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Easter Traditions

HOLY WEEK OR THE GREAT WEEK


The climax of Lent is Holy Week, the seven days before Easter. It begins on Palm Sunday, commemorating Christ's triumphal ride into Jerusalem, where the populace greeted Him with palm branches. Passion plays are sometimes held to re-enact the suffering and death of the Lord.

To Christian believers, probably the most sombre day of the year is Good Friday, when Tre Ore services (Latin for "three hours") are held to symbolise the three hours Jesus hung on the Cross.

EASTER EGGS GALORE

The idea of Easter eggs goes back to the time of ancient Persia and Egypt and was also a part of the culture of the Germanic tribes of Europe. The latter believed that eggs were laid by Eostre's pet hare. The egg was easily taken over by Christian culture to symbolise new life. Just as a chick breaks out of its shell, so too, Jesus emerged from His tomb.


Easter eggs are coloured or otherwise decorated in a wide variety of techniques, including dyeing, painting and etching. The most ornate multicoloured eggs come from Poland's Ukrainian borderlands in the south-east, where designs are applied with molten wax. The egg is dipped in dye, then dried, again decorated with molten wax and immersed in yet another colour bath. This process may be repeated a number of times to create gaily patterned Easter eggs of four or more different colours.

The easiest Easter eggs to make are the solid colour variety. This is the favourite of small children on both sides of the Atlantic, since it suffices to dip a hard-boiled egg into a colour solution for several minutes. Some decorate their eggs with various decals. Those stick-ons that show smurfs, Ninja turtles or Disney characters are more kitchy and commercial than festive, as far as this writer is concerned!

EASTER LAMB OR RABBIT

If you were to ask people what a rabbit has to do with Easter, probably few would know the answer, regardless of whether you did the asking in the streets of New York or Warsaw. American youngsters would probably say that the Easter Bunny brings presents the way Santa Claus does at Christmas, but the origin of the custom would be known to almost none of them. That is because the hare has no connection whatsoever with the Christian Feast of Resurrection. The Osterhase (German for the mythical egg-laying hare belonging to the goddess Eostre) was simply adopted by some l9th-century stationer, giving rise to the millions of rabbit-covered Easter cards we see today. In cashing in on this craze, the chocolate factories were not far behind.

The Easter Lamb, shown with a banner of Resurrection, is the Christian adaptation of the sacrificial Paschal Lamb of the Jews. To Christians, the fleecy quadruped was the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, in other words the Redeemer who shed His blood to cleanse mankind of sin. For whatever reason, the chocolate industry is more partial to the Easter Rabbit than the Easter Lamb. In Polish tradition however, it is customary to place a lamb made of sugar, butter or even plastic in the Easter basket that is taken to church to be blessed.

Published by kind permission of "The World of English"


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