Valdosta Daily Times

March 30, 2013

Stories behind ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

LAKELAND — Christ comes from the Greek word, “Christos,” meaning “the anointed one.”



Easter

Easter is this weekend and it is the celebration of Christ rising from the dead after the Crucifixion and ascending to Heaven. “For God so loved the world,” as John 3:16 promises in the New King James Version, “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Yet, the term “Easter” is derived from a pagan ritual the Saxons once held at the start of spring to honor Eastre, the goddess of dawn. Since Christianity’s celebration of the Resurrection was held at approximately the same time of year, the church adopted the pagan Easter name to help convert the tribes of England to Christianity. As Christianity spread from the Middle East to Rome then throughout Europe, the religion has often adopted the overtaken pagan rituals, customs and dates (from the Christmas tree to the timing of the Christmas celebration) to more easily convert past pagans and protect themselves.

“It would have been suicide for the very early Christian converts to celebrate their holy days with observances that did not coincide with celebrations that already existed,” according to wilstar.com. “To save lives, the missionaries cleverly decided to spread their religious message slowly throughout the populations by allowing them to continue to celebrate pagan feasts, but to do so in a Christian manner.”



Easter Bunny

In trying to placate pagans while simultaneously converting them, the Easter bunny hopped onto the scene. One may think the Easter Bunny is part of a more recent trend to commercialize holidays, but it is not. Like Santa Claus, which is just a childlike way to say St. Nicholas, the Easter Bunny’s connections to the Resurrection celebration are as old as the name Easter. For the pagan goddess Eastre’s symbol was the rabbit. Immigrant Germans are credited or blamed, depending on your viewpoint, with bringing the Easter bunny tradition to America.

 

Easter Eggs

Why does the Easter bunny bring Easter eggs? Well, this question is similar to the old which came first, the chicken or the egg routine; however, here, the egg came before Easter and the Resurrection, according to many scholars. Many ancient societies prior to Christianity made a habit or ritual of trading eggs in the spring.

Swapping eggs was viewed as a sign of goodwill and a blessing of prosperity on a neighbor and his home, fields, and family. Many cultures viewed the egg as a symbol of rebirth to coincide with the rebirth of spring. Like adding a bow to the wrapping of a present, many of these ancient populations wrapped the eggs in leaves or boiled them with plants and flowers to color the shell.

As with many of its traditions, Christianity assimilated the egg custom, too.



Easter Sunday

Easter wasn’t always Easter Sunday, either. For the first few centuries of Christianity, the Resurrection was celebrated on various days of the week. It was Constantine, the Roman emperor who converted to Christianity and made it the religion of the land, who helped move the Resurrection celebration to Sunday.

In the year 325 A.D., Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea, which determined numerous matters within Christianity. The council decided that Easter should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the first day of spring.

This is why some years, Easter is in late March — like this year, or late in April, or somewhere in between during other years.



Dogwoods

There is an Easter legend of the small but beautiful dogwood tree. In the days of Christ, this legend tells, the dogwood tree grew as thick, as tall, and as mighty as the oak. Its wood was perfect for building and carpentry.

Its wood was perfect for the Roman capital punishment of crucifixion. Romans used the wood of the dogwood tree for making solid crosses.

So, the tale goes, that a maker of crosses learned that he was to build a cross for a man whom many called the King of the Jews.

He ordered the wood be cut from an especially large dogwood.

The wood was so heavy and thick that the battered muscles of Jesus could not bear its weight as he walked to Golgotha, and Simon had to carry it for Him to Calvary.

In Jesus’ passing, the crossmaker discovered that his mighty dogwood trees had been diminished. Their strong, thick wood reduced to thin, gnarled trunks and limbs. Wood from dogwood trees would never bear such a burden again, but they would bear beautiful blossoms. White flowers, with red markings, which some say still to this day represent the bloodstains on that old, rugged cross of dogwood.