Although the spring equinox has come and gone, supposedly signalling the end of winter, you would not know it from the weather outside. We are in the last stages of an ice storm, a night of freezing rain and high winds having left roads icy and scattered full of downed branches. It is not a good day to be in the garden, but it is a good day to write a blog.
There was a full moon a week ago, one of those ‘super moons’ that looks brighter and larger than usual because it coincides with the perigee, when the orbit of the moon is closest to earth. These moons tend to have names; this was the Worm Moon, so called because the light is supposed to bring the earthworms to the surface of the newly unfrozen earth. The tides were extra strong that day, over 18 inches higher than normal, and that helped float the super-tanker which had managed to get itself stuck in the Suez Canal.
Here on the Island, we noticed the higher tides in the bay at Ellen’s Creek, but they weren’t strong enough to shift the old shopping cart that’s been stuck in the mud there for the past few months. It’s really only visible at low tide, sitting on a sandbank about three metres from the causeway. It must have been a very strong or cranky person who threw it there, unless (more likely) it was wheeled out one night during a winter storm, when the ice was strong enough to support its weight but there was nobody around to watch.
Today is the first Sunday after the first full moon following the northern spring equinox, and therefore it is Easter Day. As you unwrap your chocolate eggs or prepare the leg of lamb for dinner tonight, please say a word of thanks to the Council of Nicaea, a group of men who met, in 325 A.D., in a small city near present-day Istanbul and established the rule which sets the date for Easter, much to the chagrin of those who can’t understand why their holiday weekend keeps moving, “why can’t they just fix a date like they do with all the others?”. I’m not sure who “they” are, no doubt the same people who will hopefully decide that there will be no more springing forward and falling back with the clocks, just a simple year-round time.
Today also marks the end of Lent, that period of 40 days (plus Sundays) that precedes Easter and commemorates the 40 days Christ spent in the wilderness, getting tempted. It is traditional to give something up for Lent, although nowadays a lot of people try to add something to their lives instead. Rather that not eating French fries, or whatever, they try to do positive acts. One friend with whom I spoke yesterday has spent the past six weeks writing letters, one a day, to friends and family around the world. She did observe that she hasn’t received any letters back though, just e-mails saying thank you for writing! I gave up alcohol and red meat and, despite the nay-sayers who said this would be an impossible task for me, I kept my pledge. I must say that I am very much looking forward to the leg of lamb we’re having for dinner tonight, and to the red wine which will accompany it. I’ve got a couple of bottles of a nice cabernet franc that to my palate is a perfect match for lamb.
This morning when we were coming back from church the tide was going out, the shopping cart visible but ignored by the black ducks and ring billed gulls that bobbed in the channels. We don’t go to church a lot these days, what with all the limits on social gatherings, but truth to tell I didn’t really go that often even when I didn’t have the pandemic to blame. I suppose I’m part of that collective called C and E Christians, a pun on ‘Church of England’ (or Anglican) but really meaning ‘Christmas and Easter’, as those are the two big feast days.
For what it’s worth, today is the bigger of the two festivals, for although Christmas (Christ’s Mass) celebrates the birth of Jesus, Easter celebrates the resurrection – which is nowhere near as common an event. According to the Venerable Bede, writing 1318 years ago, the day is named in honour of Eostre, sometimes known as Ostara, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility.
Easter has long been a time of celebration, of bright new clothes and decorated eggs. The bright new clothes reflect the bright new growth one hopes to see in the garden while the decorated eggs, according to Germanic tradition, are from a time when Eostre was out for a walk and found a wounded bird. Worried that it could not fly, she turned it into a hare, but because she was in a bit of a rush, she didn’t finish the job properly. The next spring, the hare found that instead of having live young, it was laying eggs. This reminded it that it had been a bird. So, it decorated a couple of eggs and left them as a gift for the goddess, to say thank you for saving its life. One does wonder why a goddess couldn’t have simply fixed the wing.
In the 1700s there was a large immigration of settlers from Germany to the United States, mainly into Pennsylvania, some of whom then moved north to Canada in the 1780s. With them they brought their stories, including the ideas of decorated eggs and of Osterhase, the Easter Hare. Children would build ‘nests’ of sticks, and on Easter morning they would find decorated eggs lying in those nests. Over the next century or so the decorated eggs evolved into chocolate ones, and Osterhase morphed into the Easter Bunny, and with the help of early 20th century manufacturing and marketing skills, chocolate eggs became synonymous with Easter. It is perhaps no accident that Hershey’s is headquartered in Pennsylvania.
If nothing else, then, Easter should remind us to recognize that there were old ceremonies that the new religions commandeered. Colonization of the soul, as our First Nations friends have long tried to teach us, has a history of following close on from colonization of the land. But that’s a topic for another blog.