Easter – a Christian holiday with pagan traditions

#CelebratingDiversity

Hamburg / 4 April 2021

We are driven by our people – spanning across more than 100 different countries, they make up the company culture we live each day. Diverse thinking, broad cultural diversity and a gender-balanced workforce make us more innovative and creative. To celebrate our diversity, we highlight special cultural occasions our colleagues observe around the world. Today, we highlight Easter, the principal festival of the Christian church, celebrated across the globe.
Head of Sustainability Communication
The Christian holiday of Easter celebrates the belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which, according to the New Testament of the Bible, occurred three days after Jesus was crucified by the Romans and died, in approximately 30 AD.

In the Christian calendar, Easter follows Lent, a period of fasting during which many churches observe a time of penance and remembrance. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Good Friday - the day Jesus Christ was crucified. The week leading up to Easter is called Holy Week and begins with Palm Sunday, the day Jesus entered Jerusalem and was celebrated; Maundy Thursday or the "Last Supper," when Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples; Good Friday, when Jesus was crucified on the cross; and Holy Saturday, the transition between crucifixion and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Although Easter is a holiday of high religious significance in the Christian faith, many traditions associated with the celebration date back to pre-Christian, pagan times. Some historians claim that the English word "Easter" comes from "Eostre" or "Eostrae," the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility. Others say the word derives from "in albis," a Latin phrase that is plural for "alba" of "dawn," which then became "eostarum" in Old High German, a precursor of modern English.
Easter is a holiday of high religious significance in the Christian faith
Despite its importance as a Christian holiday, many of the Easter traditions and symbols have their roots in non-Christian and even pagan or non-religious celebrations, as well as the Jewish holiday of Passover. Take the Easter bunny, for example. There are several reasons for the bunny's association with Easter, which stem from pagan celebrations or beliefs. The most obvious is the bunny's fertility, as Easter comes in the spring and celebrates new life. But it is also an ancient symbol of the moon, from which the date of Easter depends. The hare’s or rabbit’s burrow also helped the animal’s adoption as part of Easter celebrations. Believers saw the rabbit coming out of its underground home as a symbol for Jesus coming out of his tomb.
Another popular symbol is the Easter egg. Eggs are believed to have represented fertility, life and birth in ancient cultures and certain pagan traditions that preceded Christianity. Early Christians considered the connection of eggs to life and decided that eggs could be part of their celebration of Christ's resurrection. Since many of the earlier customs were of Eastern origin, some speculate that early missionaries or Crusaders may have been responsible for bringing the tradition to the West. However, just as with the Easter Bunny, there is no certainty as to why it became associated with Easter.

Easter traditions vary from country to country, from region to region. We asked three colleagues from Siemens Gamesa's Corporate Affairs department to share their Easter traditions with us:
Rubén Gordillo Rodriguez, Spain:
"Easter is the most important Christian festival in Spanish culture. Although it is celebrated throughout Spain, it has more significance in some regions than others. Generally, during Holy Week, the streets of Spanish cities are filled with Catholic brotherhoods and confraternities. They parade through the streets carrying on their shoulders what is called a religious image, and those present contemplate the march, which is usually accompanied by a band of musicians.

The two regions with the longest tradition of Holy Week are Andalusia, in southern Spain, and Castile and Leon, in the central-northern part of western Spain. It can be said that these two celebrations have always differed in that the one in Andalusia is more festive and the one in Castile and Leon is more somber.

Depending on which part of the country you are in, you will find in Spanish households certain sweets and desserts that are typical of Easter. 
Perhaps the star among these sweets is torrijas - a bread made with milk, egg and sugar. Another typical dessert comes from the Levante area, a stretch of Mediterranean Spain between Catalonia and Andalusia: the mona de pascua, a sponge cake filled with cream and chocolate or jam, topped with crème brûlée on the top and almonds on the sides."
Annette Anneberg Jensen, Denmark:

"Easter in Denmark has a lot to do with celebrating the coming of spring - that the season of long, dark nights is coming to an end and the sun is gaining strength. Families gather at home or in their summer cottages and eat lunch, which includes eggs of various kinds served with a cold Schnapps. And children go on Easter egg hunts to find the chocolate eggs hidden in the garden by the Easter Bunny.

Before Easter, it is an old tradition to send "gaekkebreve" (teaser letters) to tease someone you love and win an Easter egg.

Beautiful patterns are cut into the letter with scissors, a sample of the small and typical spring flower "vintergaek" is enclosed, and the text is a rhyme that involves the recipient guessing who the sender is. Instead of writing your name, put a period for each letter in your name. If the recipient cannot guess who the sender is in three tries, the recipient must buy an Easter egg for the sender. If the recipient can guess the sender's name, the sender must buy an Easter egg for the recipient. The famous storyteller Hans Christian Andersen was also a master at cutting ingenious teaser letters."

Easter traditions vary from country to country, from region to region
Lisa-Marie von Raepke, Germany:
"After a long winter, Easter in Germany is the first opportunity for many families to celebrate outdoors. In my family, the celebration is traditionally kicked off on Easter Sunday with the children's Easter egg hunt in the garden, followed by a big brunch and a walk to enjoy the mild spring air.

The centerpiece of the brunch is the “Osterzopf” or "Easter bread" - a braided sweet yeast bread that tastes best when freshly baked and still warm. Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a shortage of yeast around Easter and it became a big goal to find it in supermarkets. In the end, my mother had collected enough yeast to bake Easter bread for several months. Because of the lock-down at the time, a new one showed up on my doorstep almost weekly and we called it the "Corona bread."

Easter Sunday is marked by another important German tradition: the Easter bonfire. These large fires were meant to drive away winter and bring spring. Today, they are no longer celebrated for religious or superstitious reasons, but rather to gather with family, friends or neighbors from the community and enjoy drinks and food around a cozy fire. The occasional dance party into the wee hours of Easter Monday morning included.

With the pandemic still in full swing in Germany, we'll have to see how these traditions can be celebrated this year."

Happy Easter!

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