Another Red Letter Day

Since being branded as an Atheist in the sixth grade, when my teacher gave me a big red F for my short fiction piece entitled The Origin of the Bible. At Easter I usually just enjoy the  days off from work, eat lots of chocolate and have a big meal with my family.

But the increasing noise and nonsense from the born again, evangelical crowd, has finally forced me to join a group and hoist a big red A on my site. Of course it might just be some subconscious payback to that now dead teacher, who forgot that it was a writing course that she was teaching that  morning or pitifully some last grasp before I die to become more social and accepted by a group of peers.

Either way it is fine, just as long as we don't have to go to meetings, sing a theme song and start burning big red letter A's on peoples lawns at night. (h/t to George Carlin) I'll stick with the group and do my part with an Easter post.


According to Wikipedia, where I typically go to research the collected knowledge of human kind: 

"Easter, also called Pascha, is the most important religious feat in the Christian liturgical year. It celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, which Christians believe occurred on the third day after his crucifixion around AD 33. Many non-religious cultural elements have become part of the holiday, and those aspects are often celebrated by many Christians and non-Christians alike."

Well I sort of knew that, except for the Pascha and liturgical parts, but what about those cultural elements. The bunny that delivers the chocolate eggs for God's sake (pun intended) or why is it called Easter in the first place and why is it moving around all the time? Holidays are tough enough to deal with and plan for without them moving back and forth between March and April. These are the big questions to us red letter people.

For the answer to these questions Google took me to the Association of Polytheist Traditions, a sort of all encompassing pagan group in the UK.

As an aside, I wonder if the pagans feel better or worse, now that my group the Atheists have been raised in status, thanks to Dawkins and are now the recipients of more hateful rhetoric from the wingnuts, Do they feel more respected and that they have somehow moved up in stature, because they at least have faith in something or more rejected because they are receiving less attention? I wonder if they have theme songs, regular meetings or celebrate Easter holiday?

Eostre the origin of Easter

According to the pagans: "The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli, February is called Solmonath, March, Hrethmonath and April Eosturmonath and so forth. Eosturmonath has a name, which is now translated "Paschal month" and which was once called after a goddess of theirs (I assume the Latins) Eostre, in whose honor feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite in the time-honored name of the old observance."

Well that was interesting, I think. However reading further on, the pagans seem a little less sure about the bunny, but at least they have tried to cover it here.

"According to various popular sources: Eostre has a hare familiar/totem animal; Eostre can take the form of a hare; Eostre has the head of a hare. There are associations in English folklore between hares and the Christian festival of Easter. For example, in 17th century Southeastern England there is evidence of a custom of hunting a hare on Good Friday, and in 18th century Coleshill there was a manorial custom in which young men tried to catch a hare on Easter Monday. There is no reason to believe that such customs go back to pre-Christian times. The Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore bluntly states: "Nowadays, many writers claim that hares were sacred to the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, but there is no shred of evidence for this."

And the eggs...

"The Easter egg is often said to be a symbol of Eostre and this 'fact' is used as 'evidence' that Eostre was a fertility goddess. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "Because the use of eggs was forbidden during Lent, they were brought to the table on Easter Day, coloured red to symbolize the Easter joy. This custom is found not only in the Latin but also in the Oriental Churches." Eggs would have been in abundance for Christian communities at Easter time because the hens would have continued laying throughout the preceding forty days of fasting during Lent. The embryonic symbolism of new life also happened to tie in well with the Christian theme of resurrection."

Oh! Hot Cross Buns (I like Hot Cross Buns)

"According to some Neo-Pagan sources, these were originally offerings to Eostre, with the cross representing either the four quarters of the year or the four quarters of the moon. As the symbol of the 'cross' is the central focus of the Christian Easter celebration, I shouldn't have thought there was a need speculate about alternative explanations. Bede certainly has nothing to say on the subject of pagan pastry."

But what about the chocolate?

"So far I haven't actually come across a source claiming that chocolate is sacred to Eostre/Ostara, but as it is strongly associated with Easter in most people's minds, I wouldn't be surprised to come across that 'fact' in a tabloid newspaper or Pagan website article on the history of Easter."

Trust a pagan to not come up with all the answers, when you need them, but at least they do have holidays.

"In my own heathen tradition, we see Eostre as a joyful goddess associated with spring and new growth - not because we read that anywhere, but because that's how she comes across to us. We celebrate Eostrefest in April on the first weekend after the bluebells come into bloom. We always hold this festival outdoors in woodland, no matter how rainy or muddy. We have a wooden statue of Eostre which takes centre stage on an altar. Next to it is a plate of seeds. We start with everyone making food or drink offerings to the wights of the wood. Then we welcome Eostre and give her an offering of mead - splashing it on her statue. We ask the wood wights to bless the seeds for us, so that we can remember them and honour them throughout the summer.

All participants bring an eggcup. We fill these with mead, and then ritually bless them. Everyone simultaneously tosses the mead up in the air and yells 'Hail Eostre!' - with the goal of getting as much mead raining down on others as possible. Next we fill a horn with mead and have a round of toasts to Eostre, spring and new growth. Afterwards we feast (picnicking if the weather permits). Decorated hard-boiled eggs as well as chocolate eggs tend to be on the menu. I very much doubt the heathen Anglo-Saxons honoured Eostre with eggcups. I very much doubt they had eggcups. But all who attend our Eostrefest seem to feel that the goddess approves - and that she gets a kick out of watching us soak each other in mead in her honor."

I sort of like this group. Why limit yourself to one God? Certainly not as rigid a belief system as us scarlet letter folk, but look at all the holidays they can take advantage of.

So what have we learned so far.

The name Easter was derived from an ancient Goddess Eostre. The rabbits really didn’t come into it until the early Brits went poaching for a feast or that Eostre might of had the head of a Hare. The eggs were plentiful from all the fasting and had to be eaten before they went bad.

And hot cross buns possibly went further back and were originally about seasonal changes and not a crucifixion. Which is good because I really like them and I’m not sure whether us scarlet letter folks are allowed to eat Christ crossed treats.

As for the chocolate it was probably just good marketing.

Oh and that this pagan group celebrates their own type of Easter event a sort of Eostrefest for the rest of us!
(sorry, I just couldn’t help it)

But the last question “Why is Easter always moving?” seems to be the biggie, which makes sense as the setting of the date for celebration of Easter should be a big deal for Christians. It sort of goes to one of the main selling points of their group, Life After Death and all that. So apparently and this is only after a few Wikipedias;

"Easter is termed a moveable feast because it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar. Easter falls at some point between late March and late April each year (early April to early May in Eastern Christianity), following the cycle of the moon. After several centuries of disagreement, all churches accepted the computation of the Alexandrian Church (now the Coptic Church) that Easter is the first Sunday after the first fourteenth day of the moon (the Paschal Full Moon) that is on or after the ecclesiastical vernal equinox."

And a second apparently this was a big topic of discussion for popes and canons all the way back to the year 154, where they realized it was a big deal. They needed to have a fixed date, that for some reason didn’t fall during Jewish Passover. I guess they were competing for members. Anyway the fixing or in reality the floating of the date came about with the Computus, another big deal that I never heard of which is defined in the dictionary as:

“The canonical rule is that Easter day is the first Sunday after the 14th day of the lunar month (the nominal full moon) that falls on or after 21 March (nominally the day of the vernal equinox). For determining the feast, Christian churches settled on a method to define a reckoned "ecclesiastical" full moon, rather than observations of the true Moon as the Jews did at the time. Eastern Orthodox Christians calculate the fixed date of 21 March according to the Julian Calendar rather than the modern Gregorian Calendar, and observe the additional rule that Easter may not precede or coincide with the first day of the Jewish Passover.”

Something I am sure all good Christians know about. No wonder I got an F.

Anyway that’s about all I can take or in reality offer. I answered my four Easter questions. I think I will just continue to enjoy the time off, eat lots of chocolate and have a big meal with my family.

Here’s two videos. The first one for my scarlet letter friends and the second for my granddaughters.

George Carlin on religion.

Roy Rogers singing Here comes Peter Cottontale.

Happy Easter.


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