Some of you may already be well into Lent, but there’s still more than enough time for a bit of Easter embroidery. Whether you’re observing the religious holiday or looking forward to some time off with a chocolate egg, I’ve got three new Easter patterns for you featuring motifs relating to different aspects of the holiday in my Etsy, Craftsy and South African shops.
There are quite a number of symbols and traditions associated with Easter, most of them murky in origin. The holiday is the most important of the Christian calendar, being a celebration of the resurrection of Christ. But it also falls at the start of spring on the seasonal calendar, in the northern hemisphere at any rate, which is ample reason to celebrate if you’ve ever experienced the icy grip of winter up north. And so the origins of the rituals and icons we’ve come to associate with Easter veer between the pagan, the religious and in modern times, the downright commercial. And mostly there is more than one story about how they originated.
Easter used to fall on any day of the week, for instance, rather than a Friday and a Monday as it does today. It’s said that the Easter weekend as we know it only came about after Emperor Constantine formed a committee to set the rules of the Easter schedule. The members of this committee decided that Easter Sunday would fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal or spring equinox. This fell on 21 March and so Easter could fall at any time during the following cycle of the moon.
The Christian tradition of Lent – representing the 40 days when Jesus fasted, resisting temptation and repenting of his sins – also played a role in determining the date on which Easter fell. French legend tells of the annual Mardi Gras, a pagan festival with origins in Egyptian custom and the original Valentine’s Day. It was a day on which people celebrated the goddess Venus, in search of fertility, and it fell on the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras translated as Fat Tuesday and the date was dependant on the equinox, much like during Emperor Constantine’s rule. It came to be seen as a day of release, on which to get everything out of the way through feasting and fun before embarking on the 40 days of Lent. And so the dates of Easter became intertwined with the date of the annual Mardi Gras. Either way, Easter has been called a moveable feast because of it not falling on a set date every year.
Interestingly, a French explorer by the name of Iberville was in Louisiana in the US during Mardi Gras in 1699 and apparently he was the one who introduced the festival to the town of New Orleans, sparking the well-known Mardi Gras parades and celebrations held there today.
Another US custom, the Easter parade in New York, originates from the Easter holiday. The parade started in the mid-1800s, when the upper classes strolled along Fifth Avenue after the Easter church services in their new spring outfits. New clothing and hats were usually bought around Easter time and seen as a symbol of new life, both at the start of spring and through the resurrection of Jesus. Average citizens started showing up to observe the wealthy and so began the parade, which still takes place in Manhattan today with participants sporting elaborate, decorated hats.
The exact origin of the word Easter is unknown. Some say it comes from Eostre, who was a goddess of spring and fertility. Others say is stems from the pagan goddess of spring, known as Eastre. Still others have traced it back to the Latin term “hebdomada alba”, which means white week and refers to the white clothing people used to wear when baptised at this time of the year. An error in translation resulted in the term “esostarum” used in Old High German and it eventually became Easter in English. Some researchers say the word Easter derives from the Spanish word for the holiday, Pascua, or Paques in French. These words in turn come from the Greek and Latin Pascha or Pasch, for Passover, which eventually came to mean Easter.