A Cultural Melting Pot Called Easter

Posted by Anne Macindoe on 5 April 2014 | 0 Comments

Multicultural Australia is about to embrace the humble egg.  Depending on cultural origin, boiled, painted, chocolate and, even bejewelled eggs are the order of the day.  It is, of course, the Christian Easter festival.

Heralded by Shrove Tuesday is 40 days of prayer, fasting and self-denial.  This time of year on the Christian calendar is actually set by the planets.  Each year, the timing of Easter occurs in accordance with the March equinox.  Just as many customs that hark back in time are also aligned with longer days and the coming spring.

Perhaps it is unsurprising then that, cultures the world over and regardless colour or creed, unite in festive tradition at this time of year.  We used Origins data to group some Australian migrant populations by cultural origin and looked at what happens around Easter in their ancestral homelands.

Country:    Philippines
Main Faith:    Roman Catholic
Australian adults of Filipino cultural origin:    163,035

A majority of Filipinos are devout Roman Catholics.  For the most part, Easter is celebrated from Thursday to Sunday in silent vigil and joyous celebration.  Yet elsewhere, Easter penitents re-enact the crucifixion with gruesome reality.  On Good Friday, locals and tourists gather in the city of San Fernando to watch a “Passion Play”.  To emulate the suffering of Christ, self-flagellating men are nailed and bound to crosses, then hoisted into the air.

Country:    Sri Lanka
Main faith:    Buddhist
Australian adults of Sri Lankan cultural origin:    56,675

Good Friday is a Sri Lankan national holiday, though almost 70% identify as Buddhist.  In practice, most Sri Lankans blend faith with ancient indigenous and astrological beliefs.  Easter tends to fall near Sinhalese New Year, at an important and fortuitous astrological time.  Like Easter, this harvest festival celebrates rebirth in the dawn of a New Year.  Sinhalese New Year devotions entail fasting, worship, special food and are closely associated with the Asian Koel (bird).

Country:    Iran
Main faith:    Muslim
Australian adults of Iranian cultural origin:    29,042

Around the time of Easter, Iranians are celebrating No Ruz.  With the literal meaning ‘new day’, No Ruz is a time of hope and rebirth, with observance rooted in the ancient Persian philosophy of Zoroastrianism.  At this time, modern Iranians do a lot of cleaning, repair broken items, repainting their homes and displaying freshly gathered spring flowers indoors.  No Ruz is typically celebrated by sharing a picnic or other activity with loved ones.

Country:    Czech Republic
Main faith:    Unaffiliated
Australian adults of Slavic cultural origin:    22,775

Communism suppressed religion, so former eastern block nations are largely non-observant.  In the Czech Republic, Easter blends Christian festival and Pagan carnival.  Lasting two days, Sunday sees families feast on traditional meals of eggs and meat (lamb in particular) before folk tradition takes over.  On Red Monday, young men toss water and whip local girls with beribboned willow twigs.  In return, the girls make a gift of traditionally decorated eggs (kraslice).

Country:    Nepal
Main faith:    Hindu
Australian adults of Nepalese cultural origin:    22,977

If you thought the bonfire tradition was unique to Easter, think again.  The ancient Hindu spring festival of Holi occurs near Easter annually and begins with song, dance and a Holika bonfire.  Like Easter, Holi celebrates the triumph of good over evil and, after a time of devotion, culminates in festive colour and life.  People in the streets, parks, gardens and temples excitedly streak one another with every shade before sharing Holi delicacies, food and drink with family.

From the marking with ash with its close Hindu and Norse spiritual connections to rebirth and new life, Easter festivities have much in common with the rich cultural origins of modern Australia.  As you set out on that Easter hunt, it’s worth considering not only that the humble egg has been venerated since Ancient Egypt, but this is also a time for Australians to rejoice in our own-invention.  As the world’s most cohesive multicultural nation.

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