Cultural Rituals of Spring and Easter and Their Significance
by Maggie Thompson
Image by tobias_hanf*
Who doesn’t enjoy Spring? The turn of seasons is a radiant cycle, with the arrival of Spring being the most jubilant of all, resplendent with emerging delicate green buds, days of lengthening light, the return of migrating birds, animals venturing out from hibernation, blooming crocus, tulips, and daffodils, and fresh liveliness everywhere. Spring is the essence of rebirth and renewal.
Ancient celebrations of Spring
From ancient times, celebrations of Spring’s new beginnings can be traced to secular rituals of dying and rising gods.
The Greek goddess Persephone, abducted to the underworld by Hades, returned to earth each Spring, bringing new growth of green shoots with her. She was the personification of vegetation. Ancient beliefs in the cults of Persephone were based on initiation into jealously-guarded secret rites that offered prospects after death that were more enjoyable than a final gloomy end in the underworld.
The Egyptian god Osiris, murdered by his brother, was brought back to life by his wife. His return to life became tied to sprouting plants and the fertile flooding of the Nile in the Spring. He was known as god of the afterlife, symbolizing transition, resurrection and regeneration.
In ancient times, the Latins called the month of April, Eosturmonath. It is thought that mythology of the Germanic goddess Eostre evolved from this connection. Though little is written about her, Eostre seems to have been a divinity of the radiant dawn and upspringing light, who brings joy and blessing. In Anglo-Saxon times, she was honored and worshipped at the Spring equinox and has come to be associated with hares, eggs, the return of light, and other symbols of fertility and rebirth. Since the Christian celebration of Easter usually falls in April, some say Eostre’s hares and eggs have led to our present day proliferation of Easter bunnies and Easter eggs.
Easter: A Christian celebration
In Christianity, Easter celebrates life’s victory over death through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, establishing him as the Son of God. Those who trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection are promised eternal life. Jesus’s example is the core of Christian faith, making Easter the most important festival in the Christian calendar.
What about bunnies and eggs - secular or religious?
There are associations in English folklore between hares and the Christian celebration of Easter. In 17th century Southeastern England, there is evidence that hunting a hare on Good Friday was customary. In 18th century Coleshill, there was a manorial custom in which young men tried to catch a hare on Easter Monday.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, it was forbidden to eat eggs during Lent. They were brought to the table on Easter Day, colored red to symbolize Easter joy. Thus, eggs would have been in abundance for Catholic communities at Easter because the hens continued laying throughout the 40 days of Lent.
Many believe death is not the end
Whether coming from ancient myths, a secular perspective surrounding nature and the Spring equinox, or a Christian belief, the common ground is that Spring is a time marked by renewal – renewal of nature’s abundance and crops after Winter, or resurrection to a new life after death.
The loss of a loved one
How can these themes be tied to a loved one’s death or memorial service? At a time of loss, the symbolism around one or more of these themes can resonate and offer comfort and reassurance. Or, perhaps Spring was the favorite season of your loved one and you want to choose a final resting place that reflects Spring's colors and resurgence. There are many beautiful cremation urns with Spring motifs.
- The Plum Blossom Ceramic Urn for ashes symbolizes endurance and vitality, as flowers on the plum tree bloom early – a pledge of new life to come.
- Stained glass flower urns for ashes highlight stunning Spring foliage such as the White Lily, often associated with Easter’s promise of eternal life, and the Pink Tulip Stained Glass, evocative of enduring love.
- Iris cloisonne cremation urns hark back to the Greek Goddess Iris, a trusted guide along the path to heaven.
- Biodegradable urns of mulberry paper often feature embedded flower petals, as seen in the Floral Unity companion urn. Shaped like a heart, it is a meaningful expression of two lives shared, joined together again after death.
Planning a Spring memorial service when a loved one has died in Winter
In northern climates, burials are often delayed because the ground is frozen. Some cemeteries close in the wintertime and do not open again until the Spring thaw. The improved weather conditions of Spring can also ease travel for family members and friends who may be coming from a distance. Additional months between death and burial can allow more time to thoughtfully plan a memorial service without feeling rushed. Spring has an abundance of images symbolic of renewal, rebirth and new beginnings – an uplifting time of year to celebrate a life well-lived.
*Image can be found here: http://bit.ly/2Iz3uoC
Maggie Shopen Thompson, MFA, is a freelance writer and writing workshop facilitator in Montpelier, Vermont. She has had experience as a caregiver for her mother many years ago, and for her husband and daughter during their recent cancer treatments and recoveries. She is a contributing author/artist in Healing Art & Writing – using creativity to meet illness, curated and edited by Patricia Fontaine, published in August 2016.