The Easter Lily
Each year, on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the northern spring equinox, people gather together and share a meal. This Easter Sunday feast has been a tradition for thousands of years and apparently dates back to Roman and Greek times.
Along with the giving of painted eggs, hot-cross-buns and other sweet treats, flowers feature predominantly in celebrations. The flower most closely identified with Easter is the pure white Easter Lily.
Called Lilium longiflorum – more commonly known in North America as the Easter Lily – this plant is actually native to Japan and bears trumpet shaped, white, fragrant flowers. This particular lily has irregular blooming periods in nature and has thus allowed it to be cultivated and encouraged to flower at certain times – namely Easter. For many, the beautiful shape and aroma of these pure white flowers symbolizes innocence, purity and life – the spiritual essence of Easter.
History, mythology, literature and poetry are filled with tales and images that speak of the beauty and elegance of special white flowers. Apparently Lilies were even found in the garden of Gethsemane growing beneath where Christ was crucified. Tradition tells that they grew from Christ’s tears as he wept for mankind while dying on the cross.
Churches today continue the tradition at Easter time by surrounding their altars and crosses with Easter lilies to commemorate Christ’s resurrection. In fact, some very devout Christians prefer to refer to this special time as Resurrection Sunday rather than Easter since the name Easter refers to a pagan god popular during the second century.
Since the beginning, Lilies have played an important role in stories and tales regarding motherhood. Roman mythology tells a tale of Juno – queen of the gods – and how when she was nursing Heracles (Hercules) she spilled milk and as it fell from heaven it made the stars in the Milky Way and lilies grew on the ground where the milk splashed. Another story has the lilies blooming from the tears of Eve as she repents for eating of the forbidden tree.
One thing for sure is that the lily is associated with love, strong emotions, purity and new life. This purity made the lily a perfect symbol for the Virgin Mary – another famous matriarchal image. In some paintings, the Angel Gabriel is shown giving Mary a cluster of pure white lilies. The legend tells that when the Virgin Mary’s tomb was visited three days after her burial, it was empty except for bunches of pure white lilies.
In early Christian dogma, the scribes made the lily the emblem of the resurrection, the pure white petals signifying the flesh and the golden anthers – the glowing soul and heavenly light. Today the white lily is a fitting symbol of Easter – no matter its origins. Gracing homes and churches each year, this special flower is a universal symbol of joy, hope and life.