The myths and realities of Easter


AS a youngster, I read the many stories surrounding our colonially-imposed religious holidays, which as I grew older, realised that while these stories were endearing, they were not actually factual.
I was captivated by reading about the jovial fat man from the North Pole dressed all in red, dashing around the universe in a sledge pulled by reindeers.
He would then climb down chimneys to give gifts to ‘good’ boys and girls on Christmas Day, and about the Easter bunny that gave eggs and chocolates to the same good girls and boys at Easter time; children often left carrots for the bunnies in case they got hungry from hopping.
I was mesmerised as I read the old Teutonic myth of how the goddess Eostre, while passing through a forest, found a bird dying from hunger and cold in the snow.
The goddess turned the bird into a rabbit since it had warm fur and could easily find food in the snow.
The bird thus survived the winter as a bunny.
In the spring, it started laying eggs, seeing that it was once a bird.
Ever since, according to the myth, rabbits decorated their eggs and left them for Eostre as a sign of gratitude – hence the Easter egg hunt for the eggs the bunny left the night before.
Eventually, the Easter bunny or hare became the judge (tsuro mutongi) that decided whether children were good and well-behaved, therefore deserving of Easter eggs.
Yet, the art of dyeing Easter eggs was neither in Christian history, Biblical history nor within the initial domain of Christianity.
As I grew older, my fertile young mind began to fill up with questions.
I learnt the Easter rabbit was a pagan symbol of fertility; the egg the symbol of early spring and the germination of life.
Since the eating of eggs was forbidden during Lent, they were brought to the table on Easter Day, coloured red to symbolise the blood of Christ, and according to others, as Easter joy.
While Zimbabwe purports to be a Christian country, have we ever considered how much of Christianity has pagan cultural roots and how much of it relates to sub-Saharan Africa, let alone Zimbabwe?
In the process of colonising Africa with various strains of Christianity, many of us have never questioned the Western folkloric, hedonistic and pagan ancestral religions imposed on African people who have taken them for granted and continue their legacy of deception.
One cannot remove the political aspects of their religions.
The first Sunday of the astronomical full moon is now celebrated as Holy Easter Sunday, that was a time when the festivities of the spring equinox were celebrated in the northern hemisphere via pagan fertility rites in Europe.
Christian history records the famous ecumenical gathering known as the Council of Nicaea, held in 325 AD.
Here, under the auspices of the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine I, many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon such as the administration of sacraments, the divinity of Jesus Christ and the actual date of Easter.
In the mid-4th Century, Epiphanius of Salamis accordingly wrote: “The emperor…convened a council of 318 bishops… in the city of Nicaea… They passed certain ecclesiastical canons at the council besides, and decreed in regard to the Passover that there must be one unanimous concord on the celebration of God’s holy and supremely excellent day. For it was variously observed by people….”
Unlike Christmas, the date of Easter was not fixed; it was governed by the phases of the moon.
The first Christians to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ timed the observance in relation to the Jewish Passover, (the 14th day of the lunar month of Nissan).
In ancient Rome and in Alexandria in Egypt, Easter came to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox, which in Rome fell on March 25 and which in Alexandria fell on March 21; and in Antioch, Turkey, Easter was observed on the Sunday after the Jewish Passover.
Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection occurred after he went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, the Jewish festival commemorating the ancient Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt, known as Pesach in Hebrew.
After the First Council of Nicaea, under Imperial command of Constantine I, Easter was first celebrated in 325 AD, during the Spring Equinox.
It was to be a re-issuance of the Imperial celebration of the goddess Ishtar and the rejuvenation, renaissance of ideals centred on the creation of the family.
Today, Easter is the principal feast of the Christian ecclesiastical year which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Although the precise origins and name of this religious feast day are obscure and since many pagan customs that celebrated the return of spring gravitated to Easter, the custom undoubtedly had its origin in European paganism.
Easter is derived from Eostre, the German Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility, in whose honour feasts were celebrated during the ‘Paschal month’ that corresponded to April.
Later, the Old High German term ‘Ostarun’ appeared, which in time became ‘Easter’ in English.
The English term, Easter, relates to Estre, the Teutonic goddess deity of the rising light of day and spring.
The erotic side of Easter can be seen in the philological origins of the word Easter: Ishtar or Eostre/Ester.
In European folklore, Easter was the celebration of nudity and sexuality considered to be the ‘original way all mankind began’.
The goddess Venus is also known as Ishtar or Astarte; the powerful female concept of fertility with ties to nature and the idea of mother earth.
In Western Europe, she represents spring and fertility festivals in celebration of fecundity and family.
The pagan festivities and rituals are based on their understanding of the nature of life and the elevation of carnal love above all other emotions and pursuits.
For Orthodox Christians, preparation for Easter begins with the mardi gras, prior to the penitential season of Lent; which in addition to fasting, almsgiving and prayer, they cut down on all non-essential worldly activities, gradually purging them until Good Friday.
Mardi gras, a French term for ‘Fat Tuesday’, the day before Lent, is the practice of eating richer, fatty foods for the last time that marks the beginning of ritual fasting – known as kutsanya in Shona, until Easter Sunday.
The week preceding Easter is called Holy Week and includes Maundy Thursday, which commemorates Jesus Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples; Good Friday honours the day of his crucifixion; Holy Saturday is the transition between the crucifixion and resurrection.
The traditional liturgical observation of Easter, practised among Roman Catholics, Lutherans and some Anglicans begins on the night of Holy Saturday with the Easter Vigil.
This is the most important liturgy of the year and begins in total darkness with the blessing of the Easter fire, the lighting of the large Paschal Candle – a symbol of the Risen Christ.
The 40-day period of Lent, leading up to Easter Sunday, is a time of reflection and penance that represents the 40 days that Jesus spent alone in the wilderness fighting temptations by the devil.
The 50-day period following Easter Sunday is called Eastertide that includes a celebration of Jesus Christ’s ascension into heaven.
At the political ecumenical Christian gathering of 325 AD, the Council of Nicaea deliberated, debated and voted upon all aspects of what we have now come to accept as Christianity, and as a compromise between the pagan religions and Constantine’s political Christianity, the majority of the Christian celebrations were based on pagan religions and rituals, and their pagan gods and goddess that were known more for the sexuality, virility and fecundity than any spirituality.
Thus when colonial Christianity allowed both Western and Eastern European religious orders to superimpose their distorted doctrines on African colonies, Africa was rendered dirigible.
Even long after de-colonisation, many still adhere to their introduced socio-religious Western/Eastern teachings and foreign customs without questioning their roots; most of which are unChristian and centred on fertility cults and pagan deities.
December 25 that we celebrate as the day Christ was born, is also when Osiris, Adonis, Dionysus and Krishna were born.
Is it not uncanny that they share the same birth date?
All these deities were also presented with gold, frankincense and myrrh; even the Christians’ weekly holy day of Sunday was stolen from the pagan veneration of the sun – their god.
In conclusion, as we trudge through life with all its trials and tribulations, we simply need to believe in the goodness and blessings God has bestowed on us as Zimbabweans.
The rituals and rites of Easter are essentially man-made symbols and enactments most of which have Eastern and Western pagan European roots.
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD. in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practising artist and corporate image consultant. He is also a specialist art consultant, post-colonial scholar, Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and researcher.
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