by Liz Jansen
Growing up in a Mennonite tradition, Easter was one of the holiest celebrations of the year. We’d be at church on Good Friday to honor the crucifixion, and back on Easter Sunday, often for a sunrise service to celebrate the resurrection. I’d have a new dress and a few times, a matching hat or headband with silk flowers. I thought it was quite pretty.
Hunting for eggs was never part of our family tradition but there was always a basket of multicoloured foil-wrapped chocolate eggs in a basket on the table. We had great fun decorating eggs a few days before the weekend. The house would fill with the pungent aroma of mom’s vinegar and hot water mix. She’d place a few pots on the table and we’d drop in food coloring to come up with an array of colors. Most were lovely but sometimes one could take your appetite away. On Easter morning, all six of us children would have a milk chocolate bunny on our breakfast plate which we’d stow away for later, usually after biting an ear off.
Both grandmothers baked paska, (Easter bread), a tradition they brought with them from Russia. Made from milk, butter, eggs, and sugar, it looked good but was rather tasteless. Until you drizzled a thin layer of icing sugar over it, added colorful sprinkles, and buttered it.
Hot cross buns became an accidental tradition. We were registered with a local bakery who would discount their leftovers at the end of the day by 50 percent. They’d go through their list of clients and when it was our turn, they’d call and see if we wanted the order. Around Easter, it invariably included hot cross buns.
As children, we knew Easter solely as a Christian tradition based on a literal interpretation of the Bible. We didn’t know that the practice of decorating eggshells as a spring ritual is ancient. Engraved ostrich eggs have been found in Africa which are 60,000 years old.
We hadn’t heard that Easter came from Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring who legend has it, consorted with a rabbit. Rabbits have long been associated with fertility and spring and both rabbits and eggs are ancient symbols of new life.
Nor did we know that the phases of the moon determine when Easter is held—it always falls on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25 within about seven days after the full moon.
Many cultures celebrate spring festivals as a time of rebirth, whether it’s the equinox, Easter, or Passover. Sadly, we’re no longer as connected to nature and the reason for the season’s celebrations as our ancestors were. American candy makers produce about 90,000 chocolate bunnies and 16 billion jelly beans for Easter each year, selling more candy than any other holiday except Halloween. More than 88 percent of American parents prepare Easter baskets for their children.
Our family Easter celebrations were a hybrid of Christian teachings, nature-based spirituality, Mennonite cultural traditions, and other ancient rituals. As we got older, we’d incorporate a hike in a nearby forest. Symbolically, all our activities were a celebration of life and renewal.
Spring comes every year and with it new life and the energy of growth. As motorcycle riders, we know that feeling well! In any case, no matter what your beliefs or practices, the cycles of nature are unstoppable. This year, even if it’s in a city park, may you find time to connect with the energy and vitality of the season.
I’ve already celebrated the advent of spring with friends during the equinox. I traded my Easter bonnet for a motorcycle helmet long ago and will be wearing it this weekend—teaching experienced riders Saturday and Sunday and then traveling to family dinners. Those are rites of spring that are sure to energize me.
I’d love to hear how you celebrate the arrival of the season. Add your comment below.