Celebrating Resurrection in the Southern Hemisphere
Did you know that Easter is actually a 50-day season, not just a single day? Easter season will actually end on June 8, the day of Pentecost. Because it’s still Easter and because I’m still celebrating, I’ve thought a lot about how different areas of the world celebrate the season.
I have a friend in South Africa (the one who was posting about the extinction of the Black Rhino), who is also a Christian. It’s funny to have a friend in the Southern Hemisphere because their weather is always exactly the opposite of ours in the north. For example, at Christmas, she often complains about the heat and how family celebrations have to be curtailed because it’s just too hot.
Weather is pretty incidental to Christmas, but it’s actually very relevant to Easter. The resurrection of Jesus is mirrored in the cycles of the Earth — out of the “death” of a cold, barren winter, comes the “new life” of springtime, with its fertility, relief, sustenance, and hope. The weather surrounding Easter has a theological significance reflected in the common symbols of eggs, lilies, and baby animals.
But what does the Earth teach us at Easter when Christ is risen, new life is victorious, but the leaves are falling, crops are harvested and laid to rest, and the grass withers and fades? I researched this for a long time and discussed it with my friend on the underside. And the consensus seems to be that because Christianity is a Northern Hemisphere religion, people in the Southern Hemisphere simply continue to use the northern symbols.
So even though autumn is in full swing and winter is coming, Christians in the Southern Hemisphere are decorating using lilies, eggs, and bunnies because that is the legacy given to them by their colonial forbears. There is, as far as I can discern, no symbol system that reflects the natural word of the Southern Hemisphere and interprets the Resurrection story in that light.
I’ve been thinking of natural symbols that might be interpreted theologically for Easter in the Southern Hemisphere, and I haven’t come up with many, but there are a few that could be powerful.
The Nerine bowdenii
This strong and beautiful flower originates in South Africa, where it blooms in the autumn — in March or April. It can range from a pink that’s almost white to a vivid hot pink, and a pale peach to a fiery orange. It offers its tender or vivid beauty as everything around it is dying, bringing color to a background of grays and browns. Not only does the Nerine bowdenii bear witness to the strength of beauty when beauty seems to be fading from the Earth, but it is so strong that it has been transplanted to every climate and soil and has rooted deep and grown true . . . very much like the message of Jesus’ resurrection.
The Baobab Tree
With its deep roots seeking the waters of life and its branches reaching toward the sky, the baobab tree is one of the most universally recognized symbols of the Southern Hemisphere. Its fruit, well known for its health and healing properties, ripens and is harvested in autumn. Instead of eggs with chicks bursting forth in April to symbolize life anew, people in the Southern Hemisphere can use the tree’s fruit (the same shape as an egg), which bursts with the seeds of health, energy, and vigor. The autumn tree with its life-giving fruit embodies the ongoing power of life even as things begin to fall asleep for the winter and can serve as a powerful metaphor for the power of life over death.
Using the Nerine bowdenii or the Baobab tree as Easter symbols allows people in the Southern Hemisphere to celebrate the nature around them, instead of just the nature in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s a resurrection message actually written into the creation around them.
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