One cannot help but to give thanks to the Creator for the green blanket that is currently covering most parts of Namibia. Upon seeing the desert come alive, feelings of rebirth, abundance & fertility are very much justified seeing that Easter is on our doorstep.
What started as a pagan festival celebrating Spring in the northern hemisphere and is strongly associated to the spring equinox, many different religions associated this period with the resurrection of the Egyptian god Horus, the Greek god Dionysus or Jesus Christ. The Jewish spring festival of Passover that is celebrated around the same time is said to have been one of the roots for the word “Pascha”, but others claim that the origin of Easter hails from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of the spring equinox and renewal, Eostre.
In any case, one of the unique characteristics of the Easter holiday is the flexible nature of the date when it is celebrated. The first Christian church council decided in 325 BC that the holiday should be celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon of the Spring equinox. Therefore, the world population, Christians or pagans alike, celebrates Easter every year somewhere between March 22 and April 25 and therefore it is often called “a moveable feast”.
Western Christians commence the “passion of Christ” with a series of events starting with Palm Sunday, Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem and on Ash Wednesday with Lent, a 40-day period of fasting, prayer, and sacrifice. The Holy Thursday remembers Jesus’ Last Supper with the 12 apostles, where he indicated his sacrifice by breaking the matzah bread and symbolically stating this was his body and the red wine they consumed as being his blood. Good Friday marks the beginning of the holiday and observes Jesus’ death by crucifixion, closely followed by his resurrection 2 days later.
Whether one observes the Easter holiday from a religious perspective or not, it is a suitable time to reconnect with the cycles of earth, especially since in the Southern hemisphere where we reside, we go into autumn. It is one of our favorite holidays spent together with our families, be it camping in Damaraland or merely in the comfort of our homes. In Africa we have also adopted many of the traditions that go hand in hand with this holiday worldwide.
With slight adaptations due to our strong sun, in Africa we also hide chocolate eggs with marshmallow inners and decorate boiled eggs in our gardens for our children’s’ egg hunt. The egg has always been an ancient symbol of life, and the yolk represents Jesus for many. It is said that people observing Lent painted the eggs red to depict the blood of Christ, breaking their fast. This practice of painting eggs was already a custom for the Persians during their Spring festival, whilst the Hindu population sees the structure of the universe in the shape of eggs.
Did you know that we in fact have the world’s largest bird egg? Our ostriches produce giant eggs that hold the equivalent of as many as 24 chicken eggs in one! In the USA, a longstanding tradition invites children to roll eggs on the lawns of the White House; can you imagine the impact of doing that with ostrich eggs? Other cultures hold great significance to this tradition as well as to them, it symbolizes the rolling away of the stone that covered the tomb of Jesus.
We eat free roaming, grass fed lamb like many cultures around the world and our favorite way of cooking this is on our braai, whether in nature or on our stoep. In Belgium, catholic families make fluffy, lamb shaped ice cream dessert cakes that contain strawberry sauce inside which is spilt upon slicing the cake. Yet the best adaptation of the symbols of Easter must be our version of the Easter bunny, the spring hare!
Neither hare nor rabbit, this unique genus, Pedetes capensis, is the coolest rodent around. Very much comparable in appearance to a mini kangaroo, our “African easter bunny” has the fastest short speed run at up to 80 km/hr. This prolific burrower, called Buck or Jack for a male and Doe or Jill for a female, has exceptionally large eyes, a thick neck, and long narrow ears. Our hopping version has long back legs and short fore legs with sharp claws, jumping easily up to 2-3 meters if necessary. It prefers open vegetation, where the grass is short and green and has sandy soils. It has a cinnamon color pelt with an orange/white belly and a bushy tail that ends with a deep brown or sometimes black tip.
The spring hare is the personification of fertility, as non-seasonal breeders with a gestation of 77 days (about 2 and a half months), it can reproduce 1 pup up to 3 times per year. Another interesting fact is that it sleeps upright on its hind legs. Today, few people remember that the commercial Easter bunny has its roots with the “Osterhase”, who was a German mythological figure hatching and laying eggs for children and adults alike to find on Easter Sunday. There are few Namibian children that have not chased after a spring hare in the darkest of nights as a funny rite of passage. Farmers used to regard the spring hare as a pest due to perceived damage to crops, but luckily this has changed to it being an important game viewing species that adds comical qualities to visitor’s experiences.
Wherever you may be this Easter, we send you greetings from our green deserts and hope that your time with family is one of love and happiness. Whatever your tradition may be, we all celebrate as one.