Easter Sun

Easter Sun

Old European folk beliefs teach that the sun dances for joy as it rises on Easter morning. In England this folk belief can be traced back at least as far as the seventeenth century, as demonstrated in this snippet of a poem called "Ballad upon a Wedding," written in 1641 by Sir John Suckling:

Her feet beneath her petticoat Like little mice stole in and out, As if they feared the light: But, oh, she dances in such a way No sun upon an Easter-day Is half so fine a sight (Weiser 1954:158).

In the British Isles folk tradition advised that the best way to view the sun's elusive Easter morning movements was to place a pan of water in an east-facing window at sunrise. One then simply looked down into the water which captured and reflected the image of the dancing sun (for more on the Christian significance of the direction east, see Easter, Origin of the Word). Armenians used a mirror to reflect the sun's dancing rays.

A related legend suggested that if one looked at the sun just as it rose over the horizon on Easter morning one could see the figure of a lamb superimposed upon it. Local lore offered many suggestions as to the right spot and right angle from which to catch this marvelous sight.

Gathering to watch the sun rise on Easter morning is an old European folk tradition. Favorite spots for these informal celebrations included hilltops or flat, open plains. As the sun rose people cheered, sang or prayed, according to local custom. In some places bells rang or canons boomed to greet the Easter sunrise. In others bands and choirs caroled a salute to the sun. Today many churches schedule special sunrise services on Easter morning.

The sun and the sunrise have several symbolic connections to the Easter story. According to the Bible, Jesus' followers first discovered the Resurrection at daybreak (Matthew 28:1-7, Mark 16:1-7, Luke 23:1-9, John 20:1-18). Furthermore, the sun itself sometimes serves as a symbol of Christ. Finally, Easter falls shortly after the spring equinox (see also Easter, Date of). The spring equinox marks that turning point in the year after which the days are longer than the nights. Thus Easter comes at that time of year in which the sun and its light triumphs over night and darkness.

Further Reading

Cohen, Hennig, and Tristram Potter Coffin. The Folklore of American Holidays. Third edition. Detroit, MI: Gale, 1999. Lord, Priscilla Sawyer, and Daniel J. Foley. Easter Garland. 1963. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1999. Weiser, Francis X. The Easter Book. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1954.
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002
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