The Christian festival of Easter is a fusion of ancient beliefs and manifold cultures. Easter encompasses the fertility symbols of Ancient Egypt, Greco Roman culture, European tradition, Pagan practice and good old fashioned legend; but most importantly Easter would not be Easter without trees.
Legend of the Dogwood Tree
In the southern states of USA legend holds that dogwood was a tall, broad tree and because its wood was strong it provided an excellent building material. According to the legend, it was the dogwood tree that provided the wood used to build the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
Because of its role in the crucifixion, it is said that God both cursed and blessed the dogwood tree. It was cursed to be forever small so that it would never grow large enough for its wood to be used as a cross for crucifixion again. At the same time, the tree was blessed so that it would produce beautiful flowers each spring around Easter time.
Easter Egg Trees
The egg was the symbol of fertility and new life in Ancient Egypt and still is in many cultures all around the world. In Germany and Austria it is traditional to decorate trees with eggs for Easter.
The palm branch was a symbol of triumph and victory in the Greco-Roman culture of the Roman Empire and was closely associated with the goddess Nike, hence palm branches were strewn at the feet of conquering heroes.
Auricularia auricular judae is commonly known as the Jew’s ear, jelly ear or wood ear and is inedible fungus found growing on the elder trees. The fruiting body of the fungus is jelly-like to the touch, translucent in appearance and distinctly ear shaped.
Its specific epithet is derived from the belief that Judas Iscariot hanged himself from an elder tree; it is thought the common name ‘Judas’s ear’ eventually became ‘Jew’s ear’. Burning elder indoors is traditionally considered to bring ill fortune and even a death in the household.
Holy Thorn at Glastonbury
According to legend, Joseph of Arimathea visited Glastonbury with the Holy Grail and thrust his wooden staff into the ground at the top of Wearyall Hill; the staff took root and grew into a thorn tree. Unlike ordinary hawthorn trees, the Glastonbury thorn flowers twice a year, once in winter around Christmas and again in spring around Easter.
Image: Stephen Spraggon
Crown of Thorns
There are two probable candidates for the crown of thorns. The first is known as Christ’s Thorn, Zizyphus spina Christi, an evergreen tree with small sharp thorns and native to the region. The other probability is a vine called the Qundaul, which is pliable enough to be woven into a crown and bears harsh thorns up to 4cm in length.
Pagan Easter traditions
The word Easter is derived from the ancient Greek ‘Eos’ (the goddess of the dawn) and the Latin ‘Aurora‘ also meaning ‘dawn’ and referred to the dawn of the new year or spring.