on the cross, and three days later he was resurrected. This is where I begin to have problems, if the date of birth is always on such a day then surely the date of death would also be on a fixed date, and consequently the resurrection three days later.

So the church elders decided to tie everything in with the Jewish Passover celebrations, as the crucifiction, burial and resurrection all took place after Passover. Prior to 325AD it was always celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the Vernal equinox, as Jewish festivals and observances are based on solar and lunar cycles. Now in Western churches it is celebrated on the Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon.

So perhaps these Easter celebrations have many of their roots in Pagan celebrations which often tended to focus on the land and growing cycles. No-one can be sure but it seems as though the word Easter was first mentioned in the King James Bible translation, when it was substituted for the Hebrew word Pessach, which probably should have more accurately been Passover. Some historians surmise that this celebration always happened at the same time of year, and in the West Saxon dialect the month was known as Eastre. Which in turn was named after a Goddess associated with Spring and the dawn.

This Goddess was known as Eostre, and was often symbolised by a hare. The Venerable Bede wrote of his observances that in the month of, what is now April, feasts were held in Eostre's honour, by the pagan Anglo Saxons. Below is taken from Bede's book "De temporum ratione"

Original Latin:
Eostur-monath, qui nunc Paschalis mensis interpretatur, quondam a Dea illorum quæ Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant nomen habuit: a cujus nomine nunc Paschale tempus cognominant, consueto antiquæ observationis vocabulo gaudia novæ solemnitatis vocantes.

Modern English translation:

Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated "Paschal month", and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance."

When the scribes were translating the Bible into English, perhaps this is how the word Easter replaced Pessach. At the time of the Vernal Equinox the length of day is equivalent to that of the night, so people would start to focus on the world about them coming back to life. All signs of fertility. With Eostre often being represented by a Hare it is an easy step to see where the idea for the Easter Bunnie came from, especially when you consider what rabbits are best known for. Eggs are another old symbol for fertility, as so many things spring to life from a simple egg. Outside municipal buildings and on roundabouts across Bulgaria you will often see large baskets with brightly coloured eggs in. Homes throughout Bulgaria will be busy dying eggs, and they have egg fights to help promote good health. There will always be a red egg, and the thoughts behind that vary.  

Some say that it symbolises the red cloak that Jesus Christ was forced to wear as "The King of the Jews". Others claim that it symbolises the blood which was spilt when he was crucified. There is also another tale,
2 years after the resurrection of Christ, outside Jerusalem,Mary Magdalene was carrying a basket full of white eggs. She had heard the new governor would be passing there. In the middle of the road she put the basket full of the white eggs and stopped the new Governor saying:

"Welcome to Jerusalem oh Respectful Governor! I wish you will be righteous to the citizens of Jerusalem and will not be unrighteous like your predecessor Pontious Pilate. He, in vain, crucified the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He was threatened and He put Him on the Cross and He resurrected on the third day"

She explained all the miracles that He performed and His life. The governor on the horse was listening to her. At the end of the conversation he said to Mary Magdalene:
"If all the accounts you told me are true, let these white eggs that you put in the middle of the road become red. Then I will believe all you said about Jesus Christ of Nazareth."
Immediately all the eggs turned red and Mary Magdalene gave one red egg to the governor Tiberius and one she kept and said:
"Christ is Risen" and he replied: " Truly He is Risen"
From this event we have the greeting Christ is Risen and Truly is risen and also the red eggs.

Then there are also the Hot Cross buns which we all seem quite partial too. Where do they fit into things? The hot spiced buns are quite simple. In the Old Testament the Israelites are mentioned baking them for an idol, which the church leaders tried to prevent. The early church elders were forever trying to prevent various sacred cakes from being baked, with no luck. So a way was found to fit them in with the new Christian religion, and make the new converts more amenable with somethings which were familiar. Some say that the cross signifies the cross of the crucifixion, others that it is to do with the star constellation the Soutern Cross or  even the four quarters of the moon, it all seems to be a matter of what the individual is comfortable with. 

Lamb is the main meat eaten by Bulgarians at this time of year. Again could that have something to do with fertility as young lambs are now being born. Perhaps it is to do with Passover when every first born was meant to die. The Jews were spared because they sacrificed a lamb, and the blood of the lamb was marked on their doors to signal to the angel of death. Was Jesus Christ not also known as the lamb of God, and wasn't he also sacrificed?

It just all seems so jumbled, with bits taken from here, borrowed from there and wedged in from somewhere else. Even the idea of resurrection occurs in many other religions and mythologies. The sunrise services, welcoming the dawn do seem very pagan, and much being based around the Jewish observances, which were mainly either lunar or solar based, also seems at odds with things. Who am I to say? Whatever your beliefs or thoughts may you enjoy yourselves with loved ones, as to my mind that is what is important. 


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  3. Wow the food looks delicious on Easter especially the lamb. Frozen transportation of lamb to the shop is important to ensure the best quality of lamb is served. I really like everything you share about Bulgaria and please continue to write :D