Easter Traditions: Bunnies or Bells?
Have you ever had a visit from the Easter Bunny? How about the Easter Bells? As this holiday of the Christian church approaches, children in many countries anticipate the visit of someone or something that will bring them sweet treats. In the United States and the United Kingdom, that special guest is the Easter Bunny, but in other countries, particularly French-speaking ones, children await another benefactor.
A Giant Belgian Chocolate Easter Bell
When I was a young child in the country of Belgium, just north of France, we eagerly awaited candy eggs from the Easter Bells. As springtime rolled around one could see them in many different iterations—all of the shop windows were decorated with winged bells fluttering about.
One year, on the Saturday before Easter, I went with my mother to the covered shopping gallery near our home. They had invited the community to come and witness a giant chocolate bell, crafted from delicious Belgian chocolate, bien sur (that means "of course"). Lifted high on a pedestal of red velvet, the bell was twice my size. Which made it all the more joyous when they broke it up into shards to be passed out in little white paper bags. We stood in line and waited until we received one of the packages to bring home.
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A Longstanding Tradition
The myth of bells giving children treats began in the middle ages when it was forbidden for churches to ring their bells from the Thursday before Easter until the day itself. Parents told inquisitive tots that the great bronze structures had flown off to Rome to be blessed by the pope, but would soon return. When they did, they showered down sweetness into the fields and pastures along the way.
Parents told their children the bells had flown off to Rome.
An Ancient Origin Story
Why were the bells silent, and why would they bring marvelous surprises when they rang out again? Before we can truly understand that, we must know a little more about this sacred day in the Christian calendar. Easter is one of the most celebrated events in the church, and this is because it is on Easter that the event that incited the Christian faith occurred: Jesus Christ of Nazareth came back from the dead.
Many people in western culture are familiar with elements of the life of Jesus. We celebrate his birth on Christmas, then for many of us, the middle part is rather forgotten. We often remember him as a good teacher who spoke about peace and love and also performed famous miracles. However, Jesus also spent much of his time referring to ancient Jewish prophecies and making cryptic statements about temples being demolished and rebuilt.
A Jewish Holiday That Leads to a Christian One
This strange behavior came to its culmination when Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem, even though there were threats to his life from the religious rulers of that area. He was there to celebrate Passover, a feast that memorialized God delivering his people from bondage and foreshadowed what Jesus claimed he would do: free humanity from the bondage of sin. Jewish people still celebrate the feast of Passover, but its dates do not always correspond with the modern celebration of Easter.
The events celebrated by Easter all revolved around the Jewish Passover
The Bells are Silenced in Mourning
His arrival in Jerusalem was greatly celebrated, but events took a dramatic turn when one of Jesus’ own disciples betrayed him to the religious establishment. The very people who had cheered for him at the beginning of the week now wanted this man to be killed, and he was. He was seized during a moment of prayer, on what is now known as “Maundy Thursday,” and on “Good Friday” he was killed by crucifixion, a Roman form of execution.
This was a moment of immense tragedy and grief for those who had followed the great teacher. They had dreamed that he would free them from Roman oppression, and now he was a victim of it. All hope was lost during those days following his arrest.
This is the reason the bells fell silent in the middle ages: they too were mourning the death of Jesus, hundreds of years after it happened. Yet if he remained dead, why do the bells begin to ring again? A better question yet: why does the Christian faith exist at all?
This is the reason the bells fell silent in the middle ages: they too were mourning the death of Jesus.
Why Easter Sunday is a Celebration
The Sunday following his arrest and crucifixion Jesus Christ was resurrected. This supernatural event is the foundation upon which one of the world’s largest religions stands. Christians believe that after three days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), this man, who was also the Son of God and the Messiah (Savior) of the Jews, defeated death. This defeat is particularly meaningful because they view it as evidence that Jesus was the one who brought forgiveness to the world from God. Because of this resurrection, those who follow him can know God and be redeemed from the wrongdoings of their lives.
How about you?
What aspects of Easter did your family celebrate?
Ancient Stories Brought into the Present Day
The bells begin to ring again because they are celebrating this wonderful news. They serve as an instrument to remind the faithful to celebrate and rejoice in the hope of Easter. For a small child who is still learning about the world, epic stories of betrayal and redemption may hold some value, but their hearts are certainly lifted to discover a treasure trove of chocolate flung out along with the music of the Easter Bells.
© 2018 Bethany Halbert