Will Winter Never End?
Londoners, who have endured yet another dark, dank, chill, sloppy winter, will wake up on the Sunday following the full moon after the March equinox with a sense of anticipation and renewal. They will peak from under their downy covers only to see that dawn has awakened and the streetlights have already winked off. They will realise in the deepest part of their soul that they will not have to use their car headlights to drive to work. They will notice that the smell of the city has suddenly been washed away and replaced with the slight scent of nature. The joyful anticipation of soon retiring both galoshes and Macintosh will bubble up in their mind. Oh my God...it's Easter Sunday!
This is the feeling that washed over our ancestors for centuries on Easter morning, long before the early Christian fathers wisely joined the resurrection of Christ with the spontaneous pagan celebration of the end of winter.
Even the Christian Easter story of crucifixion and resurrection has deep roots in ancient pagan mythology. There is the resurrection of the Egyptian Horus; the story of Mithras, who was worshipped at springtime; and the tale of Dionysus, resurrected by his grandmother. Among these stories are prevailing themes of fertility, conception, renewal, descent into darkness, and the triumph of light over darkness or good over evil. The Easter story of crucifixion and resurrection is symbolic of rebirth and renewal and retells the cycle of the seasons, the death and return of the sun. The obvious parallel between the story of Jesus and these ancient pagan myths shows that the story is structured and embellished in accordance with a pattern that was very ancient and widespread.
The 8th century English monk Bede wrote that the Old English ‘Month of Eostre’ was an English month corresponding to April, which he says, “was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, the goddess of spring, also known as Ostara or Eastre". Celebrated at Spring Equinox, Eostre marks the day when light is equal to darkness and will continue to grow. One of the most revered aspects ofEostre for ancient observers was the same spirit of renewal we feel today when we wake up on Easter morning.
Guess what the ancient symbol for Eostre was? You guessed it; the rabbit. In Germanic mythology, it is said that Ostara healed a wounded bird she found in the woods by changing it into a hare. Still partially a bird, the hare showed its gratitude to the goddess by laying, you guessed it again, eggs as gifts.
The egg as a symbol of fertility and renewed life goes back to the ancient Egyptians and Persians, who also had the custom of colouring and eating eggs during their spring festival. Even the Easter Bunny and colouring Easter eggs are ancient pagan symbolic rituals.
Hot cross buns were baked by ancient Israelites for a pagan idol. The early church clergy tried to put a stop to the sacred cakes being baked at Easter but, in the end, in the face of defiant cake-baking pagan women, they gave up and blessed the cake instead. Early Christianity incorporated many ancient pagan practises, most of which we enjoy today at Easter.
Easter is about renewal and the shedding of winter’s woes. Everyone feels it. The birds feel it. The bees feel it. The buds feel it. You and I feel it. Spring is in the air.
I, for one, am breaking out my seersucker suit, white shoes, and straw boater. I’m going to colour one hundred eggs with a bright pastel palette so that each egg will delight one of the children when they find it on Easter morning resting against the cold trunk of an old St. James’s oak. I will present every woman I meet with a bouquet (never a single flower…that bodes bad luck) of Daffodils to lighten her mood and bless her year. (In Wales, it’s said if you spot the first daffodil of the season, your next 12 months will be filled with wealth.)
By this time of year, I am but one of the many dreary London souls blankly moving through another winter's day. But I am confident I will rise from this low state on the Sunday following the full moon after the March equinox with a sense of anticipation and renewal.
Won't you join me?