A movable feast of eggs and cheese

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The Independent Online

So, It's Easter again.

Yes.

It's late this year, isn't it?

Yes.

Why is it late this year?

Because it was early last year.

Why was it early last year?

Some years it's early, some years late.

Is it ever on time?

No.

Why not ?

Because it is a movable feast.

Who moves it?

The Archbishop of Canterbury.

Why does the Archbishop of Canterbury get to decide when Easter is?

It is the only decision he has left to make, and he'd have nothing to do if it was taken away from him. Except crown the monarch, presumably.

Yes. But she is already crowned, and once is enough. I think the Queen would take a dim view of it if there was a knock at the door and the Archbishop stood there, wondering if she felt like being crowned again, because he had nothing else on his hands.

Right... so, it's Easter again.

Yes.

Why do we have Easter?

Well, you probably expect me to say something about the Resurrection.

Yes, I was, actually.

Well, I'm not going to.

Why not?

Because Easter is more than a Johnny-come-lately Christian idea - it's the age-old celebration of the return of spring.

It is?

Certainly. The Church simply jumped on the bandwagon late in the day and called it Easter.

What did people call it before then?

Spring Bank Holiday.

So how did the pre-Christians celebrate the Spring Festival?

Well, they gave each other stone eggs and stone rabbits, which explains a lot of the otherwise unidentifiable Stone Age objects looking a bit like eggs and rabbits. But above all, they felt stirrings of travel, and would journey far and wide throughout Europe, invading other territories and bringing misery to neighbouring populations.

Just the same as today?

No different at all. There were jams on all the main cart tracks, the boats going across the Channel would be chock-a-block, and people in Gaul would sneer at the fashions worn by people from Britannia. Also it would be raining. Easter was a terrible time of year long before Jesus came along. Not as bad as Christmas, but bad enough.

Why don't we celebrate Jesus' birthday or death in the summer, when the weather is nicer and we could all do with a bit of a break?

Don't ask me. Ask the Archbishop. Right. Are you going away for Easter?

Are you joking? That's the last time you want to go away! Easter is also a time to stay at home and mess around with the house and garden, as people have done for thousands of years.

Have they?

Oh, yes. Archaeologists have found evidence of widespread bad craftsmanship. Many Stone Age objects that look a bit like eggs and rabbits are in fact left-over bits and pieces from Stone Age DIY sessions that went wrong at Easter.

I see.

Or cheese-rolling.

I beg your pardon?

There are ancient traditions in some parts of the country, where large cheeses are rolled downhill. Archaeologists think that originally stones were used, symbolically.

Symbolic of what?

Cheese. Which is more expensive.

But why would anyone want to roll a cheese or stone at all?

It's an ancient ritual to symbolise the stone rolled away from Christ's tomb.

Hold on! You said that these traditions were pre-Christian! How can a pre-Christian ritual have symbolised an event that hadn't yet happened?

Mmmm. I hadn't thought of that. This is trickier than I thought.

Do you have any queries about Easter you would like answered? Send them to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who will be delighted to answer them.

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