Christmas has Santa Claus. Easter has the Easter Bunny—and eggs, parades, Easter candy and more. All are secular images associated with the holiest of Christian holy days. Easter is a religious holiday to Christians, a time to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some of Easter’s secular traditions pre-date Christianity and are likely linked to pagan traditions. Here is a look at a few.
The egg, an ancient symbol of new life, has been associated with pagan festivals celebrating spring and symbolizing rebirth of the earth. The Easter egg was adopted by early Christians later on. From a Christian perspective, Easter eggs are said to represent Jesus' emergence from the tomb and resurrection. Decorating eggs for Easter is a tradition that dates back to at least the 13th century, according to some sources and history.com. One explanation for this custom is that eggs were formerly a forbidden food during the Lenten season, so people would paint and decorate them to mark the end of the period of penance and fasting, then eat them on Easter as a celebration.
The coloring of eggs is an established art, and eggs are often dyed, painted, and otherwise decorated. This weekend, many families will gather to dip hard-boiled eggs in food coloring to make original designs and, in the fun, a mess of the kitchen table.
Orthodox Christians in the Middle East and in Greece painted eggs bright red to symbolize the blood of Christ. Hollow eggs (created by piercing the shell with a needle and blowing out the contents) were decorated with pictures of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and other religious figures in Armenia.
Germans gave green eggs as gifts on Holy Thursday, and hung hollow eggs on trees. Austrians placed tiny plants around the egg and then boiled them. When the plants were removed, white patterns were created.
The most elaborate Easter egg traditions appear to have emerged in Eastern Europe. In Poland and Ukraine, eggs were often painted silver and gold. Pysanky (to design or write) eggs were created by carefully applying wax in patterns to an egg. The art form is continued today. The egg is dyed, wax is reapplied in spots to preserve that color, and the egg is boiled again in other shades. The result is a multi-color striped or patterned egg.
Bo, the first family’s dog, gets a special honor this Easter, reports the Los Angeles Times. His image is one of five wooden eggs in the 2012 White House Easter Eggs Set sold to support the National Park Foundation.
Egg Hunts and Egg Rolls
Easter egg hunts and egg rolls are two popular egg-related traditions. America’s most famous event is the White House Easter Egg Roll, a race in which children push decorated, hard-boiled eggs across the White House lawn.The annual event held the Monday after Easter. The first official White House egg roll occurred in 1878, when Rutherford B. Hayes was president. The event has no religious significance, although some people have considered egg rolling symbolic of the stone blocking Jesus' tomb being rolled away, leading to his resurrection.
According to the Smithsonian, this year’s festivities, with a theme of “Let’s Go Play," will encourage America’s youth to lead healthy and active lives, as President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama open the South Lawn to children and their families to enjoy sports, cooking classes, live musical performances, storytelling and, of course, the traditional egg roll.
Many park districts hold egg hunts; and in many families, egg hunts are a tradition. Children search for eggs that have been hidden around the house or outside. Who hides the eggs? The Easter Bunny, of course.
The Easter Bunny
The Bible makes no mention of a long-eared, short-tailed creature who delivers decorated eggs to well-behaved children on Easter Sunday; nevertheless, the Easter Bunny, history.com says, has become a prominent symbol of Christianity's most important holiday. The exact origins of this mythical mammal are unclear, but rabbits, known to be prolific procreators, are an ancient symbol of fertility and new life. According to some sources, the Easter bunny first arrived in America in the 1700s with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania and transported their tradition of an egg-laying hare called "Osterhase" or "Oschter Haws." Their children made nests in which this creature could lay its colored eggs. Eventually, the custom spread across the U.S. and the fabled rabbit's Easter morning deliveries expanded to include chocolate and other types of candy and gifts, while decorated baskets replaced nests. Additionally, some children leave out carrots for the bunny in case he gets hungry from all his hopping.
Easter is the second best-selling candy holiday in America, after Halloween. Among the most popular sweet treats associated with this day are chocolate eggs, which date back to early 19th century Europe. Eggs have long been associated with Easter as a symbol of new life and Jesus' resurrection. Another egg-shaped candy, the jelly bean, became associated with Easter in the 1930s (although the jelly bean's origins reportedly date all the way back to a Biblical-era concoction called a Turkish Delight). According to the National Confectioners Association, more than 16 billion jelly beans are made in the U.S. each year for Easter, enough to fill a giant egg measuring 89 feet high and 60 feet wide. For the past decade, the top-selling non-chocolate Easter candy has been the marshmallow Peep, a sugary, pastel-colored confection. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based candy manufacturer Just Born (founded by Russian immigrant Sam Born in 1923) began selling Peeps in the 1950s. The original Peeps were handmade, marshmallow-flavored yellow chicks, but other shapes and flavors were later introduced, including chocolate mousse bunnies.
In New York City, the Easter Parade tradition dates back to the mid-1800s, when the upper crust of society would attend Easter services at various Fifth Avenue churches then stroll outside afterward, showing off their new spring outfits and hats. Average citizens started showing up along Fifth Avenue to check out the action. The tradition reached its peak by the mid-20th century, and in 1948, the popular film, Easter Parade, was released, starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland and featuring the music of Irving Berlin. The title song includes the lyrics: "In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it/You'll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade."
The Easter Parade tradition lives on in Manhattan, with Fifth Avenue from 49th Street to 57th Street being shut down during the day to traffic. Participants often sport elaborately decorated bonnets and hats or exaggerated outfits.