Easter - a mix of tradition and beliefs
You may recently have noticed many decorations and displays around town with themes like eggs, rabbits and chickens. Most people don't think twice about these symbols except that they always appear at this time of the year to signal the coming of Easter. But where do these symbols come from, and what celebrations take place in Holland and in other countries?
With the first full moon of Spring comes Easter, called Holy Week by Christians. This celebration coincides with an important Jewish tradition called Passover (,Pesach), a commemoration of the exodus of Jews from Egypt, away from slavery and back to the promised land. Many languages have words for Easter which stem from the Jewish term; for example, in Dutch, Easter is called Pasen
The Passion is also often used to refer to the suffering of Jesus in his last days, a significant story for Christians. Briefly: according to Christian belief, Jesus was betrayed by one of his followers, unfairly tried and then condemned to death by crucifixion. After three days, he rose from the dead. The resurrection is an event which is commemorated in church masses on Easter Sunday
Although the Passion is an important part of Easter, this story does not explain the symbols that are most visible around this time. One hint as to their origin can be found in the English word Easter, a variation of the name of a Germanic goddess of spring who was worshipped in pre-Christian times as the source of new life. In northern countries like Holland, spring is seen as a time of reawakening - the dark days become lighter, the frosts disappear, the leaves return, the flowers blossom, the birds travel back from the south and start building their nests. Thinking about symbols like eggs and rabbits, it is not so difficult to realize that they represent fertility, new life and high productivity, important for pagan rituals carried out in preparation for the new agricultural season
Central to present-day Easter traditions in Holland and many other western countries are eggs and the popular Easter bunny. One common tradition is to paint and decorate eggs in bright colours. These are then hidden outside, and an Easter egg-hunt takes place on Easter Sunday morning. In many countries, children are told that the eggs are brought by the Easter bunny. The traditions are more interwoven with religion in Catholic regions of Belgium, where eggs are still referred to as cloches (the French word for bells). In France, there are no Easter bunnies, and French MSc student Florence Carre recounts that children are told to hunt for eggs when the bells pass by. Although she did not know the reason, bells in Catholic churches historically remained silent for three days in remembrance of Jesus suffering and death, coming back to life on Easter Sunday. With or without an egg-hunt, the standard Easter breakfast in Holland includes a lot of eggs and spiced bread with raisins, nuts and almond paste. One common ritual is a game of tapping one egg against the other - the person with the egg that remains intact the longest is the winner
These symbols of eggs and rabbits are not found in Easter celebrations in other parts of the world. In Mexico, where a large proportion of the population is Catholic, Easter celebrations are an important and popular event, and the whole country comes to a standstill during the last four days. Mexican MSc student Imelda Solis Fernandez describes the more common traditions. On Good Friday, every town has at least one public dramatic performance of the Passion story. Fernandez notes that, Being chosen to play the role of Jesus is not to be taken lightly. In some towns, the actor playing Jesus wears a real crown of thorns on his head, and carries a heavy cross for many kilometres. Even the children get so involved that they shout angrily at the prison guards
In the northern island of Luzon, Philippines, dramatizations go even further. Norma Gomez, an ICRA participant, reports that playing the role of Jesus involves actually being nailed to a cross. Gomez who does not come from that region, laughingly added, I don't know why they go so far, but I think it's a way of easing their guilt. Maybe they hope that their sins will be forgiven.
Whatever your beliefs, another theme of Easter and spring is to start over with a clean slate. In most countries, fasting is a common activity at this time of year. MSc student Oriama Okitoi grew up in a small village in Kenya where this is also a time to counsel the wayward people in the community. At Easter, the community comes together to feast, and while standing around drinking traditionally brewed beer, an accused person cannot leave until an apology has been extracted
In Mexico, it is very common to have water thrown over you on the Saturday, wherever you are. Fernandez does not know why this is, but Polish MSc student Sylwia Zakowska provides a possible answer. In Poland, this same tradition takes place on the Monday. It has to do with cleansing of the spirit, she explains, It is very funny - you never know when you'll get hit!
ISOW learning network
A number of students from the International Student Organisation of Wageningen (ISOW) have formed a committee to set up a network for international students so that they can continue meeting after they go home - electronically. Last November three students came up with the idea that it would be good to extend contact with various people they had met during their time in Wageningen. Since then the idea has developed with the help of lecturers, the Dean and MSc course directors, and the working group has grown to ten students from various departments and backgrounds. Xavier Moya from the MAKS programme explains his reason for joining the group: Things change and develop so fast. After working for five years and then returning to study, I see that all the debates and publications have changed so much since I got my first degree.
The goals of the Learning Network are to allow people to exchange and learn from each other's experiences. Alejandra Moreyra, one of the initiators of the idea, adds: After all, we are not only students, we are teachers, policy-makers and researchers with lots of skills and expertise to share. Setting up a network will provide access to more practical information, something that is especially important in less developed countries, where most international students come from. The Network is still in the preliminary stages, and open to anyone who is interested in helping define its focus. The aim is to have it set up by the time the current MSc group departs next January
International students to have retake opportunity
Last year the entire timetable for the University was changed from a trimester system to eight intensive study blocks. Along with this change, the examination schedule was also affected. In the old system students had three opportunities throughout the year to take exams; in the new system each course is followed immediately by an exam, with a second chance in August after courses have finished. According to Director of Education at the University, Bert Speelman, on the reasons for the reduction to two exams per course was to stimulate students to pass their exams sooner. This may work for Dutch students, but for those studying for an MSc, the new schedule is not practical. Most students are out of Wageningen in August, conducting research. One option is for students to approach lecturers individually for an extra exam. Another is to set up an additional block of time for all MSc students to take any exams they have not yet passed. Asked for his reaction last week, Director Speelman replied that he has agreed in principle to the second option. It is now up to the ISP (International Student Panel) to find an appropriate time for retakes