For centuries the Easter holiday has been paired with fury and fuzzy bunnies, eggs of pastel hues and baskets filled high with chocolate eggs, ‘peeps’ and stuffed rabbits. Children race for plastic eggs, filled with candy and parents take trips to the mall to introduce their kids to ‘The Easter Bunny.’ Even Easter Monday, kids crowd the grounds of the White House in Washington, D.C., for an annual Easter Egg Roll.
Many aimlessly take on these traditions without looking into their origins and meanings.
The Rev. John Roger Brown, adjunct professor of Philosophy and Religion at Morehouse College in Atlanta, said that many of the Easter traditions are centuries old.
“The name Easter is the Old English adaptation of the pagan name Easter, the Teutonic goddess of spring and dawn,” Brown said. “The Festival for this deity occurred annually at the vernal equinox.”
During this spring moon, tribal members would offer seeds and colored eggs on a fertility alter to appease this goddess. In the early church, Easter was known as Pascha. The death and resurrection of Jesus constituted a new Passover of the people of God-and the timing of this Passover just happened to fall around the same time as the festival celebrating the goddess.
“The earliest evidence informs us that Pascha or Easter consisted of a vigil beginning on Saturday evening and ending on Sunday morning, incorporating a remembrance of the Lord’s crucifiction together with the celebration of Christ’s resurrection,” Brown said. “The vigil was crowned with the baptism of those who had been instructed in the mysteries of the faith. The liturgical celebration not only centered around the baptism of new converts but also the celebration of the Eucharist (Holy Communion). Around 300 A.D., most churches commemorated the Passover and death of Jesus on Good Friday and devoted Easter Sunday to the Resurrection.
“We, the church today still follow close to earlier traditions.”
The use of eggs to commemorate the Easter season is celebrated around the world. Since early Roman times, people have regarded the egg as a symbol of new life. A bird hatching from an egg is seen by some as a resurrection of sorts-which some relate with Christ steeping out of the sealed tomb of death.
“The precise origin of the ancient custom of decorating eggs is not known, although evidently the blooming of many flowers in spring coincides with the use of boiling eggs with flowers which changes their color, bringing the spring into the home,” Brown said.
“Many Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Church to this day typically dye their eggs red, the color of blood, in recognition of the of the blood of the sacrificed Christ (and, of the renewal of life in the springtime). Some also use the color green, in honor of the new foliage emerging after the long dead time of winter.”
As for the bunny-rabbits and hares are fertility symbols of antiquity. The Easter Bunny is just something to add more excitement and fun to Easter for children, and their parents who stay up all night putting together intricate baskets.
“The Easter Bunny is a popular legendary anthropomorphic gift giving character analogous to Santa Claus in American culture. Since birds lay eggs and rabbits give birth to large litters in early spring, they become symbols of the rising fertility of the earth at the March Equinox,” Brown said. “It’s an Easter folklore.”