Rituals and Diversity: Easter

April 10th, 2013 | Categories: Uncategorized

Cultural rituals can lend credibility to stereotypes. For example, stereotypes about Christians as bible thumpers are exaggerations of actual cultural rituals and practices within the Christian religion wherein church goers have hymnals and read bible scripture. However, in contrast to the stereotype, even the least devout can engage in these rituals despite the stereotype of Christians as bible thumpers.

Rituals are traditional repeated practices within a culture engaged in by its members. Attempts to understand the rituals of a culture are admirable because they help a person to connect with the culture and provide the opportunity to appreciate the culture more. CultureGrams are four page documents detailing the demographics, history, and ritual of a specific geographically determined cultural group. These are used in classrooms to help students understand the rituals of cultural groups they may not otherwise have a chance to get to know about. The benefit of these CultureGrams is that they help the neophyte learn about an unfamiliar culture. The problem with CultureGrams is that they could lend themselves to stereotypes in as much as any ritual can. Once a ritual is known about on a superficial level, people can stereotype the culture more easily with the false security that they ‘know’ about the culture through the rituals they have read about.

To provide a contrast to this superficial understanding of ritual, Natasha Shapiro has posted a series of blogs about rituals on her blog dealing with art therapy and related topics. Previously I referenced her post about dream catchers. Her most recent post Continuing with Cultural Rituals and Diversity: Easter seems seems relevant since the recent Easter holiday has just taken place.

I’m overdue to post for my weekly post, so I thought I would go back to my series on interesting cultural traditions and rituals around the world involving big rites of passages and holidays, such as birthday, weddings and unions, funerals, holidays.

I do not know that much about the origins of some Easter customs such as egg coloring and bunnies, so I am quite ignorant on the whole holiday except for the fact that sometimes Passover and Easter coincide perfectly as Jesus’ famous “Last Supper” was a Seder.

Anyway, here are some interesting and strange customs involving Easter all over the world. Very random, and no judgment, just picked things that seemed more obscure… These are all lifted from various random internet sites. I try to avoid Wikipedia…

Czechoslovakia:( I guess this is in the now “Czech Republic”, not “Slovakia” but I’m not sure…
In Czechoslovakia during Easter week it’s good luck to beat your wife or the girl you fancy with a pomlázka, or a braided whip. While this may sound strange It’s not meant in a demeaning way or as an insult, in fact pomlázka, means “make young.” The idea behind the tradition is that anyone hit with the whip will be healthy and happy during the upcoming year.

The tradition is believed to have originated with the spring blessing of the house which is common among all Orthodox Christians. This translated in using a whip or a single branch in order to lightly hit livestock or family members. Now the tradition is wide spread and you can even buy premade whips or special wooden spoons that can be used to hit your loved ones.

(from “http://www.weirdworm.com/9-strange-easter-traditions/”)

Here’s another description about the Easter bunny and the eggs. I must be living in a cave as I never knew the Easter bunny laid the eggs children hunt for. I thought the bunny symbolized fertility and rebirth and that the eggs were separately associated with spring and renewal. Also, I had no idea the Easter bunny was a big like Santa Claus in that he sneaks into the homes with baskets of eggs. How is it that this seemingly male bunny actually laid these eggs and why does Duane Reade sell a lot of stuffed chicks with the stuffed bunnies?

Here’s a rather long description of the origin of the Easter Bunny and the eggs:

The Easter Bunny, in case you’ve been living in a cave, on Mars, with your fingers in your ears, is an anthropomorphic, egg-laying rabbit who sneaks into homes the night before Easter to deliver baskets full of colored eggs, toys and chocolate. A wise man once told me that “all religions are beautiful and all religions are wacko,” but even if you allow for miracles, angels, and pancake Jesus, the Easter Bunny really comes out of left field.

If you go way back, though, the Easter Bunny starts to make a little sense. Spring is the season of rebirth and renewal. Plants return to life after winter dormancy and many animals mate and procreate. Many pagan cultures held spring festivals to celebrate this renewal of life and promote fertility. One of these festivals was in honor of Eostre or Eastre, the goddess of dawn, spring and fertility near and dear to the hearts of the pagans in Northern Europe. Eostre was closely linked to the hare and the egg, both symbols of fertility.

As Christianity spread, it was common for missionaries to practice some good salesmanship by placing pagan ideas and rituals within the context of the Christian faith and turning pagan festivals into Christian holidays (e.g. Christmas). The Eostre festival occurred around the same time as the Christians’ celebration of Christ’s resurrection, so the two celebrations became one, and with the kind of blending that was going on among the cultures, it would seem only natural that the pagans would bring the hare and egg images with them into their new faith (the hare later became the more common rabbit).

The pagans hung on to the rabbit and eventually it became a part of Christian celebration. We don’t know exactly when, but it’s first mentioned in German writings from the 1600s. The Germans converted the pagan rabbit image into Oschter Haws, a rabbit that was believed to lay a nest of colored eggs as gifts for good children. (A poll of my Twitter followers reveals that 81% of the people who replied believe the Easter Bunny to be male, based mostly on depictions where it’s wearing a bowtie. The male pregnancy and egg-laying mammal aspects are either side effects of trying to lump the rabbit and egg symbols together, or rabbits were just more awesome back then.)

Oschter Haws came to America with Pennsylvania Dutch settlers in the 1700s, and evolved into the Easter Bunny as it became entrenched in American culture. Over time the bunny started bringing chocolate and toys in addition to eggs (the chocolate rabbit began with the

Read the full text here: http://mentalfloss.com/article/21411/where-did-easter-bunny-come#ixzz2P5P4bcou

Then there is the wonderful “Easter Bonnet” and its origins:

Early Easter Headdress
The original Easter head accessory was not a bonnet or a hat. Before Easter was an official holiday, women would celebrate the arrival of spring by decorating head wreaths with fresh flowers. The circle of the wreath symbolized the earth’s orbit around the sun as well as the cycle of the seasons.

Post Civil War
On Easter Sunday following the end of the Civil War, women and their daughters traded their dark, mourning veils for the pastel colors and fresh flowers of spring. They adorned their hats and bonnets with ribbons and blooming flowers.

New York
In the 1870′s, a tradition emerged in New York City. On 5th Avenue, the social elite would attend church service, then parade down the street aferward to show off their Easter fashions. With each passing year, the hats of the Easter paraders would become larger and more creatively decorated. Spectacular head gear has included live bird nests, portable flower gardens and pets.

Easter Parade
By the late 1940′s, the famous Easter Parade expanded out of 5th Avenue and extended from Madison Square to Central Park. The event was made into an American icon with the 1948 musical “The Easter Parade”, written by Irving Berlin.

Modern Easter Hats
Today, Easter hats have become a holiday novelty and are not seen often at church services. Still, they can be found on the heads of fashionably conscience elderly ladies and well dressed little girls. The hats that remain on the scene are light weight, usually made of straw. They are decorated with ribbons, lace or artificial flowers.

(From: http://www.ehow.com/about_6668631_history-easter-hats.html)

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