As we shop for happy chocolate Easter bunnies, color and hide eggs, and fill our Easter baskets, many people are unsure of 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 predate to Christianity.
Easter Bunny- This iconic symbol of Easter is found everywhere during spring. Whether done in chocolate or in a full-size fluffy costume, the Easter bunny signals the arrival of Easter. Hares and rabbits have long been symbols of fertility, which is why they have been easily associated with the renewal of life after a long winter. The inclusion of the hare in Easter customs appears to have originated in Germany. It was here that the tales of an “Easter hare” seem to have originated, laying eggs for children to find. It was the German immigrants who came to the United States (particularly Pennsylvania) who carried the tradition with them and spread it to a wider audience. These early settlers also baked Easter cakes in the shape of hares, and may have pioneered the practice of making chocolate eggs and bunnies.
Easter eggs- Along with the Easter bunny, the next recognizable symbol of the holiday should be Easter eggs. Historical records show that eggs have been viewed as symbols of new life and fertility throughout the centuries. 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 prohibited during Lent. 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 treasured Easter gift for children and servants. There are many different traditions and practices that have been formed around Easter eggs. Eggs are also used in various Christmas games. These games include: an egg hunt (usually parents hide eggs for children to find) and egg rolls (roll eggs downhill for prizes). These traditions endure in today’s Easter egg hunt 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 the contents) are decorated with images 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 Easter cards were first designed in Victorian England, when a stationer added a greeting to a drawing of a rabbit. Cards exploded in popularity as a way for people to send Easter greetings. According to major card makers, Easter is now the fourth most popular holiday for sending cards, behind Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.
Easter parades You may be surprised to learn that this tradition has long-standing origins. The first Christians wore white dresses, throughout Easter week, after their baptisms. This was meant to indicate their new lives. Those people who had already been baptized wore new clothes instead of symbolizing that they shared a new life with Christ. In medieval Europe, parishioners took a walk after Easter mass. This Easter “parade” was led by a crucifix or the Easter candle. Today in many parts of the world, these walks endure as Easter parades.