Finding the universal human values to celebrate in the Easter traditions.
The original significance of the Easter story and many of the Easter symbols has been lost in the commercialization of Easter. Easter in the broadest, most universal sense, is the celebration of new life, of resurrection, of the archetypal loving deed done on behalf of others. It is about seeking for the best part of ourselves, our spirit. For children ideally it is about the joy of Easter Sunday, of the risen Christ in the Easter event, not the darkness of the crucifixion of Easter Friday; for sensitive young children can understand simple death, and burial, but not torment, torture and agony.
The date of each Easter is set at the first Sunday after the first full moon, after the spring equinox, a powerful time for the forces of growth in the earth in the northern hemisphere. Many of the symbols of Easter – in the egg, the chicken and the hare, (which has transformed into the rabbit)— are ancient symbols of spring, of the coming of new life after the hard winter. These are northern hemisphere traditions.
In the southern hemisphere, it is of course autumn at Easter, a very different time when the hens may even stop laying eggs! Nevertheless, in the temperate zones in the south, we can also observe a renewal of life in nature. For with the first autumn rains, the earth really sings, the plants and the insect world come alive again. The plants and the microbial activity in the soil, which have withdrawn from the scorching heat of summer, open up, to grow in the gentler autumn sun again before the cold of winter takes hold; the grasses begin to shoot; the autumn wheat is planted, along with the bulbs and seedlings which will flower later in the southern spring.
In the tropics, the rhythms are different again. Perhaps April at Easter time creates a breathing space between the tropical cyclones and storms in the south and those in the north. We need to observe what is happening with nature in each place. What is flowering or fruiting? What are the clouds, the rain and the winds doing? What is changing? Can we find the symbols of Easter, the cross, the egg form, in the flowers, fruits and seeds or in signs of new life and of resurrection here too?
Creating meaningful Easter celebrations
Much can be done to make a meaningful beautiful Easter within the sacred religious traditions of course. But we can also bring more meaning to what has become secular, the eggs, the chicks, rabbits, Easter hunt and hot cross buns. You may want to research the origins of these symbols on the web for ideas—Wikipedia articles have more depth, than a general search. You can work with the concepts of new life, service to others, and the seeking in the Easter egg hunt.
Traditions like finding a hill to watch the sun go down on Easter Friday in a quiet contemplative mood, and come up on Easter Sunday, with the experience of the renewal of life in all the joy of increasing light and life and bird song, can provide special moments in the festival. Planting something for the future in the earth on Easter Friday can be a wonderful thing to do with children— bulbs for later flowering, trees for the good of the earth, flowering plants for the native birds to feed in. Such activities can bring a continuity of awareness from Easter to Easter as the children watch their gifts to the earth grow. In such activities children can experience the joy of the traditional Easter event, of renewal, of unconditional love, of the re-enlivening of the earth and humanity. Easter can be a festival of life and hope in a world which can be depressing at times as we listen daily to stories of violence, poverty, war and environmental degradation.
Can the love of the beautiful form of the egg, with its endless possibilities of decoration, display and discovery, bring a different sort of joy and richer memories than just being given cheap eggs from the supermarket (often of poor quality chocolate at that). Home-made, blown decorated eggs can be hung from a branch to make an Easter Tree or placed in a bowl of freshly sprouted wheat. Eggs, and nests for little eggs, can be made from healthier ‘treats’ like roasted nuts and seeds, shredded coconut and dried fruit mixed with melted carob or chocolate. You could even make jellied rabbits in colourful salad gardens. You can find food from your multicultural traditions, like we had in our family in our own Nonna’s Pizza Chiena, sometimes called Italian Easter pie, a bread made with cheese and salted meats at its centre.
Family traditions can be made in your own Easter egg hunt. We have an Easter story in my family of when my mother was a small child in the early 1920s. Her family got together with another family to hide eggs in the garden for everyone, adults included. One year my grandfather’s egg was hidden at the top of a pine tree. When everyone had found their eggs but him, they stood around the tree looking up until he scaled the tree to find his egg. He was in fact a church minister, with considerable athletic ability and a very good sense of humour. In my own family here, we would hide a nest of eggs for each person in the garden late at night, until one night a fox made off with one of the nests before we had our hunt. Such stories become part of our family traditions, memories of which can sustain us through our lives.
The delight in the seeking of eggs in the garden in an Easter egg hunt, is best if the motivation is as much in the seeking, like the enthusiasm for the living of life, seeking for meaning, for inner riches—rather than just in the finding and accumulation of prizes. A collection basket, where all the found eggs are placed for sharing out more equally later, makes it less competitive.
The possibilities are endless for you to create your own Easter festival, into which you can bring your values, love and appreciation— making it meaningful and relevant for your own family. Ideally here we make our primary motivation to bring meaning and human values to what we do, not just adding more ‘decorations’ or ‘activities’ to our festival. For more ideas on creating meaningful family festivals in general see the photo link below.
A few further links
Decorating eggs using onion skins http://www.instructables.com/id/Easter-Eggs-Dyed-With-Onion-Skins-1/
Helpful for creating the form of a festival