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A Very British Easter

It's Easter Monday! To honour this chocolate-y Christian holiday, this week we're bringing you an easter edition of Life in the UK.

Traditionally, Easter is one of the most important Christian holidays, and is celebrated to mark the rebirth of Jesus.

Yet, not many people know that Easter in Britain has its beginnings in Paganism, long before the arrival of Christianity.

Where did Easter come from?

Some theologians believe that Easter is named after Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and the dawn.

The roots of this belief can be found in the writings of the Venerable Bede, an English Benedictine Monk (later made a saint) who resided in the North-East of England between 600 and 700 AD.

A depiction of the Goddess Eostre
A depiction of the Goddess Eostre

As Spring is the season of birth and growth within nature, it makes sense that the most popular springtime festival would pay tribute to such a Goddess - however, some suspect that Bede could have mis-reported the details of these springtime celebrations.

Regardless, one thing we do know for certain is where the familiar easter imagery comes from.

Before the arrival of Christianity in England, the hare (a large, rabbit-like creature) was popular as a pagan symbol of fertility.

The Easter bunny: not a rabbit, but a hare
The Easter bunny: not a rabbit, but a hare

The hare is a symbol of fertility due to its unique ability to conceive young whilst pregnant: whilst the Pagans did not have the scientific or technological know-how to discover this fact, they were aware of the creature's idiosyncratic mating rituals.

As such, it was believed that these strange and graceful creatures carried the dawn light of Eostre as she lit up the skies for spring after the dark winter.

So, how did the humble hare turn into an Easter Bunny?

To put it simply, the two are very similar animals - rabbits are like a smaller version of the hare. We can think of the contemporary Easter Bunny as a descendant of Eostre's light-wielding hares.

But what about the chocolate eggs?

Throughout the world, eggs have been a symbol of life and re-birth since antiquity. As spring is seen as a season of rebirth - chicks hatch from eggs, lambs are born, and the weather begins to get warmer - egg imagery is used to adorn celebrations of spring.

In the UK, the tradition of painting or decorating eggs a long-standing one, and many families still participate.

Another traditional Easter-time activity is 'egg rolling': a game in which real eggs are rolled against one another or down a hill, and the owner of the egg that stayed un-cracked the longest wins.

In some areas across the country - such as Preston in Lancashire - an annual, town-wide egg roll is held!

Egg-rolling in Preston, Lancashire
Egg-rolling in Preston, Lancashire

Nowadays, it's common custom to give each other Easter eggs made of chocolate. Across Britain, children (and even some adults) hunt for chocolate Easter eggs hidden about the home or garden by the Easter bunny.

No matter how you celebrate Easter, whether with real eggs, chocolate eggs, christian prayer or even egg-rolling, we hope you enjoy the festivities!

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