Easter time is one of my favourite times of year, because in Australia around Easter the light is gentle, crisp and golden. In contrast to its underlying symbolism and meaning, Easter in the Southern Hemisphere is in autumn and in Australia there is a mellowness and relief in the air, as though the earth is resting from the intensity of summer, and gently closing itself in, in preparation for the hibernation of winter soon to come.
In Christianity, the three days of Easter reflect and remember the story of the death of Jesus. Good Friday represents the day Jesus was put to death by the Romans, and so is a day of sorrow, and Easter Sunday is a day of rejoicing because in the Christian story, Jesus was resurrected two days after his death.
Tales of resurrection are not confined to Christianity. The Ancient Greeks, for instance, celebrated the story of Adonis, and carried effigies of his body through the streets in his honour, the Egyptians had the story of Osiris, and there are resurrection stories in many cultures including Scandinavian and Indigenous American and Australian cultures. The Graeco-Roman hero Heracles (Hercules) descended into Hades and returned, and was later rewarded with immortality by the gods.
Resurrection stories reflect the seasons of the earth and the cycle of life. Food crops are our main human source of sustenance, and these are closely and directly tied to the seasons. Spring is a time of replanting and renewal, and is a time of rejoicing after a long period of winter months of hardship and hibernation. The warmth and promise of spring enliven us and give us optimism and energy.
All the symbols of Easter then are symbols of fertility, resurrection and celebration. Eggs symbolise imminent rebirth, rabbits symbolise fertility, hot-cross buns which are traditionally eaten by Christians on Good Friday, represent the abundant use of dried fruits which historically got us through winter and which can be used up extravagantly with the return of spring and the coming of fresh fruit. Western and some other Christians have added decorative crosses to symbolise Christian understanding of death and resurrection. The bright colours with which we paint and now wrap eggs is a symbol of our collective joy at the return of spring and the “rebirth” of the earth following the “death” of winter.
The instinct for celebration and symbolism is central to our human psyche and keeps us alive, optimistic and looking forward. Whether we’re Christian or not, celebration and symbolism make us who we are as individuals, cultural groups and as a species.