It’s Easter in the UK and the shops are full of Easter
eggs, hot-cross buns and Easter bunnies.
Although Easter is widely seen as a Christian festival which
celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, its origins pre-date Christianity
and many of its symbols come from the earliest civilisations.
Our modern festival’s roots lie in ancient seasonal
rituals which marked the transition from the "death" of winter to the new
life and rebirth of spring.
These days we give chocolate eggs as gifts
at Easter but eggs have been symbols of fertility for thousands of years.
The ancient Persians gave each other painted eggs for
the festival of Nowrooz, a celebration held at the spring equinox which
marked the start of Persian New Year. The tradition continues to this day.
Centuries ago the early Saxon people marked
buns with a cross to honour their goddess Eostre, whose name some
people believe to be the origin of the word Easter. It is believed that early
Christians incorporated such pagan festivals into their religion.
Some experts say the Easter bunny was originally a
hare as this animal represented fertility and growth in pagan
mythology due to its capacity for reproduction. Moreover, in some ancient
cultures the hare was also a symbol of the moon, which is significant as the
date of Easter changes each year depending on the lunar cycle.
The Easter bunny has become an important symbol of Easter all
over the world. But nowadays not everybody treats such symbols with respect.
Pranksters in the Austrian town of Villach have stolen
a giant Easter Bunny from the town square. Local police say it should not be too
difficult to spot as it is two metres tall and weighs 60kg.