Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter celebrations

I will not delve too far into the religious significance of Easter for most Christians, or into liturgical colours during the Lenten and Easter periods, but will touch very briefly on some aspects about traditions. Many Easter traditions are not based on religion but centre on the arrival of the Spring Equinox.

During this season, we in the Caribbean used to make a big thing of flying kites (another Chinese invention from about 3000 years ago). The reasons for doing so at this time of year are obscure; some say that it alludes to the risen Christ. However, it reaches fever pitch in some places and is a national event in Guyana, where there are great breezes near the sea wall in Georgetown. In Jamaica and Barbados there is still kite flying, and Barbados has a national contest on Easter Monday, but the pastime seems a lot less popular now than when I was a boy, though someone nearby has had a kite hoisted for days and it's been humming day and night. I rediscovered kiting myself, after 40 odd years, a few Sundays ago. None of the neighboring countries in South America and the Caribbean have similar mass kite flying. Kite flying is popular in a lot of countries around spring time, when weather conditions are most favourable.

In Jamaica, Easter is associated with bun and cheese eating (see report in Jamaica Observer); though nowadays eating bun and cheese has become a daily possibility. The "Easter Bun" is loaf sized, sweet and spicy. Good Friday is also a day for eating fish, in many forms, and in the Caribbean going to the beach on Easter Monday is very popular.

Maundy or Holy Thursday is special for its fulfillment of Christ's commandment at the Last Supper to love one another, before he washed the feet of his disciples, and foot washing services are an important part of the Easter season. Another tradition is that of the British monarch giving "Maundy money"--alms to a selected group of people. The tradition of the sovereign giving alms to "the poor" stretches back to at least the 12th Century. This year the Queen broke with tradition and attended an interdenominational service in Northern Ireland, giving "Maundy money" to selected community leaders. As reported by the Press Association, "Her gifts, in red and white purses with ribbons, were carried on a silver platter by the Queen's yeomen, who bore ceremonial swords and wore red uniforms, hats with ribbons and traditional oversized white collars."

The Times published an article by Joanna Sugden on March 20, entitled "Ten things you didn't know about Easter". For ease of access, I take the liberty of reprinting some of it below.

The origin of the word Easter: Eostre was a goddess associated with the Spring Equinox, her symbols were the hare and the egg. The modern word Easter developed from this and the Old English word Eastre meaning from the east.

Why the date of Easter changes every year: The date of Easter is a moveable feast because it follows the date of the Spring Equinox and the cycles of the moon. It was agreed by Egyptian astronomers in Alexandria in 235AD. They determined that Easter Day would always be the first Sunday following the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. This is the way the Jewish people calculate the feast of Passover, during which the Crucifixion took place.

Why this Easter is particularly special: Easter Day this year is the earliest it has been since 1913 and will not fall as early for another 220 years. The earliest it can be is March 22.

Why not everyone celebrates Easter on the same date: The Eastern Orthodox Church have celebrated Easter on a different date from the rest of the Christian church since 1582 when the Gregorian calendar was introduced. The Orthodox Church, still following the Julian Calendar, will celebrate Easter on April 27 this year.

Why Good Friday is called 'good': Christians call the day Jesus was crucified "Good Friday" because they believe Christ's death saved them from being punished by God for their sins.

Why we have Easter Eggs: We eat 90 million of them every year but how did Easter Eggs come to be synonymous with Easter? The egg was a pagan symbol of fertility and new birth. When Christianity adopted theSpring Equinox celebration for the festival of Easter they also took on the egg as a symbol of the resurrection of Christ. Some believe it also represents the stone rolled away from the tomb. The first Easter eggs were painted and decorated hen, duck or goose eggs. By the 17th century manufactured eggs were available to give as Easter presents. The eggs became more elaborate and by the 19th century Carl Faberge, French jeweller to the Tsar of Russia, had become the last word in Easter decadence. The first chocolate eggs were made in Germany and France in the early 1800s, a trend that quickly spread across Europe, first as solid chocolate then the modern hollow egg.

Why Hot Cross Buns are only eaten at Easter: A law in 16th-century England limited bakers to a certain number of occasions when they could make special doughs used in Hot Cross buns. Until recently they could only be bought on Good Friday. The rhyme “one a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns” was based on the habit of selling them warm from baking.

The other symbols associated with Easter: The lily represents the resurrection of Jesus with the shell symbolizing the tomb and the flower the promise of life after death. Easter bonnets laden with flowers are worn to celebrate the end of a period of austerity during Lent.

Strange Easter traditions: In Medieval England the game of egg throwing was popular in churches at Easter. The choir would gather and the vicar would throw a hard- boiled egg among them. The egg was thrown around and the choirboy holding the egg when the church bell rang was the victor and got to keep the egg.

Modern Easter traditions - including modern day crucifixion: The Easter egg hunt on the south lawn of the White House began in 1878 by President Rutherford B. and Mrs. Hayes continues to this day. In the Philippines devout Catholics go to the extreme of re-enacting the Crucifixion, right down to the six inch nails used to nail Jesus to the cross. They flagellate themselves before some are raised on wooden crosses to show their penitence for their sins. In Britain more mundane activities have become a part of traditional Easter fare: We spend more on painting, decorating and garden equipment at Easter than at any other time of the year according to The Halifax.

I hope this helps you have a blessed and peaceful Easter weekend.

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