The Origin of Easter Traditions

While we happily shop for chocolate Easter bunnies, color and hide eggs, and fill our Easter baskets, many people are unsure about 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 Christianity. .

Easter Bunny – This iconic symbol of Easter is found everywhere in the spring. Whether it’s made in chocolate or a full-size fluffy costume, the Easter bunny signals the arrival of Easter. Hares and rabbits have long been symbols of fertility, thus 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 an “Easter Hare” was said to have originated, laying eggs for children to find. German immigrants to the United States (particularly Pennsylvania) were the ones who brought the tradition with them and spread it to a larger audience. These early settlers also baked Easter cakes in the shape of hares and may have pioneered the practice of making chocolate bunnies and eggs.

Easter eggs- Next to the Easter bunny, the next recognizable symbol of the holiday should be the Easter eggs. Historical records show that eggs have been seen as symbols of new life and fertility throughout the centuries. It is also believed that many ancient cultures used eggs during their spring festivals for this reason. It should be noted that eggs became a part of the Easter celebration because they were prohibited during Lent. Eggs 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 (usually parents hide eggs for children to find) and egg rolls (roll eggs down a hill for prizes). These traditions live on in today’s 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 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 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. 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 to send cards, after Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

Holy Week Parades- You may be surprised to learn that this tradition has ancient origins. The early Christians wore white robes, throughout Easter week, after their baptisms. This was meant to indicate their new lives. Those people who had already been baptized wore new clothes to symbolize that they shared a new life with Christ. In medieval Europe, parishioners took a walk after Easter Mass. This Easter “parade” was presided over by a crucifix or Paschal candle. Today in many parts of the world, these walks continue as Holy Week Parades.

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