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A Chronological Anthology of

The History of Lent


Why we do what we do

Compiled by Thomas A. Pence Historiographer/Archivist Episcopal


Diocese of Indianapolis and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church,
Noblesville
Lent - Definition
Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon: Old English word Lenctentid (pron
LENG-ten-teed), which means the time of lengthening. Welsh is Llen:
lengthening, flowing. teneuder: thinness. The entire spring season was
called Lenctentid. When Christianity arrived the days of Lent became the
forty days Christ fasted in the desert. The first day was called Ash
Wednesday and the last week called Holy Week; commemorated the last
week of Christ's life.
Holy Thursday, Green Thursday, or Maundy (mandate) Thursday of Holy
Week is the last day of Lent. It was the day Christ was sentenced to be
killed by the Romans. Good Friday is the day that he died on the cross.
Holy Saturday is a vigil and Easter is the celebration of Christ's
resurrection.

On Tuesday, February 16, 2010 we will observe the final day before the
Lenten fast. This day is variously called the celebration of Carnival
(“farewell to meat”) which concluded on “Fat Tuesday” or Mardi Gras, or
Shrove Tuesday’s pancakes or "Shrovetide" (consuming the eggs, milk
and fat not allowed during the fasting of
Lent). “Shrove” Tuesday refers to the
ancient practice of being “shriven”
(confessing and receiving absolution) in
order to begin and keep a holy Lent.

The observance of a "Carnival" (Mardi Gras


- French : Mardi, Tuesday + gras, fat) before the Lenten period (a
Christian symbolic penitence from Ash Wednesday to Easter) is not
new. It originated in the middle of the second century in Rome when the
Fast of the 40 days of Lent was preceded by a feast of several days
during which time participants delivered themselves up to voluntary
madness, put on masks, clothed themselves like spectres, gave
themselves up to Bacchus and Venus and considered all pleasure
allowable.
The name carnival is derived from the Latin Caro, Carnis, flesh, and vale,
farewell (according to Ducange, from the Latin denomination of the feasts
of the Middle Ages, carnis levamen, solace of the flesh), because at that
time people took leave of flesh. The carnival of the modern world is nothing
more or less than the Saturnalia of the Christian Romans who could not
forget their pagan festivals. From Rome, the celebration spread to other
European countries and finally to America.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010, we enter one of the most important


seasons of the church year—the 40 days of Lent. The word “Lent” comes
from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, meaning spring, the time of year when
the days begin to lengthen. Lent itself is always the same period of time,
but its starting date is tied to the movable feast of Easter and can be as
early as February 4 or as late as March 10.

Starting on Ash Wednesday, the Lenten season includes 40 weekdays and


five Sundays before Holy Week and the culminating triumph of the
Resurrection at Easter. Lent has two major
focuses: (1) baptism, which in the early church
occurred only at Easter. The Sunday readings
provide a short course on the meaning of
baptism, and (2) the one with which most of us
are now more familiar-is fasting and
renunciation. This theme recalls Jesus’ 40
days in the wilderness, and through them the
discipline of self-denial reflecting the sacrifice of
our will to the purpose of God.

The time increment of 40 is echoed in other biblical stories such as;


40 days of Moses' fasting and praying (Exodus 34:27-28)
40 days and nights for Elijah fasting until he came to Mt. Horeb
(Kings 19:1-28 40 days of rain for Noah
40 days of testing of Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism in the
Jordan River
40 years of schooling of the people of Israel, in the Exodus

The Sunday readings provide a short course on the meaning of baptism.


The name "Day of Ashes" comes from "Dies Cinerum" in the Roman
Missal and is found in the earliest existing copies of the Gregorian
Sacramentary. The exact origin day is not clear Until the 600s, Lent began
on Quadragesima (Fortieth) Sunday, but Gregory the Great (c.540-604)
moved it to a Wednesday, now called Ash Wednesday, to secure the exact
number of 40 days in Lent - not counting Sundays, which were
feast days. Gregory, who is regarded as the father of the
medieval papacy, is also credited with the ceremony that gives
the day its name. As Christians came to the church for
forgiveness, Gregory marked their foreheads with ashes
reminding them of the biblical symbol of repentance (sackcloth and ashes)
and mortality: "You are dust, and to dust you will return" (Gen 3:19) to
commemorate Jesus' last week of life on earth. Putting a "cross" mark on
the forehead was in imitation of the spiritual mark or seal that is put on a
Christian in baptism. This is when the newly born Christian is delivered
from slavery to sin and the devil, and made a slave of righteousness and
Christ (Rom. 6:3-18).
In the Old Testament, ashes were found to have been used for two
purposes; (1) as a sign of humility and mortality and; (2) as a sign of sorrow
and repentance for sin. The Christian connotation for ashes in the liturgy of
Ash Wednesday has also been taken from this Old Testament biblical
custom. Receiving ashes on the head as a reminder of mortality and a sign
of sorrow for sin was a practice of the Anglo-Saxon church in the 10th
century. It was made universal throughout the Western church at the Synod
of Benevento in 1091.

Originally the use of ashes to be a token of penance was a matter of


private devotion. Later it became part of the official rite for reconciling
public penitents. In this context, ashes on the penitent served as a motive
for fellow Christians to pray for the returning sinner and to feel sympathy for
him. Still later, the use of ashes passed into its present rite of beginning the
penitential season of Lent on Ash Wednesday.

This is also an adoption of the way "righteousness" is described in the book


of Revelation, where we come to know about the servants of God. The
reference to the sealing of the servants of God for their protection in
Revelation is an allusion to a parallel passage in Ezekiel, where Ezekiel
also sees a sealing of the servants of God for their protection (see Ezekiel
9:4-6; unfortunately however, like most modern translations, the one
quoted in this sentence [the Revised Standard Version, which has been
quoted thus far], is not sufficiently literal. What it actually says is to place a
tav on the foreheads of the righteous inhabitants of Jerusalem. A Tav is
one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and in ancient script it looked like
the Greek letter chi, which happens to be two crossed lines [like an "x"] and
which happens to be the first letter in the word "Christ" in Greek Christos.

The Jewish rabbis commented on the connection between tav and chi and
this is undoubtedly the mark that Revelation has in mind when the servants
of God are sealed in it). The early Church Fathers seized on this tav-
chi-cross-christos connection and expounded it in their
homilies, seeing in Ezekiel a prophetic foreshadowing of the
sealing of Christians as servants of Christ. It is also part of the
background to the Catholic practice of making the sign of the
cross, which in the early centuries (as can be documented
from the second century on) was practiced by using one's
thumb to furrow one's brow with a small sign of the cross, like
Catholics and Anglicans do today at the reading of the Gospel during Mass.
By the 800s, some Lenten practices were already becoming more
relaxed. First, Christians were allowed to eat after 3 p.m.

It should be noted here that in approximately the year of 990, church


fathers saw in Ezekiel a prophetic foreshadowing of the sealing of
Christians as servants of Christ. It is also part of the background of the
Catholic practice of making the sign of the cross, which in the early
centuries (as can be documented from the second century on) was
practiced by using one's thumb to furrow one's brow with a small sign of the
cross, like Catholics do today at the reading of the Gospel during Mass.

By the 1400s, Christians were allowed to eat after noon. Eventually,


various foods (like fish) were allowed, and by 1966 most churches only
restricted fast days to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It should be
noted, however, that practices in Eastern Orthodox churches are still quite
strict.

At the time of the Reformation, some Christians wanted to eliminate Lent


since Scripture didn't command it. Luther urged that it be kept, for he saw
Lent as an opportunity for the strengthening of faith. "Lent, Palm Sunday,
and Holy Week shall be retained, not to force anyone to fast, but to
preserve the Passion history and the Gospels appointed for that season.
However, no one should be forced to participate. It should be voluntary."
Lent is 40 days long (not counting Sundays, which are always feast days)
reflecting the 40 days of rain for Noah, the 40 years of schooling of the
people, Israel, in the Exodus, and the 40 days of testing of Jesus in the
wilderness after his baptism in the Jordan River (refer back to top of page
3). Liturgies during Lent are subdued, introspective, and penitential in
nature, often beginning in silence and with the general confession of the
people.

First Sunday in Lent (February 21, 2010) The readings


during the five Sundays of Lent provide a short course in
the meaning of baptism, with each reading referring
directly to part of the baptismal rite in the Book of
Common Prayer. On this first Sunday in Lent, the
readings focus on turning away from evil. In the early
church this occurred only at Easter.

Second Sunday in Lent (February 28, 2010)


The second Lenten theme is that of fasting and renunciation. In baptism
we offer ourselves to God in Christ-a sacrifice of
ourselves reinforced in the reference to self-offering
found in each Eucharistic prayer. This theme recalls
Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, and through them
the discipline of self-denial reflecting the sacrifice of
our will to the purpose of God.

Third Sunday in Lent (March 7, 2010) After


focusing on turning away from evil (February 21)
and turning toward Christ. The readings today
further continue Lent’s exploration of baptism by looking at what we thirst
for in life.
Fourth Sunday in Lent (March 14, 2010) Today’s
readings seek empowerment from the Holy Spirit.

Fifth Sunday in Lent (March 21, 2010)


Concluding five weeks of readings focused on the
meaning of baptism, today’s readings invite us to
put our whole life and trust in Christ, who leads
us through death into life.

Sixth Sunday in Lent: Palm Sunday (March 28,


2010) The palms in church on this day honor Christ’s entry into
Jerusalem. Burned later, the ashes of these palms will, on Ash
Wednesday of next year, symbolize our mortality and sorrow for our sins.

The end of Lent marks the one week called Passion tide, or Holy Week. It
begins on this day,
Passion Sunday, also
called Palm Sunday, and
ends at the first Alleluia of
Easter in the midst of the
Great Vigil on Saturday
night. Passion Sunday
begins with the triumphal
procession commemorating
Jesus entering the Holy
City on a donkey.

Participants experience in
the liturgy a stark change in
the middle of things. What
had been falsely
understood as Jesus joining the crowd becomes the confrontation of Jesus
with the failures of society and the crowd as well. The day turns decidedly
dark and we read dramatically of Jesus being sought for arrest by the
threatened authorities. The color for this Sunday is red, as was the color of
the martyrs' blood.

Holy Week begins this day, the Sunday of the Passion, Palm Sunday.

Palm Sunday, sometimes called Passion Sunday is the beginning of Holy


Week, which is given to meditation on the events of Jesus' last week
before His crucifixion. Thursday of Holy Week is called Maundy Thursday
("Maundy" comes from the Latin word "mandatum," which means
"commandment"). The reference is to Jesus' command that his disciples
wash one another's feet. Maundy Thursday is a commemoration of the Last
Supper, the Passover meal Jesus celebrated with His disciples the night he
was betrayed. It is usually celebrated with Holy Communion. Friday of Holy
Week is called Good Friday ("Good Friday" is probably a variant of "God's
Friday," the same way we say "good-bye" today instead of "God be with
ye"). Good Friday is an observance of Jesus' crucifixion. It is a somber day
of reflection and repentance, and some churches remove flowers and all
decorative elements from the sanctuary to reflect the mood. Saturday of
Holy Week is sometimes called Holy Saturday, and is characterized by
watchfulness and preparation.

As legend has it, the cross on which Jesus was crucified was made from a
dogwood tree. God decreed that the dogwood tree would from that day
forth never grow large enough to be used to make a
cross. Thus, the dogwood tree is a small, spindly tree.

The flower of the dogwood has four petals which makes


the shape of a cross, each of which is stained with red at
the center edge, denoting Christ's blood on the four
extremities of the cross. The center of the flower
resembles the crown of thorns with bright red, clustered
fruit in the center representing the crown and blood of
Christ. It blooms in April, around the time of Easter
Sunday.

The next major liturgy is Maundy Thursday ([From the Latin for
mandate , then Middle English maunde, meaning a ceremony of
washing the feet of the poor on this day). This liturgy
commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples. At the
close of this liturgy we remember that Jesus departed from the
upper room for the Garden of Gethsemane. At this time, the altar
area is stripped of all ornamentation and all symbols of God's presence. No
Eucharist’s may be celebrated from this time until Easter anywhere in the
world.
On Good Friday our Lord was killed for the folly
of humankind and the love and willingness of God
to let the consequences play themselves out. We
gather, often in the darkness with the wearing of
black, for one of the most touching liturgies of the
year. Here we share our pain with God, who
knows all about pain, tears, and death, and we
begin the observance of the three days of His
death, when our Lord was in the tomb. The lights
go dim and we leave in silence to await God's
resolution. The culmination of the liturgies of the
church is the Great Vigil and first Eucharist of Easter. In some churches,
we gather in the tomb-like darkness of Holy Saturday night and, suddenly,
a great flame is struck among us. This flame is the new fire of Christ
coming among us in the midst of the tomb. The Paschal Candle (from Latin
Pascha meaning Passover) is lighted from the fire and the celebrant
processes throughout
the Nave (the part of the church where the
pews are - from the Latin word for ship or
navy), symbolizing the pillar of fire by which
God led the Hebrews out of Egypt toward the
Promised Land. The celebrant pauses three
times to chant, The Light of Christ; and three
times the people respond, Thanks be to God.
The people light individual candles from the
Paschal Candle and the light spreads in the
darkness among the congregation as we chant and read the Old
Testament stories of God's deliverance from death and slavery. Then, with
the first reading from the resurrection narratives all the lights come on and
we sing alleluias for the first time since Epiphany season, and we find the
church beautifully decorated for Easter with the vestments of white and
flowers everywhere. We then joyfully celebrate together the first Eucharist
of Easter tide.

Around the second century A.D., Christian missionaries


seeking to convert the tribes of northern Europe realized
that the time of the crucifixion of Jesus roughly coincided
with the Teutonic springtime celebrations, which
emphasized the triumph of life over death.
Christian Easter gradually absorbed the traditional symbols. Easter tide
begins with that first Alleluia at the Great Vigil, continues through the festive
Eucharist’s of the Day of Resurrection, and ends 50 days later on the Day
of Pentecost. During this season, the liturgical color is white and liturgies
are uplifting and joyful. The General Confession is not used during the first
weeks. God has turned us full circle: from the ash heap of our lives of Ash
Wednesday He has brought us into fullness of life and joy. God does,
indeed, have the final word. The Paschal Candle burns in the church near
the font throughout this season and at all baptisms and funerals. We also
use it for weddings to symbolize the presence of Christ and the possibility
of resurrected living in a marriage relationship. Some churches continue
the tradition of Lenten fasting today. Others encourage believers to make a
sacrifice of self-denial in preparation for Easter observances. Lent is
characterized as a time of personal reflection and repentance.

Easter April 3, 2010

The original pagan name was taken from Ishtar, the Babylonian and
Assyrian goddess of love and fertility. The Phoenicians knew her as
Astarte, sister and consort of Baal, a God worshipped in much of the
Middle East and Mediterranean areas. Some of the ancient Hebrews also
worshipped Baal.
Some scholars believe the
word Easter comes from the
early German word eostarun,
which means dawn. Most,
however, believe that the name
of Astarte spread through
Europe. According to the
Venerable Bede, Christian
historian and theologian,
writing in the 8th century,
Astarte became Ostara,
(sometimes spelled "Estre"),
pronounced "Eestruh", the
Anglo-Saxon goddess of
spring, fertility, and the rising
sun and her accompanying
festival. The Old English word for Easter, "Eastre" refers to Ostara.
In the Christian faith, Easter is celebrated to commemorate the
Resurrection of Christ. Thus it is the most sacred of all holy days. How this
pagan festival came to be supplanted by a solemn Christian holiday attests
to the ingenuity of second century Christian missionaries.

In the early English versions of the Bible, the word, Eostre, was frequently
used as the translation of the Greek, pascha (the
Passover). When the Authorized Version (1611)
was written, the word "Passover" was used in all
passages in which the word, pascha, occurred,
except in Acts 12:4. In the Revised Version the
proper word, "Passover," is always used.

Around the second century A.D., the


aforementioned missionaries traveled among the
Teutonic tribes north of Rome. Whenever possible, they converted the
tribes of northern Europe realizing that the time of the crucifixion of Jesus
roughly coincided with the Teutonic springtime celebrations, which
emphasized the triumph of life over death. Christian Easter gradually
absorbed the traditional symbols by transformation of local pagan customs
to harmonize with Christian doctrine. As far as the missionaries were
concerned, however, Easter was originally called "Pascha" after the
Hebrew word meaning "Passover." ("Easter" being a corruption of the
name "Eostre"). It would have been suicide for the very early Christian
converts to celebrate their holy days with observances that did not coincide
with celebrations that already existed. On a practical basis, this prevented
possible local converts from being persecuted by the pagan traditionalists.
So to save the lives of their converts as well as their own, the missionaries
cleverly decided to spread their religious message slowly throughout the
populations by allowing them to continue to celebrate pagan feasts, but to
do so in a Christian manner.

Since the Eastre festival to celebrate spring coincided with the time of the
Christian observance of the resurrection of Christ, this crossover was
achieved smoothly. Some doubt, though, still remains as to the exact day
of the celebration.
Alban Eiler (White Regeneration, White Spring) Esther
As previously mentioned, Easter was a vernal equinox festival that honored
the coming of spring and the sun. It was named after
the Anglo-Saxon goddess of the Dawn and Spring
named Eostre and celebrated the triumph of spring
over winter and life over death. The Norse Eostur,
Eastar, Ostara, and Ostar, means season of the
growing sun. In Wales, Alban Eiler, eos is nightingale,
ostl is inn, os is branch.

The festival lasted a month and was called Eastur-monath (pronounced


eh-YAW-stir MOH-nawth). When Christianity arrived in Europe, the church
forbade spring fire rites until the year 752 A.D. and
substituted Paschal fires (fires for Christ) for the old
ones. Easter became Christ's resurrection. The
Anglo-Saxons continued to bake cakes, as was their
current custom for the time, which became what we
now know as hot cross buns.

An early church father, Irenaus of Lyons (c.130-c.200), wrote of an


equivalent Christian season in the earliest days of the church, but at that
time it was a 2-day fast (Friday and Saturday), not the 40 days observed
today.

As time passed, this fast was extended in various places to a week (e.g., in
Alexandria and probably Rome). Though we are not certain how it
developed, in 325, the Emperor, Constantine, convened the Council of
Nice, discussed a 40-day Lenten season of fasting, and it was decreed;
Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after
the vernal equinox. However, a caveat must be introduced here. The "full
moon" in the rule is the ecclesiastical full moon, which is defined as the
fourteenth day of a tabular lunation, where day 1 corresponds to the
ecclesiastical New Moon. It does not always occur on the same date as the
astronomical full moon. The ecclesiastical "vernal equinox" is always on
March 21. Therefore, Easter would be celebrated on a Sunday between the
dates of March 22 and April 25 and is bound never to fall before March 22
or after April 25. It's unclear, however, whether or not its original intent was
just for new Christians preparing for Baptism, but it soon encompassed the
whole Church.

The earliest reference to a 40 day fast leading up to Easter on


record is the Second Festal letter of Athanasius in 330 A.D. Exactly how
the churches counted those 40 days varied depending on their location. In
the East, one only fasted on weekdays. The western church's Lent was
one week shorter, but included Saturdays. Only one meal was taken a
day, near the evening. There was to be no meat, fish, or animal products
eaten. In both places, however, the observance was both strict and
serious.

Easter was originally celebrated as one continuous festival, but in the fourth
century it was divided into separate observances of the Resurrection, the
Ascension, and Pentecost. Aside from English and German, the words for
Passover and Easter are the same in most languages.

The date of Easter, which determines much of the rest of the church
calendar, is fixed according to the Paschal Calendar developed by
Dionysius Exiguus, a Scythian monk, in 527. Essentially, Easter falls on the
first Sunday following the first full moon falling on or after the first day of
spring (March 21). Fixing Easter in such a manner causes it to fall at the
same time as the Jewish Passover, since the first Easter coincided with
that feast. The Orthodox Eastern Church calculates Easter somewhat
differently, so that the Orthodox Easter usually comes several weeks after
that of the West.

Because of Easter's relation to the lunar calendar, many popular seasonal


traditions, such as Easter eggs and the Easter bunny, are more closely
associated with pagan rites of fertility and spring than with Easter.

In some churches every Sunday is considered to be a "little Easter".


The liturgical colors for Lent are;
(1) purple (violet), indicating penitence and royalty, or
(2) rough unbleached linen, based on the sackcloth
of Old Testament mourning and reflecting the
somber mood of the season.
On Good Friday, black is substituted.
The liturgical color for the Easter season is white.

The next five Sundays begin with Sunday followed


by Ascension Day (Thursday) and, 10 days later, by Pentecost. The
Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday. Until Advent, the weeks are
counted from Pentecost or Trinity.
Other Traditions in this Country

Candles
Candles are burned during many Easter celebrations, especially the vigil
and midnight services before Easter Sunday.
Christians associate Jesus with the light from
candles, calling Him "the Light of the World."
Many churches extinguish candles on their altars
on Good Friday to show that Jesus' light has gone
out. In Roman Catholic churches, the special
paschal candle is lit on Easter Sunday next to the
main altar. The candle represents Jesus' return to
life. The candle is often lit during the next 40 days, until it is put out on
Ascension Day.

Easter Bonnets Wearing new clothes for Easter is a custom


common among many Christians. It may have originated from
the old practice of having newly baptized Christians wear new
white clothes for the Easter celebration. Like many other Easter
symbols, the new clothes represent the new life offered through
the death and Resurrection of Jesus.

Easter promenades of people in new clothes are a tradition in


many European towns and villages. A person holding a cross or
an Easter candle leads some of these promenades. In New York City,
thousands of people stroll in the Easter Parade down Fifth Avenue to show
off their new clothes following Easter services.

Lavinia Dobler, author of Customs and


Holidays Around the World, said Easter was
once known as the "Sunday of Joy." In this
country after the Civil War, mothers and
daughters began wearing colorful flowered
hats and elaborate corsages as part of the
celebration, Dobler writes. "Easter is a way
for a woman to wear her new straw hat as
kind of a coming-out event, such as an Easter
parade or church services." Easter Sunday is
a feast day. Many Christians in Eastern
Europe and those of eastern European
ancestry in North America have their Easter
feast blessed by a priest. The priest may go to the home, or families may
take their food to church for the blessing.
Fasting
Meat, cheese, butter, eggs and fat are not eaten during Lent. One gives up
something they enjoy for the Lenten season. Scotland: Egg white divining
in a cup of water and nut burning. The yolks from
the eggs are saved to make bannocks, a special
bread. Germany and Austria: Pretzels are a Lenten
food made without fat that is made to look like arms
crossed in prayer. Monks in the fifth century gave
them to the poor.

Lilies

In early Christian art the lily is a symbol of purity because of its delicate
form and white color. Easter Lilies are used to decorate churches and
homes and was adopted as the Easter flower because it blooms around
Easter time in the spring. The large, pure white blossoms remind
Christians of the pure new life that comes to them through the
Resurrection of Jesus. The white lily stands for purity. Artists for centuries
have pictured the angel Gabriel coming to the
Virgin Mary with a spray of lilies in his hand, to
announce that she is to be the mother of the
Christ child. The lily is also the sign of the
Resurrection. The white Madonna lily was used
for years as the Easter lily. It often failed to
bloom in time for Easter, however, and so
Bermuda lilies were substituted. They have
six-part flowers (three petals and three sepals
colored alike) and usually six stamens. In fact,
lilies did not exist in North America until about 100 years ago.

The Lily in the BIBLE: Lessons to trust are gathered from the Lily: Matthew
6: 28-30 Molded in the rim of the molten laver in the temple: 1 Kings 7:26 &
2 Chronicles 4:5 The principle capitals of the temple ornamented with
carvings of lilies: 1 Kings 7:19, 22, 26 Used in a figurative sense, of the lips
of the beloved: Song of Solomon 5:13
Passion Plays
Passion Plays dramatize the Easter story. Such plays have been
performed during the Easter season since
the Middle Ages. The most famous one is
usually presented every 10 years in
Oberammergau, in southern Germany. It
dates from 1634. In the United States, Passion Plays are performed
annually in several cities.

Non-Religious Easter Practices

Cards and Chocolate

Easter cards arrived in Victorian England, when a stationer added a


greeting to a drawing of a rabbit. The cards proved popular. The Germans
probably began making chocolate bunnies and eggs.
Immigrants took the custom to
Pennsylvania. As Easter celebrations
became more common after the Civil
War, the custom of chocolate eggs
took hold.

Easter Eggs

Likewise, eggs have always been an important


feature of pagan Springtime celebrations of new
life, fertility, etc. Eggs, which represent new life,
have been a symbol of spring since ancient times.
Ancient Persians, Phoenicians, Hindus and
Egyptians believed the world began with an egg. Exchanging of eggs in the
springtime is an ancient custom. Egyptians buried eggs in their tombs. The
Greeks placed eggs on their tombs. A Roman proverb states, "All life
comes from an egg". In most cultures, the egg signifies birth and
resurrection. One legend says a great egg broke in half forming the earth
and sky with the yolk as the sun. Christians adopted the egg as an Easter
symbol because of the relationship between Easter and the renewal of life.
It is also the symbol of Christ breaking the binds of the tomb. The Orphic
legend of the origin of the Universe has the Earth being hatched out of an
enormous egg (if you read this in some detail you will find a remarkable
similarity to the current evolutionary [pagan] theory of the "cosmic egg"
origin of the Universe). In a broad range of pagan societies, from Egypt and
Mesopotamia to the British Isles, brightly-decorated eggs were (and still
are) presented as gifts and charms to bring (supernaturally) fertility and
sexual success each Spring.

In ancient Europe, eggs of different colors were taken from the nests of
various birds and used to make talismans. Some eggs were ritually eaten.
The search through the woods for eggs gradually evolved into the Easter
egg hunt, while Eggs were eventually painted bright colors to resemble the
sun and springtime, replacing the wild birds' eggs. Often, the colors and
patterns had romantic symbolism, and lovers
exchanged eggs much as they send Valentine's
Day cards today. Easter baskets were probably
originally intended to resemble birds' nests. In
Medieval Europe, eggs were forbidden during
Lent. Therefore, they were a prized Easter gift for
children and servants.
Orthodox Christians in the Middle East and in
Greece, painted eggs bright red to resemble the
blood of Christ. Hollow eggs (created by piercing the shell with a needle
and blowing out the contents) were decorated with pictures of Christ, the
Virgin Mary, and other religious figures in Armenia.

Germans gave green eggs as gifts on Holy Thursday. They also hung
hollow eggs on trees. Austrians placed tiny plants around the egg and then
boiled them. When the plants were removed, white patterns were created.

The most elaborate Easter egg traditions appear to have emerged in


Eastern Europe. In Poland and Ukraine, eggs were often painted silver and
gold. Pysanky (to design or write) eggs were created by carefully applying
wax in patterns to an egg. The egg was then dyed, wax would be reapplied
in spots to preserve that color, and the egg was boiled again in
other shades. The result was a multi-color stripped or patterned egg.

So when the church began to celebrate the Resurrection in the second


century, the egg was a popular symbol. In those days, wealthy people
covered gift eggs in gold leaf, while peasants dyed theirs with flowers and
herbs. Now people decorate eggs of all types and they can be encrusted
with gold, silver, and precious stones.
Easter Egg Rolling

In many countries, children hunt for


Easter eggs hidden about the home.
Children in the United Kingdom,
Germany, and some other countries
play a game in which eggs are rolled
against one another or down a hill.
The egg that stays uncracked the
longest wins. In Scotland and Ireland,
however, the first egg that lands at
the bottom is the winner.
Rolling eggs on the Monday after Easter was a tradition observed by
many Washington families, including those of the President. Some
historians believe Dolley Madison first suggested the idea of a public
egg roll, while others tell stories of informal egg-rolling parties at the
White House dating back to President Lincoln's day.

Public egg-rolling celebrations, however, were held not at the White House,
but on the grounds of the Capitol. Press accounts from as early as 1872
recount stories of Washington children of all ages joining together to roll
eggs on the congressional grounds.

An old description of that first celebration reads:

At first the children sit sedately in long rows; each has brought a
basket of gay-colored hard-boiled eggs, and those on the upper
terrace send them rolling to the line next below, and those pass on
the ribbon-like streams to hundreds at the foot, who scramble for the
hopping eggs and hurry panting to the top to start them down again.
And as the sport warms, those on top who have rolled all the eggs
they brought finally roll themselves, shrieking with laughter. Now
comes a swirl of curls, ribbons and furbelows, somebody's dainty
maid indifferent to the bumps and grass stains. A set of boys who
started in a line of six with joined hands are trying to come down in
somersaults without breaking the chain...

The children of Washington apparently caused such a ruckus on the


Capitol grounds in 1876 that Congress passed the Turf Protection Law to
prohibit the area from being used as a playground in future years. The
event was rained out in 1877, but in 1878 the children were alerted by a
small notice in the local newspaper informing them that the egg rollers
would not be allowed at the Capitol that year.

Two versions of the story follow: Either the angry rollers rushed to the
gates of the White House and demanded that they be let in to roll their
eggs on the President's lawn or President Rutherford B. Hayes, alerted to
the plight of the children, opened the gates to the South Lawn and
welcomed all the rollers to his end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Either way,
the first White House Easter Egg Roll was held in 1878.

John Phillip Sousa and "The President's Own" Marine Band performed for
the assembled crowd, while vendors of all kinds sold their goods in 1889.
Forty years later, Lou Hoover, wife of President Herbert Hoover, instituted
folk and maypole dances to complement the egg-rolling but, perhaps
because of the combination of stomping feet and boiled eggs, the
practices were not continued for long.

At her first Egg Roll in 1933, Eleanor Roosevelt


greeted visitors and listeners alike for the first
time over the radio, on a nationwide hookup. She also
introduced more organized games, but it was not until
1974 when the most famous event of modern Easter
Egg Rolls, the egg-rolling race, was introduced with
spoons borrowed from the White House kitchen.
Subsequent celebrations included a circus and petting
zoo in 1977 and exhibits of antique cars, Broadway
shows and giant balloons in 1981. Egg hunt pits were
introduced in 1981. Children would search straw pits
for autographed wooden eggs.

Among the most eagerly anticipated guests each year, of course, is the
Easter Bunny. The White House Easter Bunny, usually a White House
staffer dressed in a special White House rabbit suit, was introduced by Pat
Nixon, wife of President Richard Nixon, in 1969. Strict guidelines prohibit
the bunny from being seen without his costume head, but the identity of the
staffer inside is revealed every once in a while. Perhaps the most famous
bunny of all was the wife of President Reagan's Attorney General Edwin
Meese III. Ursula Meese so enjoyed the role that she performed for six
seasons, earning her the nickname "the Meester Bunny."
On occasion, the Easter Egg Roll has been cancelled, either due to
inclement weather or in times of war. At these times, it is sometimes
relocated to another Washington site, such as the National Zoo or even
back to the Capitol. The longest hiatus was for World War II, followed by a
White House renovation. When President Eisenhower reintroduced the Egg
Roll in 1953, a whole generation of children had never experienced this
treasured tradition.

Easter Rabbit
Since ancient times, pagans have worshipped rabbits as sex and fertility
gods, and have looked upon them as symbols of lust, sexual vigor and
reproduction. In the traditions of Egypt and Persia there are such rabbit
gods and they were particularly honored in the
Springtime.

In that pagan story, there was a great bird


who intensely desired to be a rabbit. The
Goddess Oestre (Estre) (who was worshiped
at that time in the form of a rabbit) graciously
turned the bird into a rabbit, and in gratitude
the rabbit. This bird/rabbit could still remember
how to lay bird eggs and came each Spring,
during the Festival of Oestre (Estre), laying
beautiful eggs for the benevolent goddess,
who then distributed them to the children. The German immigrants brought
the symbol of the Easter rabbit to America. It was widely ignored by other
Christians until shortly after the Civil War. In fact, Easter itself was not
widely celebrated in America until after that time. This is exactly how we got
an egg-laying rabbit god in our Easter tradition. In some places, people still
continue the German custom of burning Easter-eve fires. The children are
told that the Easter bunny is burning wild flowers to make his dyes.
Easter Parades
After their baptisms, early Christians wore white robes all through Easter
week to indicate their new lives.
Those had already been
baptized wore new clothes
instead to symbolize their
sharing a new life with Christ.

In Medieval Europe,
churchgoers would take a walk
after Easter Mass, led by a
crucifix of the Easter candle.
Today these walks endure as
Easter Parades. People show
off their spring finery, including
lovely bonnets decorated for
spring.

Pretzels
(the most popular version of their history)

Pretzels had their beginning around 610 A.D. somewhere in Southern


France or Northern Italy. A young monk was
preparing unleavened bread for Lent, the Christian
period of fasting and penitence before Easter.
Christians of the day prayed with their arms folded
across their chests, each hand on the opposite
shoulder. It occurred to him that he could twist the
leftover dough from the bread into this shape and
use it as a treat for the children to recite their
prayers. He named his creation 'pretiola,' Latin for 'little reward.' In the
centuries following, the pretzel made its way into history books and
European culture. The pretzel's form became a symbol of good luck, long
life and prosperity.
Historians believe, although cannot authenticate, that the pretzel came to
America by way of the Mayflower in 1620. There are stories of early settlers
selling the treat to Indians, who would pay any price for them.

The hard pretzel had its beginnings in Pennsylvania. One story tells of a
baker's apprentice who dozed off while baking soft pretzels. The fire in the
hearth died down and he awoke with a start, thinking that the pretzels had
not been baked long enough. He fired up the furnace again, baking them
twice as long as necessary. When the master baker found out, he was
outraged at the "ruined" pretzels. Then, out of curiosity he tasted them.
Fortunately, the employer liked the nutty flavor of the hard pretzel and
spared the young man's head.

In 1440 a page in the prayer book used by Catharine of Cleves depicted St.
Bartholomew surrounded by pretzels. They were thought to bring good
luck, prosperity and spiritual wholeness. A decade later in 1450, Germans
ate pretzels and hard-boiled eggs for dinner on Good Friday – the day of
fasting. The large, puffy pretzel symbolized everlasting life, and the two
hard-boiled eggs, nestled in each of the large round curves of the pretzel,
represented Easter's rebirth.

Shrove (Pancake) Tuesday

The day before Lent in the British Isles is called Shrove Tuesday meaning
Confession Tuesday. Sins are forgiven. A flat bread made of wheat flour,
eggs, spice, and water called a pancake is eaten.
Pancake races are held where women must run
across a course with a frying pan, throwing
pancakes into the air and catching them in the pan
a specified number of times. A pancake bell is
rung to kick off the event. The custom is over 400
years old. A satire describing pancake parties of
1622 featured: Protector of the Pancakes, First Founder of the Fritters,
Baron of Bacon-flitch and the Earl of Egg-baskets.

S-o-o-o, since the pagan Festival of Oestre (Estre) coincided each spring
with the time of Passover, it isn't difficult to see how these pagan beliefs
and customs eased into the life of The Church and replaced the Passover
and came to be associated with Easter.
Traditions Around the World

America: Children look for eggs and candy left for them by the Easter
Bunny.

America: Easter Flowers Women wear orchid corsages. Easter Lilies are
also flown in from the Caribbean.

Germany The Easter Bunny is the Easter Hare (Oster Haas), in Panama
he is the conejo. The Easter hare leaves dyed eggs and eggs of chocolate
and sugar that are decorated with pink and yellow frosting roses. Egg
rolling is done.

Bethlehem, Pa : Trombone Choir


A trombone choir of the Moravian Church plays hymns throughout the city
before dawn on Easter Sunday to call church members to a sunrise service
in the old Moravian cemetery. At the cemetery, the trombones play a joyful
chorus as the sun appears on the horizon.

Bermuda Lilies were a symbol of purity for early Christians. The white
trumpet lily, known in the United States as "Easter Lilies," were brought
from Bermuda around 1900. The trumpet lily blooms in the spring and
rapidly became a popular for Easter decorations.

British Isles: Hot Cross Buns Spicy buns with raisins were first baked in
England to be served on Good Friday. The buns have a cross of icing on
the top. Some people have suggested the connection to the ancient
sacramental cakes. Other sources say that they are not a truly Christian
tradition, even though there is a "x" or Cross on the bun, stating "Although
they are generally only served during the Lenten season, they are probably
the outgrowth of the ancient pagan sacramental cakes eaten by
Anglo-Saxons in honor of their goddess "Eastore."

British Isles, USA: Easter Hats and Gloves Women may wear a new hat
on Easter. If a man gives gloves, it is a proposal of marriage. Parades are
held after Easter services. People walk in their new clothes.

Czechoslovakia, Poland: Easter Cake, Bread, Lamb Coffee bread is


eaten. Greece and Portugal: A flatbread is eaten marked with a cross.
Syria and Jordan: Honey pastries are made. Italy, Greece, and Middle
East: Lamb is eaten on Easter.

European countries: Lamb The lamb is a particularly important Easter


symbol in central and eastern European countries. It represents Jesus and
relates His death to that of the lamb sacrificed on the first Passover.
Christians traditionally refer to Jesus as "the Lamb of God." Many people
serve lamb as part of the Easter feast. In many homes, a lamb-shaped
cake decorates the table. Many Eastern Orthodox Christians hang pictures
of the Easter lamb in their homes.

France: Mid-Lent (Mi-Carême) In Paris the fourth Sunday of Lent is


celebrated by the fête of the blanchisseuses- laundresses. They select a
Queen of Queens who elects a king to sit beside her as she rides through
the streets on a float. Then come the district queens, each with her own
brilliant retinue of courtiers and ladies-in-waiting. In the evening they attend
a ball.

France: Mardi Gras Originally a French term that means Fat Tuesday. It
refers to the fat ox that traditionally led a procession on Shrove Tuesday in
France. In Paris butchers observe Carnival with the féte of the Boeuf Gras
or Fat Ox. An ox decked with garlands, flowers, ribbons and festoons of
green, is led through the streets in procession. The beast is followed by a
triumphal cart bearing a little boy known as the King of the Butchers. The
crowd pays tribute to the small king by blowing horns and throwing confetti,
flowers and sweets. There are parades and balls. Festivities end at
midnight.

Germany: Bonfires, Fireworks, Candle on Easter Eve young people dance


around bonfires. They sing Easter songs, leap over the bonfire, set large
straw wheels on fire and roll them down the hillside. The flaming wheel is a
symbol of the sun. Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Latin America: Fireworks are
lighted on Easter Saturday. Ireland& Scotland: On Easter Eve a white
candle is lighted and the ceremony is called striking the new fire.

Germany: Easter (Ostern) Rabbit gardens are made ready for the Easter
hare. He brings dyed hens eggs of purple, green, and yellow and chocolate
diorama eggs. Other goodies are pink and blue satin eggs with sweets,
perfume, or tiny lace trimmed handkerchiefs inside. Egg duels called Eier
Spacken or Eier-Doppen are popular. On Easter morning egg rolling is
done by children. Spring water and dew is gathered in the early morning of
Easter by young women to make them beautiful throughout the year

Germany: Fast Night (Fastnacht) The day before Lent in Germany is


celebrated with masquerades, carnivals, and ceremonials. Prince Carnival
presides over a Fool’s Court surrounded by councilors wearing high
peaked hats and a badge of the Order of the Fools. Part of the Lord of
Misrule.

Germany: Green Thursday (Gründonnerstag) Holy or Maundy Thursday.


Anyone refusing to eat green salad is in danger of becoming a donkey,
according to Saxon tradition. To be on the safe side children may eat an
entire green vegetable dinner on this day.

Holland: Green Wreath Country children make green wreaths on Palm


Sunday and carry them from house to house begging for eggs.

Ireland: Black Fast People will fast until noon on Good Friday. It is
customary to take only three sips of water and three bites of bread to
symbolize the trinity. Work is stopped. Hair is loosened or cut to symbolize
mourning. Bia tragha: Shorefood of shellfish and seaweed is gathered and
eaten. Holy wells may be visited and the water has curative powers.

Ireland, Scotland: Egg Rolling (a' Chèisg) In gaelic Easter is called a’


Chèisg. Eggs are taken and rolled down the side of a hill. The first egg that
lands at the bottom is the winner.

Ireland: Cake Dance (Pruthóg) On Easter a large dancing contest called a


pruthóg was held and the prize was a cake. The best boy and girl dancer
would take down the cake and divide it among the people. The phrase that
takes the cake comes from the dancing festival. In America a cake walk
may be held during spring festivals. A circle of colored squares is created
and one square has a picture of a cake. People step in time to the music
and when the music shuts off, the person whose foot is on the cake picture
wins a cake. Contests of skill or drawings may be given with cakes as
prizes.

Latvia Latvians play an Easter egg game in which each person takes a
hard boiled, colored egg. Players make pairs and then tap the ends of their
eggs together. First the wide ends of the two eggs are tapped together,
then the narrow ends, and finally one wide and one narrow end. When a
player's egg breaks, he or she leaves the game, which continues until one
player is left with an unbroken egg.

Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) The day before Lent and the last day of a three
day festival called Carnival in Europe, France, United States, and Latin
America. In Nice, Cannes, Menton and Grasse people go out into the
streets in costume, toot tin horns, sing, and pelt passers-by with confetti
and flowers. Each town has its own Bastille de fleurs: battle of flowers
where cars and floats drive for hours along the streets. An effigy of King
Carnival surrounded by a train of clowns and buffoons is formally presented
the keys to the city of Nice. On Mardi Gras night he is burned at the stake
after a torchlight procession.

Mexico The passion play in the town of Iztapalapa, near Mexico City, is
one of the most famous Easter events in Mexico, drawing one million
visitors each year. Following a devastating cholera epidemic in the winter of
1833, the handful of survivors decided to hold the play to give thanks. The
productions have become increasingly more elaborate. Everyone in town
participates, but leading roles are awarded to those meeting strict height
and appearance requirements, and of undisputed good character.

Norway
In Norway, reading detective novels and crime thrillers has become a
popular Easter pastime. Paaskekrim (Easter crime) refers to the new crime
novels available at Easter. The period from Holy Thursday through East
Monday is a public holiday, and many Norwegians take vacations to the
mountains, or to the coast at this time. According to folklore professors at
the Institute for Cultural Studies at the University of Oslo, the tradition of
reading about crime at Easter may stem from the violent nature of Christ's
death.

Sweden
In Sweden, witches were thought to fly their broomsticks to church bell
towers on Easter Eve. Especially in western Sweden, children often dress
up as hags and visit neighbors, often with an Easter card, hoping for a coin
or a piece of candy in return.

Sweden: Easter Witches: Children dress up like witches and put Easter
greetings into the mailboxes of their friends. Firecrackers are set off to
scare away real witches.
South America and the Caribbean: Carnival or Canboulay Carnival is an
outdoor festival party held in South America and the Caribbean for three
days before Lent. There are parades with large floats, costumes, music,
parties, food, alcohol, and dancing. In Trinidad, originally called Iere - Land
of the Hummingbird before Columbus destroyed the Arawaks and Carribs,
the midnight opening of carnival is called Canboulay after the French
phrase cannes brulées; which is the burning of the sugar cane. During
slavery Carnival was restricted to white upper class and freedmen called
maroons. By 1838, the aristocracy had lost control, and former slaves
flocked to the streets and Africanized the festival. Today thousands of
people and tourists visit Carnival. Popular African origin carnival dances
are: the Tango (Argentina), Rumba (Cuba), Biguine (Martinique), Samba
(Brazil), and Calypso (Trinidad). Calypso music uses steel pan drums
[drums were outlawed by the British] and is sung in the French-Creole
language called patois. Soca is a hybrid of calypso and electric guitar.
There is a Calypso Queen and a Soca Monarch for the masquerade which
is called mas. Popular costumes are: insects, birds, bloodsuckers, ghosts,
outer space themes, folklore and shape shifters.

Wales: Round Dance Young men and women dance and sing around the
oldest oak in the village on Easter. This is called a round dance. It is
dangerous to enter a grove of oaks at midnight, for the spirits of the past
assembled there. haunted oaks

Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Ukraine: Egg Decorating: Pysanki


(Written Eggs) (pron. PEE-sank-ee) Decorated eggs made with a batik
method using beeswax. An XV is put on the egg standing for Christ is risen.
Baskets of eggs are blessed at church on Easter Saturday.

Bibliography/References:
A Christian Perspective: Easter Lent - Click to link

An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church> A User-Friendly Reference for


Episcopalians - Don S. Armentroput, Robert Boeek Slocum, editors
Published by Church Publishing Co., New York. A note on lent - Click to
link

Beginning of Lent - Christian History, The Benson's Commentary by Rev.


Joseph Benson Published by George Lane and Levi Scott-Joseph
Longking, Publisher (1849) - Click to link

Catholic Digest Online - The Catholic Encyclopedia-Copyright © 1907 by


Robert Appleton Company - Online Edition Copyright © 2002 by Kevin
Knight Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York Christine
Okeeffe’s Easter History - Click for link

Holy Bible -Revised Standard Version and the King James Version
Illustrated Dictionary of the Saints by John McNeil Published by Crescent
Books

New Dictionary for Episcopalians The Rev. John N. Walt Published by


Harper San Francisco

Society Religion and Spirituality - Click to link

Snyder's of Hanover - Click to link

Tudor Book of Saints and Martyrs by Helen C. White Published by The


University of Wisconsin Press (1963)

Timetables of History, The, by Bernard Grun based upon Werner Stein's


Kulturfalirplan