Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Early Easter Customs

Shifts in Easter Folklore
Anglo-Saxon King Alfred

Folklore is living lore. While the primary message folktales, fairytales, and legends delivers, such as understandings about what is acceptable behavior, the actual bearer of that message can be adapted to fit particular situations and settings.

Take the trickster, for example, this character can be a deity, human, animal or some combination of each. It is very clever, possesses special knowledge and can play tricks that allow for unconventional behavior. In Navajo culture, the trickster is a coyote who can fool humans and other deities. For the ancient Greeks, it was Hermes, the patron of thieves and viewed as the inventor of lying.

Changes also occurred in holiday customs and traditions. One of the most obvious examples of this is the evolution of the Christian Easter from earlier Anglo-Saxon spring celebrations.

Spring Fertility Goddess

According to the English Heritage Blog,  Easter itself was originally a spring feast honoring the Saxon spring fertility goddess Eostre, in the season of Eosturmonath. For the Saxons who came from the Netherlands the day was called Osterday (Easter Day) and for the Germans who also came to Britain after the Roman soldiers left around 410 AD, it was known as Ostern.

Interestingly, linguistic research indicates that the root of these names is the direction East, which refers to the fact the sun rises directly in the east at the spring equinox.

Over time the focus of the folklore surrounding the festivities shifted. Christians adapted the traditions to reflect a new set of beliefs. Easter then became about the Christian belief in the resurrection of Christ at Easter. It has been noted that during the Tudor period in England, while ancient lore still said that the sun danced with joy at the revival of the season, it came to link the rising sun with Christ.

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