Easter is a time of celebration for many families. With it comes thoughts of spring, rebirth, Easter egg hunts and Easter baskets. It is a celebration of family and friends and spending time together. But why do we have Easter egg hunts and why does a bunny bring Easter eggs? What do Easter eggs have to do with the resurrection of Christ?
A Christian Holiday
Easter as we know it in the United States has its roots as a Christian holiday. Catholics and Protestants alike celebrate Easter as a time of great rejoicing. They believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Easter morning. It is a fundamental part of their faith. Jesus was crucified on a cross, spent three days in the grave and then resurrected to new life. Many fundamental Christians use the term “Resurrection Sunday” because of the pagan connotations that come with the term Easter.
Good Friday and Lent are part of the Christians celebrations leading up to Easter. Catholics and some protestant religions celebrate Lent as a time of denying the flesh in preparation for Easter. Good Friday is supposed to be the day that Christ was crucified. Easter is always on the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or following the spring equinox.
Spring Equinox and Pagan Celebrations
As with many of Christian holidays Easter traditions of a Judeo-Christian nature have merged with pagan holidays and practices. The celebration of the Spring Equinox was important to cultures and belief systems all over the world for thousands of years before Christ. Many of these traditions have found their way in to our Easter celebrations but often without the same spiritual meaning they once held.
Easter is said to have come from the name for Eostre, Osatara or Ishtar, a pagan goddess of spring. The spring equinox was a time of worshipping and celebrating the goddess who ruled spring. She was often looked upon as a goddess of fertility and plenty. The people of the area wanted to please her so that their crops would be blessed and they would bear children. Along with this symbol of fertility comes another symbol – the egg.
The Easter Egg
Easter eggs are a fundamental part of any Easter tradition. Children everywhere have fun dyeing brightly colored eggs every year. Colorful plastic eggs are placed into Easter baskets and filled with goodies of all kinds. In many countries that art of decorating Easter eggs is a highly skilled, decorative art. But why eggs? Why not an Easter onion?
Eggs have stood for new life and fertility throughout the ages. Christians see it as a symbol of the new life brought to them with the resurrection of Christ. During the Middle Ages decorated eggs were said to have been given as gifts. The ancient Persians decorated eggs to celebrate their New Year which occurred during the Spring Equinox. For Jews, Easter coincides with the Passover and eggs dipped in salt water represent new life.
The Easter Bunny & Egg Hunts
It is said that the hare was a symbol of the goddess Eostre. Rabbits and hares, like the eggs, represent fertility. Rabbits often make their nests in fields and this gave rise to the belief, by children, that the rabbits laid eggs in the fields as well. Thus the Easter egg hunt was born.
In today’s culture the Easter bunny is a fuzzy lovable character that brings Easter chocolates and Easter baskets to kids on Sunday morning. He is no longer a symbol of fertility as in days of old. Easter baskets are supposed to resemble “nests” for the eggs the Easter bunny will bring.
Hot Cross Buns
Hot cross buns may taste delicious on Easter morning but, they too, are rich in traditions. In pagan ceremonies that cross on the buns was said to represent the quarters of the moon, or in some cultures the crossed horns of a bull. To Christians the cross icing represents the cross that Jesus was crucified on.
The Easter Parade
Legend tells us this may have started by the Emperor Constantine. Supposedly he told his servants, court attendees and subjects to dress in their finest and parade up and down the city in celebration of the resurrection of Christ. This might also indicate where dressing in new clothes on Easter began.
Most families have big Easter dinners, often serving a ham as the centerpiece. It is a time of fun, food and fellowship, which has always been a part of any celebration – pagan or Christian. It is a time we set aside to rejoice in what we have and the newness of spring and the gift of life.