Just as there are many traditions surrounding the celebration of Easter, there are many stories and legends surrounding the origin of its name. To some, it is the history and celebration of spring; for others it is a day to remember deliverance; for many it is the celebration of new life.
As a young adult, I was told the origin of the name came from Estrus or Oestrus, a time when female animals were becoming pregnant and giving birth.
This made sense and I believe it to this day, though it can’t be found on Google, which maintains it’s a regular period of sexual excitement in female mammals — except humans.
One pedantic origin is possibly Eostre — a pagan Anglo-Saxon goddess said to have been the goddess of the sunrise and the spring. She is the Teutonic goddess of the dawn, which occurs in the east. Eastre is believed to be an ancient word for spring.
The name also may have been lost in translation. The Franks, Germans who settled in Rome during the fifth century, included the word alba, meaning white, in their celebration of Christ’s resurrection. It also meant sunrise, but when the name of the festival was translated into German, the sunrise meaning, ostern, was selected, likely in error. One theory is that Ostern is the origin of the word Easter.
Linguists still ponder how the word Easter originated and what it means today.
I relate it to estrogen and the emergence of new life, a renewal.
Eggs, to me, are symbols of this renewal and coloring or painting them adds the beauty of resurrection.
Children “hunt” eggs in community events, gathering them from the ground and placing them in baskets. There are “prize” eggs for bigger and better things than eating boiled eggs or opening plastic ones.
The prize, to me, is the promise of tomorrow.
For years, I colored eggs with my sons, who are now grown men. At some point, they discovered girls and forgot coloring eggs, but did they? Courtship often yields renewal.
The grandchildren have been the same. We colored eggs and took pictures, and then schoolwork and friends overshadowed that tradition.
Going to church was a given for the boys, but their interests changed.
Receiving a new outfit was a treat for me and my mother was dedicated to attending a sunrise service, which was always held outdoors and always cold. My dress was covered with a coat, which I got to take off for the church services. My muddy patent leather shoes were always in need of resurrection.
After my sons were born, I tried to continue the tradition, but my mom was tired and aging and I must have sent the wrong message.
The weekend will come. I will feel reverence for Good Friday, photograph egg hunts Saturday and spend Sunday praying for peace on earth.
I see buds on the lilac bush and the perennials are breaking ground. Someone is trying to give away kittens and puppies and calves nestle with their mothers in the meadows.
My fading faith is awakened.