Cultures celebrate Spring with variety of traditions
Dakota Digest - 04/02/2010
By Jim Kent
It's Good Friday - one of the most sacred religious anniversaries of the year for Christians, which marks when Christ died on the cross. In two days, millions of people will celebrate Easter, the day that indicates a renewed life coinciding with the Spring season. But Christianity isn't the only religion that recognizes this time of year. Today we explore how people of different cultures and beliefs mark the passing of the barren landscapes of winter.
On Palm Sunday morning the congregation at St. John's Lutheran Church, just outside Hot Springs, is beginning preparations for Easter services. Pastor Dwayne Hunzeker says, for Christians, it's the most significant day of the year.
"What Easter is, for me and for the world," Hunzeker explains,"is a celebration of Christ and his victory. In other words, on Easter...Jesus rose from the dead."
Even non-Christians know the story of the carpenter from Nazareth who preached love and understanding, performed miracles, healed the sick and was crucified for his efforts. But his teachings have lived on in spite of his death. To a great extent, that's because of the Christian belief in his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
"And...and that means that even death does not have a hold," says Pastor Hunzeker. "That God is more powerful than anything and everything. And he can raise us up as he raised Christ. So. Jesus' victory is our victory."
Though most Christians share those views, many don't acknowledge Christ's resurrection with an Easter service. Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, choose to mark the death of Jesus during the day's leading up to Easter weekend. Elders from the Jehovah's Witnesses community were reluctant to talk about their beliefs (no, really). They directed all inquires to on-line sources such as the Encyclopedia Britannica, which notes that there is no indication of the observance of the Easter festival in the New Testament, or in the writings of the apostles.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the sanctity of special times was an idea absent from the minds of the first Christians.
Many non-Christians obviously don't celebrate Easter, but do acknowledge the arrival of Spring. Rapid City resident Harold Chant was raised as a Christian, but as time went by began to explore what he feels are his cultural roots.
"That led me more into the myths and the sags of...especially like the Vikings and the Icelanders," says Chant. "And it connected me with a lot of my heritage. And the more I seen what their myths and what their value systems were, the more it was like...oh, wow, this is me. This is kinda what I've always felt. But I didn't know that there was an actual belief system based around it that was still being practiced."
Harold Chant points out that Ahsatru, his belief system, is not to be confused with New Age or Earth-based religions. But, like those beliefs, followers of Ahsatru do celebrate the renewal of life in nature at the Spring Equinox with a ceremony called a bloat
"It's, it's just a bringing in...the re-birth of the season," Chant says. "The re-birth of everything. That's where you get the Easter egg, and the bunny. Where they're symbols of fertility and re-birth, because, well, bunnies and eggs are a symbol of fertility."
Traditional Native American spirituality also acknowledges the arrival of Spring. More than 100 people gathered near Sylvan Lake for a Welcome Back the Thunders ceremony as the morning sun followed its path above the Black Hills on the first day of the Spring season.
Lakota men and women, along with many children and teens, joined in a circle as they celebrated nature's renewed life.
Elder Russell Eagle Bear says the ceremony dates back many generations.
"We're supposed to welcome the Thunder Beings in a good way so that they can bring forth good things," Eagle Bear explains. "You know, the rain...fill up the rivers, the creeks, uh, come in a good way among our people. And they say, long ago our people say...go to the highest place where you're at...where ever you're camped at, go to that highest point, say your prayers to Creator, and give thanks to the Thunder Beings."
Prayers were offered, the sacred pipe was passed and burning sage cleansed everyone in the group. The last words spoken were by an elder. He asked "the young ones" to learn the welcome back the thunders songs in order to carry on the ceremony and the culture.
And that's the same things Christians and Harold Chant are doing in their own ways.
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