Easter: life never ends and love never dies

About Eritrea - History & Culture

Tomorrow is Easter; to Christians it is one of the most cherished holidays. For children of the world it is special, be it the new outfit, the sunrise Sunday service, or the family feast throughout the day. To the old it is with a big grin that they remember the Easter of their childhoods. Easter reminds us that life never ends and love never dies, said Author Kate Mcgahan, hence the title of the article.

Xom Arba’a or the Lent as it is known is a season of soul-searching and repentance. It is a season for reflection and taking stock. Lent originated in the very earliest days of the Church as a preparatory time for Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves and when converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. By observing the forty days of Lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days. All churches that have a continuous history extending before AD 1500 observe Lent. The ancient church that wrote, collected, canonized, and propagated the New Testament also observed Lent, believing it to be a commandment from the apostles.

Literally speaking fasting is abstaining from food (eating and drinking) as a religious duty that is required of all believers. During Lent, the Church is open every day, for longer periods (4 am- 22:30pm) with the church service held at noon. Fol lower s fast during the 55 day Lenten period. No dairy products, meat, fish or eggs are eaten. However, fasting is an act of sacrifice, which means an act of self-denial and humiliation under the hands of God. It is denying comfort to our flesh, but feeding strength to our spiritual personality. As St. John Chrysostom put it, “fasting implies not only abstinence from food, but from sins also. The fast, he insists, should be kept not by the mouth alone but also by the eye, the ear, the feet, the hands and all the members of the body: the eye must abstain from impure sights, the ear from malicious gossip, the hands from acts of injustice.” Like all our faithful fathers and mothers we do also fast to ask God for the safe journey of our Christian faith. For instance, if we go back to the book of Ezra we read “I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possession (8: 21).

After 55 days of fasting, Easter rituals start with ague’se’ana or Hossanna (Palm Sunday). People are accustomed here to craft rings from palm leaves. You need special skill to make it.

And then we have H’mamat (Passion or the Suffering of Jesus Christ from the Last S upper until his Crucifixion). Many people abstain from worldly things like dancing and booze. The days after Hosanna are a bit gloomy. However, hamus stgbo (Maundy Thursday) seems to brighten things up a little bit. Boiled legumes a r e given t o children and adults alike. One can eat as much as one likes.

All this time, mothers are busy buyin g new clothes and footwear for the children. The more children you have, the more you worry. Sometimes you wish you had used birth control pills. The nine children you brought into this world are going to cost you a lot of money. Now you have to take anger control pills.

And then comes Arbi Siklet (Good Friday). Again, back to square one. Gloom takes over. Some people wear the Christ’s thorn or Spina Christ, a spreading shrub belonging to the GABA, around their head. Women go to the church and repeat Kyrie Eleison until four or five in the afternoon.

Of all the days of H’mamat, Saturday is the most mysterious. To start with it doesn’t have a special name like Good Friday or Maundy Thursday. And you don’t know what to do with it the whole day.

Anyway, it is the day when people go to the cattle market and haggle the whole day with diehard merchants who don’t give a damn to how people feel about the astronomical price they quote. Some buyers prefer to ‘ambush’ the peasants who come to town to sell their livestock.

Another way of acquiring food is that there is a special Eritrean custom. A group of people buy a cow or an ox, slaughter it and share the flesh, referred to as (Guzzi). This is a long tradition in Eritrea that shows the cohesion or cooperative nature of the society against individualism.

It may not be affordable or is a tedious job for one family to buy and carry a whole cow. Hence, the feasible way is to form a group, buy a cow and share it so that everybody can happily celebrate Easter.

It is not unusual to observe a day before Easter people lining up before shops to buy Panettone and then carry it home in flocks. Being affordable almost for everybody, it seems, at least in the cities, that it is winning favor over the traditional bread, Himbasha, on holidays.

In the early morning of Easter fathers slaughter a sheep, a goat or, at least, a hen. Most people prefer a sheep to a goat but some argue a goat is much cheaper and has much more meat. Mothers or daughters take the last steps of brewing Swa, homemade beer. bake Injera, a thin flat spongy bread preferably made of taff flour and cook Zgni, a hot meat stew. Green straw (Setti) is spread on the floor and maybe a soothing incense smoke fills the room.

The whole event is very exciting and every family member contributes at some point during the whole process.

In the afternoon and evening adult males stroll through the city streets to meet friends, or take fresh air or a little constitution to help them digest the heavy meal. Many of them attired in their white Habesha costume, a long loosely worn shirt (Shifon) and fine cotton shawl (Netzela) over strangely tailored trousers, which one might think were made for horse riders (Gtr). Their final destination is a coffee house, Swa local or Myes local where they sip a beer, Swa, Myies (a liquor made from fermented honey) cappuccino or whatever they enjoy to drink.

Around the world Easter is celebrated in different ways.

In France, French children don’t get treats from the Easter bunny; they get them from the Easter bells. According to Catholic teaching, no church bells can ring between Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil, on account of the solemnity of the days around Jesus’s death. Eventually, a legend evolved that said the church bells weren’t rung because they grew wings and flew to Rome to be blessed by the Pope. Then they returned Easter day with chocolate and presents for local kids.

In India, even though Christians only make up 2.5 percent of the population, they still have elaborate Easter festivities, especially in the northeastern states. The western India state Goa celebrates with carnivals, complete with street plays, songs, and dances. People exchange chocolates, flowers, and colorful lanterns as gifts.

In Italy, On Pasqua (“Easter” in Italian), residents of Florence celebrate a 350-year-old tradition called scoppio del carro, which means “explosion of the cart.” A centuries-old cart is loaded with fireworks and pulled in front of the Duomo, where spectators watch the pyrotechnics go off. It is meant to be a sign of peace and a good year ahead. South of Florence is the town Panicale, where the big celebration happens the day after Easter (called Pasquetta, or little Easter). Locals gather for the annual Ruzzolone, a competition that involves rolling huge wheels of Ruzzola cheese around the perimeter of the village.

The day before Easter, it is a tradition in Poland for families to prepare a “blessing basket.” It is filled with colored eggs, sausages, bread, and other important food and taken to church to be blessed. In Polish culture, Lent is not over until a priest blesses this basket. Like their Italian neighbors, the Polish save their most notable tradition for the day after Easter: Smigus Dyngus. Young boys try to get girls (and each other) wet with water guns, buckets of water, and any other means they can think of. Legend has it that girls who get soaked will marry within the year.

In Australia, some Australian kids are visited by the Easter Bunny, but rabbits are considered pests because they destroy the land. (Come on, Australia— they’re so cuddly!) So some Australians associate Easter with a different animal. In 1991, the Anti-Rabbit Research Foundation started a campaign to replace the Easter Bunny with the Easter Bilby. Bilbies have big, soft ears like rabbits and long noses like mice, and they’re endangered, another reason for publicity around the campaign. There is also the Sydney Royal Easter Show, the largest annual event in the country. Farming communities showcase their crops and livestock, and urban dwellers get to experience a slice of rural life. The two-week show (always spanning over Easter weekend) also includes rides and the Sydney Royal Rodeo.

In Latin America, many Latin American countries, Brazil, and certain regions of Spain participate in the Burning of Judas. Residents make an effigy (or multiple effigies) of Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, and burn it in a central location. Sometimes, people make the effigy explode with fireworks.

One of the biggest Easter celebrations takes place in Seville Spain, where 52 different religious brotherhoods parade through the streets manifesting the crucifixion, with thousands watching the daily processions of marching bands and decorated candle-lit floats heaving with Baroque statues illustrating the Easter story.

In Greece, the island of Corfu gets pretty messy on the morning of Holy Saturday. Residents take part in the annual “Pot Throwing,” and it is exactly what it sounds like. They throw pots, pans, and other earthenware out of windows. Since the tradition marks the beginning of spring, it is supposed to symbolize the new crops that will be gathered in new pots.

And, of course, in the United States, the President hosts the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn on Easter Monday. The tradition, believed to date back to the early 19th century, involves children rolling a colored hard-boiled egg with a large serving spoon.

Happy Easter Everyone!