A moveable feast

I apologise for copying this from my personal blog but it may be of topical interest over here too.

Easter is thought to be the origin of the phrase “moveable feast” because of the way the Easter holiday moves around according to the very simple rule of: [Easter Day is] the first Sunday following the first ecclesiastical full moon (which is the 14th day of an astronomical new moon) that occurs on or after the day of the Vernal Equinox (March 21st).

Once Easter Sunday is fixed a whole bunch of other stuff like Ash Wednesday (first day of Lent), Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day) as well as obviously the other Easter days, like Good Friday and Easter Monday all fall into place.

Since then, the phrase has been used, particularly in the US, as a metaphor for anything that moves around. This more modern use may have been helped along by Hemingway’s posthumously published memoirs of his life in 1920’s Paris, titled “A Moveable Feast”.

For anyone who might have just landed from Venus, or Mars, there are a few things associated with Easter and they vary slightly depending on where you are:

Easter Bunny (Rabbitkind generally)– this is very prevalent in the UK but not seen at all in Poland. The origins are Pagan but managed to “make the cut” and be incorporated into the new fangled Christian religion and then be sold back to the Pagans as the new improved religion as authorized by the powers that be. In second century Europe, the predominate spring festival was a wild Saxon fertility celebration in honor of the Saxon Goddess Eastre (Ostara), whose sacred animal was a hare. EDIT – Would you Adam & Eve it! As I exited the car park on the way home what was staring me in the face from Plac Defilad? A huge inflatable chocolate rabbit! Sponsored by a chocolate producer of course. Hopefully not signalling the invasion of Poland by chocolate rabbits from now on.

Eggs (painted, chocolate, etc) – this goes WAY back as far as you can imagine and then a bit further. My guess is that about a week after the first animal laid an egg, people started using eggs as a symbol of fertility and (in the case of Easter) of rebirth. The eggs are found everywhere at Easter but they tend to shift from painted eggs to chocolate ones as you move West. This Easter we have both.

Chicks (Chickens) – I suspect these are associated with the eggs but which came first? Must be a modern thing as there’s every chance the first animal to lay an egg was an alligator. Not sure the Easter basket would look the same with little fluffy alligators on it! Chicks, being cute, are equally popular here and in the UK.

Easter basket – I think the tradition of the Easter basket is associated with the end of the Lenten fast. The idea being to cram the basket with goodies that Satan has been tempting you with for the last 40 odd days, get them blessed and then stuff your face! Our local expert on Lenten fasting is Michael, you can find him in Jeziorki. There are, I’m sure some explanations given to the various items you might put into your basket – bread, butter, eggs, salt, meat, evergreen leaves/twigs, decorative cloth cover but I’m not going to get into that. The Easter basket is a much bigger deal in Poland than in the UK. The baskets are blessed by a priest who says a prayer and splashes them all with holy water. You can usually buy (take & contribute perhaps) small bottles of holy water at the church for home blessing. The basket blessing ceremony is called Święconka.

Easter lamb – the Baranek Wielkanocny is, as far as I can recall, not a big thing in the UK. I seem to remember something sheepy going on but not to the same extent as here. Here the lamb almost always comes with a ‘resurrection banner’ and is supposed to represent Christ Resurrected. The Lamb of God. Not sure about the bell?!*

Good Friday – this is the one thing I’m confused about but hopefully someone will help. Good Friday, i.e. today (this year), is a holiday in the UK and is treated as a serious part of the Easter festival. It is, so we are told, the day Jesus was crucified. I would have thought that such a day would also be important to Catholics and therefore be part of Easter here in Poland, but it is not. Today is a normal work day. There are, in Poland, some important church services this evening, of the long and tedious variety. I assumed therefore that it might be the case that Jesus was crucified late today and so the evening was the important moment. (They do have a tendency to get the timing better organised – take for example Christmas Eve versus Christmas Day) However, what little research I have done suggests that he was in fact crucified at around 09:00 this morning and by 14:00-15:00 this afternoon he was dead (so to speak). If this is the case, why is everyone going about their daily routine, sending emails and stuff at the very time such a special person is dying and going to join his father in heaven? It doesn’t make sense to me. On the one hand, I can understand how people might not consider his death to be something to get excited about. On the other, it is a momentous occasion in the life of Jesus and if it hadn’t been for his suffering & death then all that followed would be…. what?

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2 thoughts on “A moveable feast

  1. michael farris says:

    Good Friday is a very big holiday in some Catholic countries, sometimes more important than Easter Sunday (or Christmas).

    I don’t know why it isn’t in Poland.

    On the other hand, in most of the US both Dec. 26 and the day after Easter are regular working days.

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