Thursday, March 28, 2013

Three Easter Facts

Easter is a complex religious festival that is core to the message and hope of Christianity, has links to aspects of Judaism, and with regards to some its modern customs, draws on elements of ancient Germanic mythology and folklore. Here are three things you may or may not know about Easter.

The quartodeciman controversy: Easter is a moveable feast, the date of which is calculated based the precepts of a lunisolar calendar, one which takes account of both the solar year and the phases of the moon. The word quartodeciman (Latin for fourteen) refers to the fact that many early Christians linked Easter to the Jewish Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread, which begin on the 15th of Nisan. But as the Jewish day begins at sunset of the previous evening, the Last Supper would have taken place on the evening of the 14th. Some early Christians, primarily those who were converts from Judaism wanted to link the date of Easter to Passover, but others who wanted to make Christianity more distinct from Judaism, and therefore more appealing to gentiles, argued that the observance of the Resurrection of Jesus should coincide with the Lord's Day (Sunday). At the Council of Nicaea in 325, the Church decided that Easter would be observed on the Sunday following the 14th of Nisan. However, for those interested in practicing Christianity as it was in earliest times, given that today (March 28, 2013) coincides with the 17th of Nisan, today would be actually be Easter.

The Easter bunny: The association of rabbits with Easter actually comes from the ancient belief that lagomorphs (rabbits, hares, and so on) were hermaphroditic. In other words, they were capable of producing offspring without sexual interaction - in essence, virgin birth. Hence rabbits became a symbol for Mary, the mother of Jesus, who theologically needed to be a virgin in order for Jesus to be conceived of the Holy Spirit. Rabbits are also associated with spring and fertility, as in "breeding like rabbits." In fact, hares are capable of superfetation - becoming pregnant with their next litter before they have given birth to the one they are presently carrying. The idea that Easter bunnies lay eggs appears to have its origins in German mythology, being mentioned in Grimm's fairy tales, and coming to America with the Pennsylvania Dutch (not really Dutch, but German).

The triple kiss: One of the key features of Easter celebrations in all Christian churches is the Paschal greeting, which takes the form of a versical, "Christ is Risen," and response, "Truly, He is Risen," or words similar to that. In Russia, it is common for parishioners to share a triple kiss - right cheek, left cheek, right cheek - known as the khristosovanie, or greeting (kiss) of Christ.The number three, of course, represents the Holy Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - the Three in One.

And, just because we can't get enough of this stuff, here's one more. Did you know that Easter eggs actually represent the empty tomb that the women discovered when they came to anoint the corpse of Jesus with spices in preparation for burial? Eggs look like stones, and when they break open they release a living being, just as the tomb of Jesus was opened to release the living Son of God. All you are left with is an empty broken shell. They were originally painted, or stained, red to represent the blood sacrifice of Jesus. Now, they are more brightly and intricately decorated to reflect the joy and hope of the risen Jesus.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Delivery Problems

Have you ever had delivery problems? Has an important package gone missing? It happens all too often, and it certainly isn't anything new. Case in point. While doing some research on the management of the cod fishery in Cape Breton in the late nineteenth century, I came across this.

On May 25, 1891, Philip Le Montais, principal agent for Charles Robin and Company, in Eastern Harbour (Cheticamp), Nova Scotia, wrote to Mr. McLeod at Mulgrave:
Dear Sir, 
Please let us know at your earliest convenience who gave you instructions to forward our goods (5 large boxes) to Port Hood. Captain McKinnon reported to us that you told him the boxes had been forwarded to Arichat when on the contrary they had been sent to Port Hood. As two of our craft had called at your station for them, you will please understand that we have been sadly disappointed in not getting these goods and a serious loss. They are still in Port Hood and I wonder are they going to remain there? We beg to call your attention to it at once and let us know if you will pay the charges, as we don't intend paying them beyond your station. In future please keep our goods in a safe place at your station, until you hear from us or are called for. 
How long had they been waiting for these boxes? Did they ever get them? I haven't been able to locate any documents that would shed further light on the matter, but more than a century later I feel their pain.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Purchase by Linda Spalding

Linda Spalding was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1943. She has lived in Canada since 1982, and has established a solid reputation as a writer of fiction and non-fiction, and as a teacher of writing. She is married to Michael Ondaatje. Her novel, The Purchase, won the Governor General's Literary Prize for Fiction in 2012.
An exiled Quaker, with an under-age second wife, several small children, and a knack for making bad decisions, moves to the south, inadvertently buys a young slave boy, and basically manages to alienate all of his family members and neighbors. In some ways this novel comes across as an ode to the first amendment of the US Constitution, all the while anticipating the thirteenth amendment, constructed from overlapping personal journeys, the majority of which are cast along trajectories of running away from, rather than running toward, something. There's a tremendous earthiness to the author's descriptions, and nearly every scene leaves the reader yearning for a hot shower and a decent meal. 
Canada is mentioned briefly, anecdotally as a country where place names all refer to royalty, and more substantively with respect to the black ex-slaves who, after their escape to the north, joined British forces to fight against the United States in the War of 1812. 
Of the three prize-winning works of Canadian fiction I promised to review (see previous posts), I liked this one the best by a long shot. If you had told me what it was about before I started reading it, I would have said that I have little or no interest in the subject matter, and to a large extent that still holds true. Spalding's writing style and her ability to develop complex and fulsome characters drew me and in and kept me reading. This book stands out as an exemplar of compelling storytelling.