Though Easter Monday has been celebrated for years and years, the name of the holiday was officially changed in 1995 to Family Day. The Monday follows the weekend after Good Friday, which means South Africans get a long weekend to spend with their families.

We take a look at the history of the day and what it means to South Africans.

The origins of Easter

Before Easter became a traditional Christian holiday, it was a pagan celebration. Though many religious people get rather upset at hearing statements like these about their holidays and observances, the fact remains that the Roman Empire specifically adopted pagan rituals of conquered people in an effort to assimilate and convert them more easily. A tactic which worked incredibly well.

Although many people believe Easter to be derived from Ishtar (the goddess of love, war, sex, protection, childbirth and marriage), it seems to actually be derived from the German, Eostre, which is the goddess of the dawn and bringer of light (whose power was symbolised by a rabbit). It also seems to have a Latin connotation – tying in to the word ‘pascha’, which is derived from the Hebrew ‘pesach’ – also associated with passover.

Irrespective of how you want to look at it, though, Easter has a rich and interesting origin and some of the intrinsic ways of celebration are still contained in the way we celebrate it today.

The eggs, for instance, can be seen as symbols of rebirth which traditionally symbolised the rebirth of Ishtar or Eostre, but has been transformed into a general understanding of rebirth and tied to Christianity – especially under certain cultures who paint it red to commemorate Christ’s blood which was spilt for us. The egg also has different spiritual and esoteric meanings in the Chinese, Finnish, Zoroastrian, Hindu and Egyptian cultures and religions.

It became a predominantly Christian symbol with the adoption of the Phoenix as Christian symbol in the first century AD. Additionally, the abstinence from milk, cheese, butter and eggs during Lenten, saw children going door to door to beg for eggs before the fast began.

The Easter bunny, of course, is also tied into this celebration somehow. Some believe it to be tied back to the fertility goddesses, while others think it to be tied to the popular medieval belief that the hare could reproduce without virginity loss – which of course made the hare a perfect symbol for the Virgin Mary.

But the direct correlation of the hare to Easter seemed to have originated among the German Lutherans whose folkloric ‘Easter Hare’ was a judge who evaluated the behaviour of children at the start of the Eastertide season. The legendary creature was said to carry coloured eggs and candy in a basket, rewarding well-behaving children. The egg-giving hare was then carried to the USA in the 18th century by Protestant Germans who spread the story of the ‘Osterhase’ and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Easter we know in South Africa

Of course, none of that has really mattered to South Africans in celebrating Easter, as symbolism is essentially contained in one’s own perceptions and intentions in observing special days. And in South Africa the day has always been about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Following the commemoration of his crucifixion on Good Friday, Easter Monday – for Christians – is always a day of celebrating Jesus’s sacrifice and triumph over evil. It’s a day which makes us reflect on our sins, the sacrifice made by our spiritual leader, and victory over death and sin.

Of course, for our younger kin, the day has always represented an adventure as little feet pitter-patter throughout the yard looking for Easter eggs and bunnies in all shapes and sizes.

Family day – a day for togetherness

At first many Christians were upset at the renaming of Easter Monday, but essentially the date has stuck and not much has changed in the way we celebrate it – it is still a local and worldwide observance which can be celebrated in whichever way we desire.

People from all walks of life and all faiths can spend the day bonding together, spreading love, acceptance and compassion in a way which is suitable to their individual or familial faith and needs.

Happy Family Day, from everyone at finglobal.com!

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