The Surprising Origins of Our Easter Traditions

Chuck Banner | April 15th, 2017

On Easter Sunday, millions of Christians around the world will celebrate their most important religious holiday, which commemorates the day of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. On this same day, children will take to parks and backyards with Easter baskets, gathering up plastic eggs that are filled with candy. They may even decorate real eggs with dyes and stickers, and almost everyone is sure to eat a chocolate bunny or two.

None of these children’s traditions has anything to do with the Christian celebration of Easter. So, where did they come from. Here are the origins of a few of the most popular Easter traditions.

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The Easter Bunny

You can thank the ancient pagans for this fuzzy addition to the Easter holiday. The most likely origin for this long-eared Easter ambassador is the Germanic goddess Eostre. She was a fertility goddess, one of whose symbols was a rabbit. Rabbits have long been associated with fertility, due to their rapid breeding, so it is no surprise that this animal is also associated with several other ancient festivals that celebrate the renewal and rebirth of Earth in spring. German immigrants are probably responsible for importing this custom to America in the 1700s, as they had a longstanding tradition of an egg-laying hare called “Osterhase.”

Easter Eggs

This is another custom that is linked to pagan celebrations. The egg has been considered a symbol of new life for centuries, and was often used in pagan festivals related to spring and fertility. Ancient pagans would decorate all kinds of eggs and give them away as gifts to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Like many other pagan practices, the Christians adapted the use of eggs at Easter time. Eggs are supposed to represent Jesus’ emergence from his tomb. As the egg contains new life, so did the tomb of Jesus after his crucifixion. Their use in Christian Easter practices may date to the 13th century, when people were forbidden from consuming them during Lent. Since Easter marks the end of the Lenten fasting season, people would decorate and eat them on Easter to celebrate the end of the fast.

Easter Baskets

This custom goes back to the German Osterhase mentioned earlier. The Osterhase was an egg-laying rabbit, according to German tradition. In order to entice this mythical bunny to stop by their houses and deposit its colorful eggs, German children would make nests to hold the eggs. Over the years, baskets with nesting material (like the plastic grass we now use) became more popular than using a nest alone.

Chocolate Bunnies

We know that the bunny itself has Germanic pagan origins. The tradition of consuming treats during celebrations and festivals also goes back centuries. Most holidays involve food traditions and treats of some kind. But why are most chocolate Easter bunnies hollow? There are two reasons for this. First, candy makers can make larger and more elaborate bunnies if they are hollow. To make them out of solid chocolate would make them too expensive to produce and to purchase for most consumers. Also, a giant bunny made of solid chocolate could also prove damaging to your teeth. Biting into such a creation might cause your teeth to break. This is why you can sometimes find smaller chocolate bunnies that are solid, while the larger ones are almost always hollow.

Happy Easter!

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