Friday, March 30, 2018

Feet, Shoes and Superstition : Hot Cross Buns, Easter Eggs and the Easter Bunny

The reason we associate Easter with east or sunrise is because the name came from Eostre the Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn. Easter was the celebration of Spring and the beginning of the growing season. Followers of Eostre sacrificed oxen in her honour and baked buns with horns decorating the top. Small loaves on leavened bread scored with a cross were known to be found in ancient Egyptian tombs. The cross appears to have had no symbolic significance, or at least if it did, it has been lost in time.

It was also recorded the time of Easter in ancient Rome coincided with a festival to the worship of Mutunus Tutunus. During this festival people ate phallus shaped bread but the early Christians felt symbolism more associated with Christ would be better and the phallus was replaced with the Cross. This is thought to be a credible origin of today’s pastries. No one can be sure of the origin of the word bun but many believe it comes from the Old French word ‘bugne’, meaning, and “a swelling caused by a blow” The same origins for the word bunion. The word bun made its appearance in the English language about 1370.

Hot cross buns were known in the 18th century and referred to in Poor Robin’s Almanac for 1733. The first recorded mention was a street cry common to bakers.

The cry became children’s rhyme
“Hot cross-buns! Hot cross buns!
One a penny, two a penny, hot cross-buns!
If you have no daughters,
Pray give them to your sons!
One a penny, two a penny, hot cross buns!

One a penny, two a penny would imply there were two types of bun on sale.

To Pagans, the rabbit and hare were symbols of life and fertility because there was a plentiful source of food. During the spring months both became a focal reminder of procreation. By the 1600s the rabbit had become more associated with Easter festivities and was a custom known and practiced in Germany. Until the 18th century the term ‘cony’ (Pronounced cunny) was used to describe adult rabbits, and rabbit was the preferred name for young rabbits. “Cunny” was also an Old English colloquialism for female genitalia and so cunny had to become bunny, hence the Easter Bunny.

The first edible Easter Bunnies were made in Germany during the early 1800s and were made of pastry and sugar. The Easter Bunny was introduced to America in the 1700s by the German settlers to Pennsylvania Dutch country. The Easter Bunny or Osterhase (pronounced in the dialect of the region Oschter Haws) was a major figure in the calendar of children and his arrival on the day before Easter would equate to the arrival of Christkindl (Kris Kindle) on Christmas Eve. Many of the old myths were described in the writings of fairy tales which became very popular in the 19th century.

In legend, the Easter Bunny brought baskets full of coloured eggs to the homes of good children on the night before Easter. The Easter Bunny would either put the baskets in a designated place or hide them somewhere in the house for the children to find when they wake up in the morning. As a variation children started to build nest for the magical birds that laid the eggs. The children used their hats and bonnets and the nest were usually in out of the way places on the farm. Fearing the loss of expensive clothing the frugal parents sought out the nests and filled them with coloured eggs. Somehow the roles were reversed and parents hid the eggs so as the children would take pleasure in finding them.

As the custom spread throughout the 18th century the nests became Easter Baskets. There does not appear to be any attempt to infer the rabbits laid the eggs but the symbolic combination of eggs for fertility; and rabbits for procreation were enough.

No one can be sure why the eggs had to be coloured but certain colours such as red and green were symbolic of life and growth respectively. Eggs were not eaten during Lent (the fast kept by devotees prior to Easter) so it may be eating brightly coloured eggs may have had some celebratory significance to Catholics. It has also been suggested endulging in egg eating throughout Lent may have been a Protestant preoccupation.

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