While we happily buy chocolate Easter bunnies, color eggs and hide them, and fill our Easter baskets, many people are unsure as to the origins of these Easter traditions. Whether you celebrate Easter as a religious holiday or the advent of Spring, or a combination of both, it can be fun to understand the origins and meanings behind these traditions, where some aspects of modern Easter celebrations even pre-date Christianity.
This iconic symbol of Easter, is found everywhere in the spring. Whether made in chocolate, or a fluffy, full-sized costume, the Easter bunny signals the arrival of Easter. Hares and rabbits have long been symbols of fertility, so they have easily become associated with the renewal of life after a long winter. The inclusion of the hare into Easter customs appears to have originated in Germany. It was here where tales were told of an “Easter hare”, who laid eggs for children to find, seems to have originated. German immigrants who came to America(particularly Pennsylvania), were the ones who brought the tradition with them, and spread it to a wider public. These early settlers also baked cakes for Easter in the shape of hares, and may have pioneered the practice of making chocolate bunnies and eggs.
Next to the Easter bunny, the next recognizable symbol of the holiday must be Easter eggs. Historical records show that eggs have been viewed as symbols of new life and fertility through the ages. It is also believed that for this reason, many ancient cultures used eggs during their spring festivals. It is noted that eggs became part of the Easter celebration because they were forbidden during Lent. The eggs that were laid during that time were often boiled, or otherwise preserved. Because of this eggs were a mainstay of Easter meals, and a prized Easter gift for children and servants. There are many different traditions and practices that have formed around Easter eggs. Eggs are also used in various holiday games. These games include: an egg hunt (generally parents hide eggs for children to find), and egg rolls (rolling eggs down a hill for prizes). These traditions live on in modern-day Easter egg hunts, and egg rolls. The most famous egg roll takes place on the White House lawn every year. Different cultures have also used Easter eggs to symbolize various aspects of their beliefs. Orthodox Christians in the Middle East and in Greece, paint eggs bright red to symbolize the blood of Christ. In Armenia, hollow eggs (created by piercing the shell with a needle and blowing out the contents) are decorated with pictures of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and other religious figures. The traditions surrounding Easter eggs are as varied as the cultures that celebrate Easter.
Easter cards were first designed in Victorian England, when a stationer added a greeting to a drawing of a rabbit. The cards exploded in popularity as a way for people to send Easter greetings. According to major card manufacturers, Easter is now the fourth most popular holiday for sending cards, behind Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day.
You may be surprised to learn that this tradition has long-standing origins. Early Christians wore white robes, all through Easter week, after their baptisms. This was meant to indicate their new lives. Those people had already been baptized wore new clothes instead to symbolize their sharing a new life with Christ. In Medieval Europe, churchgoers would take a walk after Easter Mass. This Easter “parade” was led by a crucifix, or the Easter candle. Today in many places around the world, these walks endure as Easter Parades.