Life in the Pedestrian Lane: By any other name …

“In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it, you’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade.”

Does that conjure up memories of big flowered hats and patent leather shoes? Maybe even tulips and daffodils? Irving Berlin’s great song highlights one of the favorite secular traditions of the most important Christian celebration of the year.

At least one of my calendars says today is Resurrection Sunday but most of us still call it Easter: the first Sunday after the first full moon after the first day of Spring. I asked a young pastor friend about the change and he said he and some of his minister colleagues had started using “Resurrection Sunday” because of the pagan implications of the word Easter.

I think we are all aware of the so-called pagan influence on the traditions of an equinox celebration including colored eggs and rabbits but I had not ever heard that the word “Easter” itself was also steeped in that culture. So, curiosity being one of the outstanding facets of my personality (my sisters have gone so far as to call it “Nosy”) I decided to do a little research to see if I could at least find the beginnings of the word and in the process more about our Christian celebration of Easter and how it conforms (or not) to non-Christian beliefs and that led me to Irving Berlin.

New clothes for Easter were mentioned by several writers in 16th century writings and by Pepys in the 17th century. Poor Robin, in his 18th century almanac even went so far as to say “At Easter let your clothes be new, or else be sure you will it rue” implying bad luck if you didn’t have something new for that celebration. Berlin’s “Easter Bonnet” came at the end of the depression, and emphasized the Easter Parade as it was known in New York City. Not too many places have an Easter Parade these days, but it is fun to remember the time when ladies wore hats to church and everyone shone in their new apparel on Easter Sunday.

Another thing I learned was that the crucifixion is the one historical event of Jesus’ life of which there is no doubt. Historians, both religious and secular, have perused documents from that period, examined biblical accounts for clues and otherwise combed the archives of the last 2,000 years and can say definitely that a man named Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by the Roman soldiers at Golgotha. In the past few years the historians believe they have also pinpointed the exact day using those same documents and also geological information about an earthquake that occurred (coincidentally…) on April 3, 33 A.D.

So, if that information is correct, this year we are actually celebrating Easter or Resurrection Sunday on the day it really happened, if you discount calendar changes in the past 20 centuries.

But for the term “Easter,” things weren’t so clear. Apparently, as early as the first century, the Germanic word “Ostern” was used to name the celebration because it has the same meaning as Passover, the Jewish celebration during which the crucifixion and resurrection took place and from which it is dated. However, just to confuse the issue, the Venerable Bede described a month-long spring celebration, “Eostre,” being named after a pagan goddess of Spring, and corresponding to April on the calendar. So, it’s a toss-up. Another pastor friend (a little older) said it’s still Easter to him, but then he’s never liked change much.

We are fortunate in Kenai to be part of a community that celebrates both the Western Christian and Eastern Christian traditions. The main thing that separates them is the date, the Eastern religion counting its date on the Julian calendar. The Holy Assumption of Mary Russian Orthodox Church will be celebrating Pascha on April 12.

Whatever the name, Easter has always conjured up thoughts of spring, even in Alaska, probably because of the connection to the equinox as a means of deciding the date of the moveable feast. We will each celebrate in traditional ways, depending on our upbringing. Many will attend church, some even go to a sunrise service, and then retire to a family dinner or brunch. Sometime earlier in the week the youngsters in the family have probably dyed eggs and this year for once in a long time, they are not hiding them in the snow. (I have to submit this several days ahead, so If I jinxed the weather with that statement, I apologize.)

Whether we refer to the event as Resurrection Sunday, or as Easter, and whether it is today or next week, for sure it is the most blessed celebration of the Evangelical year. And if perchance you choose to ignore the Christian celebration (as some may do) Spring in Alaska is always good for a major jubilee!

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai. Reach her at vewalters@gci.net.

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