Why does Easter move around the calendar so much?
- Credit: Archant
It's a fact that nowadays less than half the number of people in the UK attend church than in the sixties, and most of those churchgoers only attend for births, deaths and weddings.
Like more and more people these days, as far as religion is concerned I'm not actually sure what I believe in any more, either. The older I get the more cynical I become about religion, not helped by a steady stream of controversial religious news stories making headlines in the Sunday tabloids. Plus it appears to me that most war and terrorism starts in the name of religion, too.
Still, it doesn't really matter whether you believe in religion or not as the upcoming Easter holidays offer most of us a welcome spring break and precious time to spend with the family.
This year, Easter is particularly early and I find myself questioning why this seemingly religious festival changes every year – after all, Christmas stays the same, so why doesn't Easter?
Plus, if Easter is a religious festival, where do the origins of the Easter bunny and Easter eggs stem from? There isn't any mention of Cadbury's creme eggs or chocolate rabbits delivering presents in the Bible.
With a little research on Google it turns out that Easter is a mish-mash of different cultures, religions, beliefs and seasonal changes all rolled into one. Today's Easter customs have been passed down over the centuries a bit like a game of Chinese whispers where the end result is so different from the start!
From what I can work out, the word Easter derives from the name of an ancient goddess of springtime.
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And apparently, Easter Sunday is the original 'moveable feast' that changes every year because it is foremostly a spring festival traditionally celebrated around the time of the first full moon after the spring equinox.
The spring equinox marks the return of the sun over the equator to our northern hemisphere, signalling the start of spring and this happens around March 21.
So the reason why Easter Sunday can be as early as March 22 or as late as April 25 depends entirely on when the full moon actually arrives.
And the origin of Easter bunnies! ... well, rabbits, of course, are renowned for their mating habits, creating many baby bunny offspring – hence the expression 'breeding like rabbits' and new life and fertility is associated with springtime. Plus March hares look a bit like rabbits and are renowned for their boxing courtship dance, another notorious symbol of spring arriving.
So it is thought a combination of both March hares and rabbits lie behind the origins of the Easter bunny.
Moreover, eggs are associated with a new life, and throughout history young chicks hatching from their shells have been a cause for celebration in springtime and decorated eggshells given as gifts; then much later it seems eggs were adopted as a Christian symbol of the resurrection.
With all these Easter traditions interwoven with one another like a rich tapestry over centuries, whatever you believe it appears there is something for everyone.
The fact is that Easter is equally about celebrating the wonders of nature with the return of spring as it is celebrating the Passion of Christ.
Whether it be by proudly parading your daffodil-clad Easter bonnet in the local church, chocolate Easter-egg hunting in the back garden or just sitting down together for a meal with your family on Easter Sunday, followed by watching a good film on the telly – anything goes!
• Jane Reynolds is a 52-year-old nurse and mother who has lived within the city all her adult life. Jane is interested in local and current affairs, and hanker after old-fashioned values, common sense and all things that provide food for the soul.