Easter History: From Colored Eggs To The Easter Bunny

Although Easter is one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar, Easter history suggests that it actually originated as a Pagan celebration. As far back as the Anglo Saxons, many centuries before Christ, people have come together at the onset of spring to observe the rebirth of the land. As with many things over the centuries, the symbols of the original holiday have come to mean different things to different people based on their beliefs. Egg-dying and exchange, bunnies and even Easter parades all have their roots deep in the past. Whether you are religious, or simply enjoy celebrating spring, learning a little about Easter history is an interesting way to connect the things we do today with those who came before us.

The History of Easter

The celebration of Easter began with Teutonic mythology during the early age of the Anglo Saxons. These pre-Christian people celebrated on the vernal equinox – around March 21st - with a festival honoring Eastre, the goddess of spring. When early Christians wanted people to accept the Christian Easter celebration, they kept the name of the Pagan goddess. Easter ties into Passover because Jesus was crucified during the Pasch, or Passover, in 30AD. Passover celebrates Israel’s delivery from 300 years of bondage in Egypt.

In the Christian tradition, Easter stories celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his death. The commemoration of this resurrection dates back to the start of Christianity and was celebrated soon after his death. Easter was well established by the second century, although there was a long dispute about the actual date that the holiday should fall on. The Eastern churches wanted it based on the lunar calendar, and the Western churches wanted it to always fall on a Sunday.

Emperor Constantine convened the Council at Nicaea in 325. This meeting established that Easter would fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. For churches in the West, this means that Easter falls somewhere between March 21st and April 25th. Many Orthodox churches still use the Julian calendar, so their Easter celebrations tend to occur several weeks later than the traditional celebration.

Although it is established as both a religious and cultural holiday in America, it wasn’t always that way. The early Puritans did not observe many religious festivals, so Easter was not celebrated during the early years of this country. In fact, it wasn’t widely recognized or celebrated here until after the Civil War. Today, every person can take part in the celebration as they wish. Some people use the time to reflect on their religious beliefs, while others take the approach of the early Pagans and use the time to celebrate spring and the rebirth of the land.

Easter Symbols

There are many symbols that commonly represent Easter; colored eggs, hot cross buns and bunnies with baskets all suggest which season is approaching. Although like many holidays, Easter has become more commercial, most of these symbols actually have their origins in centuries past.

Eggs - In many cultures around the world, eggs symbolize fertility and rebirth. For centuries, people exchanged eggs wrapped in gold leaf if they were wealthy, or dyed with herb and plant dyes if they were of simpler means, as a symbol that the world was being reborn. The arrival of Easter was also an indication that winter was over and spring was here. In Medieval Europe, people didn’t eat eggs during Lent, so they would hard-boil them to preserve the eggs and serve them for Easter meals. Easter history has it that some Polish legends combine the Pagan and Christian traditions in their history of Easter eggs. They say that the Virgin Mary presented eggs to the soldiers at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. As she wept, her tears fell on the white eggs and left colored spots. Orthodox Christians in the Middle East and Greece color Easter eggs red to symbolize the blood of Christ.

Some of the most lavish Easter eggs were produced by Carl Faberge for the Russian Czar Alexander. In 1885, the Czar commissioned the goldsmith to make an egg for his wife, Empress Maria. The egg was made of platinum enameled in white, which opened to reveal a golden yolk. The yolk contained a golden hen and a replica of the crown with a ruby jewel. The tradition of Faberge eggs at Easter continued until 1917, with the only instructions being that each one had to be unique, and each one had to contain a surprise.

Easter Bunny - The history of the Easter bunny began with the Pagan celebration for the goddess Eastre. Her earthly symbol was a rabbit, and rabbits have long been seen as a fertility symbol in many cultures. It is said that German settlers to America brought the tradition of Oschter Haws, a bunny who left colored eggs for children on Easter eve. Boys and girls would make nests for these eggs out of their caps and bonnets – this practice evolved into the Easter baskets that we know today.

Easter parade - As with many traditions, the history of Easter shows that parading in new clothes began in Medieval Europe. The early Christians wore white robes through the Easter week to symbolize their new life. The people who were already baptized wore new clothes to show the new life that they were leading in Christ. After Mass in many towns, people would walk through the streets with a cross and candles leading the way. This has changed over the years into the wearing of Easter finery and old-fashioned parades through many small towns.

Hot cross buns - Although Christians see the crosses that are made of frosting on top of these traditional cakes as a symbol of the crucifixion, it actually had its roots in a much earlier time. Buns with crosses were originally made by the Anglo Saxons to honor Easter. The crosses represented the quarters of the moon and our connection to the earth for these early people.

Lilies and lambs - Both of these traditional Easter symbols have their origins in Christianity. The white lily flowers, which only bloom in early spring, represent the purity of Christ, and the lamb symbolizes Jesus, who is often called the Lamb of God.

Regardless of your religious affiliation, it is interesting to learn the meaning of modern Easter symbols. Easter history is one of many traditions and beliefs for everyone, from Pagans to the Hebrews to Christians. In almost all cultures, celebrating Easter involves coming together with friends and family and celebrating the new life that is being reborn in the world during this time. With all of the history surrounding the holiday, one of the most popular Easter traditions seems to have no ties to the ancient past. Americans spent billion dollars on Easter candy every year. Apparently marshmallow Peeps, jellybeans and chocolate bunnies are a purely modern invention. It’s too bad that delving into the history of Easter can’t answer one of its most pressing questions – Should you eat a chocolate bunny’s ears or feet first?

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