Easter Traditions

What do colored eggs, baskets, bunnies, chocolates or Sunday dresses have to do with Easter?

What do colored and decorated eggs, baskets, candles, parades, chocolate bunnies or Sunday dresses have to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Isn’t that the reason Christians celebrate Easter?   

When is Easter this year?
Easter is a moving feast.  Western Christians celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after the spring equinox after March 21. Orthodox Christians use the Julian calendar and for them Easter falls between March 21 and April 3.

Why do we have to get dressed in our finest clothes to go to church on Easter?
My mama used to dress me for church on Easter Sunday in frilly, lace dresses that she spent days sewing. I hated them.   

Each year I whined and asked why. Every year I got the same response – two actually. “We put on our finest clothes to glorify God. “ I couldn’t argue with that.  The second answer was closer to her heart, “and at least one day in the year you can look like a girl!” Humph!

What does history tell us about dressing up at Easter?
In “Easter Book”, Francis X Weiser explains the reasons behind the Easter finery.  Those to be baptized on Easter wore robes of white.  For those already baptized, they were to put on new clothes to symbolize their new life in Christ and the resurrection.

Afterwards, everyone walked through the streets led by the Priest carrying the Cross and the Easter candle.  That, according to Weiser, was the beginning of the Procession.
In Medieval  the folk wanted to honor God with their attire, but not everyone could afford new clothes. Instead they added elements of spring and adorned their old clothes with ribbons, and flowers.

In Roman times, fashionistas wore wreaths of flowers and olive leaves on their heads. Later in Europe, hats or bonnets replaced wreaths as headdresses. It reminds me of Irving Berlin’s song “ In her Eater Bonnet at the Easter Parade”.

Why do we celebrate with eggs, bunnies, baskets?

I could bear the Easter dress if I could envision the entire Easter package; my basket filled with eggs, chocolate bunny and jelly beans, coloring eggs with mama, going with my neighbors to the Easter egg hunt at St. Peters Orphanage’s in the park with 100 year old oaks and after church on Sunday, joining aunts, uncles and cousins for an Easter lunch of ham, deviled eggs and potato salad.  If we were lucky it would be the first strawberry shortcake of the year.

Oh the way to my heart is still through my ever growing stomach.

Why Eggs at Easter?

We color them, hunt them, roll them, smash them into another, blow their insides out, hang them on trees and of course we eat them.  It sounds brutal, but it sure is fun.
But what does an egg have to do with Easter – a religious celebration?

The egg is the symbol of new life and fertility. In the 13th century it was used in religious celebrations to symbolize the resurrection; Christ emerging from the closed rock tomb. 

Eggs as gifts
The egg was used in pagan ceremonies by the Egyptians, Persians and the Romans before the Christian Easter celebration. They celebrated Ostara the goddess of dawn and spring, or the fertility goddess. She was honored in spring festivals with eggs and bunnies:  Ostara’s sacred animal and the symbol of fertility.  Colored eggs expressed appreciation for Ostara’s gift of abundance.

Does this sound familiar to you?  Have our traditions have become entwined?

Coloring Eggs

After Mary Magdalena discovered Christ’s body missing from the tomb, she reported her findings to the Emperor. He laughed at her and claimed, “Christ was resurrected assuredly as the freshly laid eggs are red.”  Moments later the eggs turned red. Or so the story goes.

Eggs were colored red only on Easter to symbolize Christ’s blood and used in Mass. During the rest of the year they were colored, others painted with pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, some were adorned with gold and given as gifts as a wish for prosperity and abundance. 

Today we resort to color dye to color our Easter eggs OR you color them the natural way like the Swiss do. I don’t because my mother-in-law does them so beautifully why should I?  You can see how in Coloring Easter Eggs the Swiss Way.

Marketing by Eggs

Why was the egg so prominent at Easter? It was forbidden to eat eggs during lent.  In today’s terminology, eggs saturated the market and resulted in an overproduction.  Our forefathers did what modern marketing does today, found a variety of ways to reduce the supply - whether needed or not. 
Easter egg Hunts – were said to have started in Scotland. The young people went in search for fowl eggs for Easter Sunday breakfast. Whoever found the most eggs was rewarded with good luck.
Today, colored eggs are hidden in organized Eater Egg Hunts. In Memphis, churches, towns and clubs conduct huge Easter egg hunts on their grounds or in parks for the children. The rewards are sweet. 

In Switzerland, hunts are more private. Parents hide the entire basket in their home and in the garden -  even in the snow.
Egg Rolls – are famous in England.  The participants stand on top of a hill and roll the egg to the bottom.  The winner is the owner of the egg that went the farthest.  First Lady Dolly Madison, introduced the states to egg rolling on Capitol Hill.  The congress was unimpressed with the mess and was moved to the White House where the tradition continues.
UK Egg “Dumping”, “Pocking” in Louisiana, and “Eiertütschete” in Switzerland – are games where two people hold the egg in the middle and hit the points together.  The egg that breaks is the looser. In Bern, it is a tradition to meet on Easter Sunday at the Kornplatz for a huge contest.

And the Easter bunny and Easter basket?
We have heard the saying, “breed like rabbits” but what does the fertility of a rabbit have to do with Easter?  In the 16th century Germany, the Osterhas could have been a Benjamin Spock invention. To encourage the children to behave they were told   if they were good the “Osterhas” would bring them colored eggs. The children began building “nests” the night before.  This is believed to be the origin of the Easter basket.  The German immigrants brought the Easter bunny tradition with them to America.

In the 19th century French and German chocolatiers began creating eggs and bunnies.  The Englishman John Cadbury made the chocolate egg famous. But eggs were given

Easter Candle
The Easter candle is a XXL Candle made primarily of bees wax.  In the 400AD houses were kept dark from Green Thursday until Easter – the night of lights.  The Easter candle was lit at Mass and brought home in order to bring Christ into the home. It is prevalent today in homes , church services and in many catholic processions.

Sunrise Services
Why do so many churches offer Easter sunrise services?  Mary Magdalena discovered Jesus’ open tomb at sunrise. Sunrise begins a new day and represents light in a dark world and a fresh start, the true meaning of the resurrection.  Either way, it is a unique experience.

Is Easter based on both religious and historical Spring Festivals?
The word Easter is derived from Ostara an Anglo Saxon Fertility Goddess and Goddess of Spring. However most languages use the Greek derivative Pasha, in Hebrew it is Pesach or Passover. The Jewish celebrated their freedom from slavery every year at Passover before Easter was ever celebrated and the Egyptians, among others celebrated spring festivals to honor Ostara.

Is it a coincidence that Easter is celebrated in spring?  Each year nature comes back to life after dying each winter.  What could remind us more of what Jesus died to offer us – a new beginning, hope and beauty - than the kaleidoscope of colors and smells of spring?  If that isn’t the resurrection reenacted, I don’t know what is.


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